Is the Caucasian Emirate a Threat to the Western World?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 47

The declaration of the Caucasian Emirate by the rebels in the North Caucasus has raised a question: how dangerous could this be for the Western world? The Chechen separatists have always stressed that they are fighting against the Russian authorities for the independence of Chechnya, but not against European countries or the United States. However, after the announcement of the Caucasian Emirate, the attitude of the Caucasian insurgency towards the West seems unclear. In his video declaration, Dokka Umarov, the Caucasian top rebel leader, said that the rebels in the North Caucasus “are an indivisible part of the Muslim Umma” (the worldwide Muslim community-AS). Umarov also said, “I am unhappy with the stand of those Muslims who call enemies only those infidels who attack them directly. At the same time, such Muslims look for support and sympathy from other infidels, forgetting the fact that all infidels are one nation.” He continued: “Today our brothers are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somali, and Palestine. Our enemy is not only Russia, but also America, England, and Israel; all those who conduct war against Islam and Muslims. They are all our enemies, because they are enemies of Allah.”

Can these words of Dokka Umarov be regarded as a declaration of war against the West? Yes and no. Officially, the rebel leader has called the United States, Britain and Israel “enemies of Allah.” However, does this mean that the Chechen diaspora in Europe will initiate a terrorist campaign in European countries, like what the Algerian diaspora did in France during the middle of the 1990s or the Pakistani immigrants in Great Britain?

It seems that the Caucasian rebels themselves are frightened by their own “war declaration” against the West. In a statement posted on the Kavkaz-Center rebel website on November 20, Anzor Astemirov, the rebel leader of Kabardino-Balkaria, said that “Even if we threaten America and Europe every day, it is clear for anybody who understands politics that we do not have any real clashes of interests (with the West-AS).” He added, “The people in the White House know very well that we have nothing to do with America at the moment.”

In his statement, Astemirov not only described the Caucasian rebels’ threats against the West as empty, but also even asked the United States for assistance. “If the West is really hostile towards Russia and if it wants to press on her, our declaration of establishment of the Caucasian Emirate should not stop them from assisting the mujahideen” (in the Caucasus-AS), he said. “If Western politicians are really interested in toppling Putin, they will use all possible means, including ‘anti-democratic forces’” (the militants-AS).

In his statement, Astemirov provided an “example” of possible American aid to the Caucasian insurgency when he recalled the fact that some Islamists of Uyghur origin from China, who had been detained in Afghanistan during the anti-terrorist campaign in 2001, were recruited by American military trainers in Guantanamo. According to Astemirov, the CIA and military trainers put it like this: they did not care what kind of state the Uyghur Islamists wanted to create in Western China—a caliphate or Sharia state—as long as they kept fighting the Chinese, in which case, the Americans would help them.

The rebels in the Caucasus do not hide in woods or in the mountains all the time, rather, they are as other residents in Russia, they watch Russian television and read Russian newspapers. They also watch the TV program of Mikhail Leontyev, the well-known political observer who likes to repeat that the Americans sponsor terrorists in the North Caucasus. In 2003, in Chechnya, while the author of this article was talking to a Chechen field commander from the radical wing of the resistance, he admitted receiving money from international Muslim international foundations. He speculated that some Western countries were also contributing with the aim of causing more trouble for Russia. The Kremlin exploits anti-American propaganda in order to inspire xenophobia among the Russian population, and this situation affects—in turn—the feelings in the North Caucasus. The worse that Russian-American relations become, the greater are the illusions of the militants that the United States is really helping them discretely, or at least that it might start doing so one day.

The absurdity of the rebels’ declarations lies in the fact that they declare war against the West, and at the same time beg for aid in their anti-Russian struggle. When Dokka Umarov’s video declaration of the establishment of the Caucasian Emirate was posted on the Kavkaz-Center website, the names of the countries he had called “enemies of Allah”—America, England and Israel—had been removed and replaced by the abstract phrase “enemies of Islam.”

Whatever the Caucasian rebels say, it is clear that they do not have much in common with the interests of the international Jihadi movement. For the Taliban and the Sunni militants in Iraq, the main enemy is the United Sates, while for Hamas and Islamic Jihad the main enemy is Israel. For all of them, Russia is not an enemy, while for Islamists in Russia, the main and, in fact, the only enemy is the Russian government. With the establishment of the Caucasian Emirate, one could speak of the appearance of a new phenomenon that could be described as a Russian Jihadi movement. This movement has no smaller plans than the Jihadi movement worldwide, but it nonetheless limits itself to activities inside Russia’s borders and has no ambitions to grow into an international problem.