Insurgent Activity Increases in the Northwestern Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 29

In 2010, the western part of the North Caucasus, comprised of the territories of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Adygea and the adjacent Black Sea littoral, gave little sign that it was following the pattern of events in the rest of the North Caucasus. In this part of the region, Muslim jamaats were only nominally active. They made occasional statements occasionally proclaiming their existence, but there was little in the way of action to confirm that. After the blows inflicted by the Russian special services on the Karachay Jamaat in Karachaevo-Cherkessia in 2005-2007, the latter’s activity was virtually reduced to zero, which allowed the Federal Security Service (FSB) to rush to declare the total elimination of extremism in the republic (http://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/110456/).

However, the weakening of the Karachay Jamaat meant that it has already gone into the dustbin of history. The jamaat had thus made some tactical rearrangements: namely, the attenuation of the Karachay Jamaat led the leadership of the Caucasus Emirate to unite it with the Kabardino-Balkaria Jamaat by including Karachay as part of the Muslim administration in the form of the Vilayat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay. This suggests that the Karachay Jamaat remains as a force in the armed resistance movement and is capable of continuing its activities, which were quite intense in 2001-2005.

In any, a recent report about an attack on a police convoy and the freeing of a prisoner in Karachaevo-Cherkessia came as a complete surprise. According to the report, four unidentified men opened fire on a group of police officers transporting a prisoner near the village of Adyge-Khabl in Karachaevo-Cherkessia on February 4. As a result, three officers were killed and the convict, who was sitting in a police car, was freed (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20757).

On February 5, the Russian Investigative Committee’s branch for Karachaevo-Cherkessia put those suspected of being involved in the attack –Aydemir Alakaev, Marat Kivalov, Zurab Dumenov, on the wanted list along with freed prisoner, Ruslan Suleimanov (http://karachaevo-cherkesia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/180655/). It is too early to say whether this audacious act was indeed carried out by rebels, let alone by actual members of the Karachay Jamaat, but it would be difficult to assume that young people could perpetrate this type of action without being able to hide in the forest for many years.

The creation of the al-Garb Jamaat was proclaimed in the republic of Adygea, close to Karachaevo-Cherkessia, in 2009. It recognized the leadership of the Caucasus Emirate, headed by Doku Umarov, and made several public statements (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2009/11/24/69334.shtml).

Nonetheless, the Adygea Jamaat has not conducted any serious actions that might deserve attention. Moreover, the FSB delivered a severe blow to the organizers of the nascent jamaat. According to Russian authorities, Asker Setov (aka Emir Vakhab), the leader of the jamaat, was convicted in August 2009 after being captured. The Adygea Jamaat, however, should not be viewed as confined to the territory of the Republic of Adygea, where the local indigenous population, also called the Circassians, currently constitute only a quarter of the total population (http://adygeia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/176268/). The Adygea Jamaat in fact encompasses almost the entire territory of the Krasnodar region, which is historically the land of the Circassians, who were expelled from their home places as the result of the Caucasus War in 1864. The Caucasus Emirate is interested in this jamaat not so much to expand the territory of its virtual state as to have the opportunity of attacking the Russian interests at the Black Sea, including Moscow’s plans for the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.

The situation has seriously deteriorated in this part of the North Caucasus lately in connection with a number of assassinations of Circassian leaders from among the national intelligentsia. Local nationalists have demanded an end to the killing of those who do not share the idea of building an Islamic state. But this is unlikely to stop the militants, for whom the intelligentsia is the easiest prey. The strengthening of the Kabardino-Balkaria Jamaat could bring about a revival of the Karachay Jamaat that would have a significant impact on Adygea, resulting in the significant expansion of the boundaries of the armed resistance to Russia’s interests in the western part of the North Caucasus.

According to Aleksandr Khloponin, the Russian president’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, there are currently up to a thousand rebels across the entire North Caucasus. He also says that the average age of the militants has decreased to 18 years over the past three years (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20752). This is a rather liberal interpretation of the rejuvenation of the armed resistance, although a young militant with a higher or incomplete higher education is already a reality for the North Caucasus. Khloponin is trying to introduce the institution of "elders," assuming that the North Caucasus peoples are still living according to tribal relations (www.rosbalt.ru/2011/02/03/815834.html). Analysts believe that in doing so, he aims to establish an institution that would bypass the official power structures in the region. But it shows that Khloponin, now already one year in office, still does not quite understand the situation on the ground. If he did, he would know that those who will be included in a Council of Elders in a particular North Caucasus republic will be carefully selected by those who they are theoretically supposed to circumvent. Given the present context, a Council of Elders in the North Caucasus is an atavism from the eighteenth or nineteenth century.

Khloponin, however, implicitly confirmed that the Russian authorities do not expect the situation in the region to improve anytime soon. When asked about the 2018 soccer world championship to be hosted by Russia, he explained that for security reasons there is no chance that any city in the North Caucasus will be a candidate to host the games (www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=422280). The Russian government sees no prospect of improving the security situation in the North Caucasus in the next seven years.

In all likelihood, the overall situation in the North Caucasus will deteriorate. Some problems will be suggestive of a deepening confrontation with Russian rule in the region, while others will probably stem from an internal conflict that will also not always be peaceful in nature.