The head of the Russian presidential administration, Sergei Ivanov, was forced recently to admit that the situation in some areas of the North Caucasus remains particularly bad in terms of the number crimes committed. “They pose a serious threat to the unity of our multi-ethnic society, have a negative impact on the state and on the foundations of the society,” he told a meeting of the Russian Investigative Committee. “According to statistics, the number of crimes has increased in the past year, and the situation in the North Caucasus remains tense” (Gazeta.ru, February 26). This admission is quite revealing against the backdrop of repeated government claims that insurgent activity in the North Caucasus has been reduced.
While the Islamist movement in the North Caucasus temporarily waned due to the fact that some militants switched their allegiances from the Caucasus Emirate to the Islamic State, insurgency-related incidents in Chechnya unexpectedly surged.
Following an incursion by a group of Chechen rebels into Grozny last December 4 (Kavkazsky Uzel, December 4, 2014), Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov reviewed his operational tactics against militants in the mountains and forests of Chechnya. For starters, Kadyrov decided to divide Chechnya into three sectors and put one police official in charge of each (Fedpress.ru, January 15). Moreover, Kadyrov thought his moves were not harsh enough and started targeting the relatives of the militants in the new ways: he ordered that close relatives of militants be expelled from Chechnya with no right to return and that their homes be demolished (Novaya Gazeta, December 5, 2014).
Kadyrov was insulted by the militant attack on the day of a speech by his idol, President Vladimir Putin, and spoke against an amnesty for insurgents. Kadyrov said that “the remaining bandits are zombies and cannot be reeducated. We gave them a chance before, but they did not use it. They will have no more such chances” (Mir24.tv, December 26, 2014).
At the same time, Kadyrov spoke in favor of pardoning those rebels who have been sentenced to prison terms. The Chechen ruler said that uncertainty and a difficult situation had made the young people choose the “wrong path.” In Kadyrov’s words, the government should understand this situation to save the people (Chechnyatoday.com, March 4). Kadyrov’s latest initiative came about as a result of the much-advertised surrender of the “amir of Chechnya’s lowlands,” Zelimkhan Magomadov on March 2. Chechen law enforcement agencies reported that Magomadov was surrounded in the town of Voikovo on the southern outskirts of Grozny. Magomadov was reportedly on the Russian federal wanted list (Kp.ru, March 2). However, in reality, there is no such position among the militants as the “amir of Chechnya’s lowlands.” The insurgents themselves said that Magomadov’s “surrender” was actually a failed attempt by the government to plant him in the ranks of the militants, who did not trust him and refused to accept him (Kavkazcenter.com, March 3).
On the morning of February 9, Kadyrov’s native village of Tsentaroi (Khosi-Yurt), in Chechnya’s Kurchaloi district, was surrounded by scores of armed police. The reason for the alarm was that the previous night unknown individuals had painted graffiti that depicted the black flag associated with the Islamic State and an inscription in English: “Khosi-Yurt is support ISIS [sic]” (Kavkazcenter.com, February 9). This relatively innocent act prompted Kadyrov’s entire entourage to step down from their positions, as they explained, until they found out who did it. The perpetrators must have been found after nightfall, when Kadyrov thanked the members of his entourage for their work and accepted them back into government service (Instagram.com, February 10). It is interesting that some people decided to demonstrate their backing of the Islamic State in a village considered Kadyrov’s support base.
A week later, there were reports of a massive fistfight involving Chechen conscripts in the Russian army. The incident took place in a military unit in Stavropol region and must have disappointed the authorities, since it coincided with the first military draft among Chechens in the past 14 years (Kavpolit.com, February 18).
Media did not report on a bomb explosion that took place in Grozny on the night of February 24. According to local residents of the village of Chernorechye, the explosion occurred at a dam near the Chernorechye reservoir, killing three men. The residents said the blast took place after midnight and was fairly strong. Alarmed residents found the remnants of three individuals at the site of the explosion. Some expressed doubts about the official narrative, which said all three men were rebels and were blown up trying to plant a bomb. In the opinion of the villagers, the people were killed first and then their bodies were blown up (Kavkazsky Uzel, March 1). In any case, the explosion is unlikely to end up in the police reports as a failed terrorist attack.
On the evening of February 28, five servicemen from the Russian Ministry of Interior special forces were wounded in a bomb attack in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district. The incident took place at about 6 p.m. in a mountainous forested area near the village of Shalazhi (Interfax, March 1). Interestingly, the Russian Interior Ministry forces appeared to be engaged in an operation with no Chechen officers accompanying them. So, various agencies, such as the Russian interior ministry, the Chechen interior ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB ) and the defense ministry’s special forces all appear to engage in operations autonomously. Chechen media ignored these losses, since they took place among the federal forces, which indicates how strained relations between different agencies are (see EDM, March 9).
If the authorities in Chechnya do not change their harsh policies of reprisals against the people who have even only a slightest connection to the militants, the militants will increase their influence among the local population. In addition, against the backdrop of the arrests in Chechnya pertaining to the murder of the Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, on March 7, the situation in the republic is becoming uncertain and tense.