The previous year, which ended so tragically for Russia with terrorist attacks in Pyatigorsk and Volgograd, was not an exceptional one for a country that has been mired in terrorism-related violence since the start of the second Russian-Chechen war in the fall of 1999.
The terrorist attacks that took place in Pyatigorsk on December 27, and in Volgograd on October 21 as well as December 29 and 30, claimed dozens of lives (https://www.utro.ru/articles/2013/12/30/1166758.shtml) and were aimed at the Sochi Olympics, but not only. The insurgents were also trying to prove to the world that they were still in business and could strike all over the country. Today, the Sochi area is guarded using all the power of the state in order to avoid rebel infiltration. So, having no access to this area, the insurgents target other regions of the Russian Federation. That is why bombings could take place in any region of Russia now. The rebels do not want to miss a chance to harm the country’s image in the run-up to the Olympic Games. In a sense, the insurgency formally supports the Circassian activists’ assertions about the Games being held in the area where hundreds of thousands of Circassians were killed in the 19th century. However, striking Russia itself is the insurgency’s actual objective.
Along with undermining Russia’ prestige, the rebels have another objective—to demonstrate their own viability. The Jamestown Foundation has consistently covered the emergence of ethnic Russian jihadists who could become a great problem for Russia (see EDM, October 18, 2012). Ethnic Russians are increasingly becoming a tool of revenge for the North Caucasian rebels. The first references to ethnic Russian converts to Islam helping the North Caucasian militants dates back to 2004, when two ethnic Russians, Vitaly Zagorudko and David Fotov, were killed in Stavropol region. Between January 2004 and January 2005, two other Russians, Viktor Semchenko and Yuri Menovshchikov, bombed four bus stops and were preparing another terrorist attack in Krasnodar when they were killed. Russian Nikolai Kipkeyev died in the bomb attack on Moscow’s Rizhskaya metro station in August 2004 (www.kp.ru/daily/23756/56219/). However, these cases were rare exceptions rather than the norm. The situation changed significantly when Said Buryatsky (Alexander Tikhomirov) went to the North Caucasus and quickly rose to the position to become one of the militants’ main ideologues (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/158565). Buryatsky showed that ethnic Russians could rise to leadership positions in the North Caucasian insurgency. The fact that Russian Muslims are not merely tolerated but also entrusted with important positions is evident in the case of the Riyadus-Salikhin suicide bomber battalion in Dagestan. The group is led by another ethnic Russian Muslim, 24-year-old Alexei Pashintsev (a.k.a. Abdul-Malik), who hails from the city of Belgorod (https://newsru.com/russia/25sep2012/pashintzev.html).
The presence of ethnic Russians in the insurgency makes the insurgents’ job significantly easier. For example, since 1999, the rebels have not attacked Sufi sheikhs in Dagestan despite the fact that Sufis have been the Salafis’ mortal enemies. However, after an ethnic Russian became the leader of the suicide bombers’ battalion, the barrier was removed. In October 2011 the most influential Sufi sheikh in southern Dagestan, Sirazhutdin Khuriksky, was assassinated (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/194885/). On August 28, 2012, one of the most significant figures in the Sufi hierarchy of Dagestan, Said-efendi Chirkeiski, an ethnic Avar, was also killed (https://nusra.info/index.php/news/298-v-dagestane-ubit-sufijskij-shejkh-said-afandi). In the first case, it was unclear who killed the sheikh; in the second case, the sheikh was blown up by an ethnic Russian, Alla Saprykina, who took the Islamic name of Aminat Kurbanova after converting to Islam (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/211915/).
A Dagestani, Naida Asiyalova, was behind the first bomb attack in Volgograd on October 21, 2013, but she was married to an ethnic Russian, Dmitry Sokolov, who had converted to Islam and fought in the North Caucasus armed resistance movement (https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1155787&tid=104994).
The terrorist attack on the Volgograd railway station on December 29 was also carried out by an ethnic Russian from the Volga region, Pavel Pechyonkin, according to the preliminary results of the investigation (https://russian.rt.com/article/20359). It remains unclear who carried out the attack on the trolleybus in Volgograd the following day, December 30, but it will not be surprising if it turns out that a recent convert to Islam was also involved in this attack.
Few people paid attention to Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov’s decision to include the Volga region in his zone of influence at the time he was confirmed as leader of the North Caucasian rebels back in 2006 (https://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2006/07/09/45779.shtml). The decision was probably based on the ability of North Caucasians in the Volga region to coordinate their actions with some cells already established there. According to the administrative division of the Caucasus Emirate, Volgograd is part of the Velayat Idel Ural. The fact that the rebels were able to carry out three attacks in the city demonstrated the extent and range of their power.
The use of ethnic Russians in terrorist attacks is the result of tactical and strategic calculations. First, the Russian authorities have gradually managed to identify practically everyone who joined the militants and control their ability to travel in Russia. Second, advancing ethnic Russians through the ranks of the insurgency helps the militants’ propaganda, showing that their cause is increasingly supported in Russian society. In reality, of course, those dozens of ethnic Russian converts to Islam do not indicate, as the leaders of the rebel movement would like to claim, that Russians converting to Islam is part of a broader trend.
Still, Russian jihadists are a much graver danger to Moscow than the North Caucasian armed resistance. Having failed to contain the conflict within Chechnya, Russia is faced with conflict across the entire North Caucasus. The militant jihadist movement has now crossed the borders of the North Caucasus and continues to expand from beyond the North Caucasus to Russia proper.
Thus, regardless of how the Sochi Olympics go, the issue of the growth of the jihadist movement inside Russia will be a topical one for the foreseeable future.