Is the North Caucasus Rebel Movement Spreading Beyond the North Caucasus?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 150

Amir Hamzat, head of the brigade Riyadis Salihiyn

Russian mass media last week spread word of a statement by the command of the Chechen rebels that referred to Riyadus-Salikhin (Gardens of the Righteous) in connection with the killing of former Russian army colonel Yuri Budanov, who was shot to death in Moscow on June 10. This group was set up in 2001-2002 under personal supervision of Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev, who was considered the group’s leader until his death in 2006. This group carried out about 20 attacks from 2001 to 2011, including the capture of hostages in the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002; the hostage taking at the school in Beslan, North Ossetia in 2004; the blowing up of trains and airplanes. Therefore, the news about Riyadus-Salikhin should be taken quite seriously.

Riyadus-Salikhin’s statement assuming responsibility for Budanov’s killing is of no less importance for Russia than the recent announcement of the end of the split among the militants, which had lasted almost a year (Reuters, July 23).  Reuters cited the rebel Kavkaz Center, which published a video dated June 11. So if the date is accurate, Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader who is “Emir” of the Caucasus Emirate, made this statement the day after Budanov’s killing. Though, in this case, it is unclear why it took the insurgents five weeks to publish the video. The usual practice during 12 years of war was that the militants claimed responsibility for the attacks within 10 days of the event – two weeks at most. The rebels’ website stated it was expecting a video confirmation of Riyadus-Salikhin’s statement. If Umarov’s statement is confirmed, it will become a grave warning for many of the former war criminals, who will likely interpret it as a message to everyone who was in Chechnya after 1994 and committed crimes against Chechens. Reports by Russian law enforcement agencies provide some confirmation of the militants’ statements. According to the Moscow police, they had expected such attacks and the rebels were the primary suspects in Budanov’s killing from the very beginning (, July 24). Investigators visited the North Caucasus after Budanov was killed and confirmed that the last phone calls to the former colonel came from this region and apparently contained threats (, July 24).

Umarov’s acknowledgement makes life easier for all sides. Investigators will not burden themselves with searching for an invisible criminal and will blame the rebels for the killing. The pro-Moscow Chechens in the republic will be just as glad, as it will remove possible accusations against them of being involved in this crime. Self-exoneration became even more vital for the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities after it came to light that they were actively seeking contact information on high-ranking Russian military commanders who fought in Chechnya. That news shocked many in Russian nationalist circles. Lastly, the militants themselves will be happy to have demonstrated their ability to strike in the Russian capital in broad daylight and in front of multiple witnesses.

This murder would not have caused such a shock to the public if certain circles in Russian society had not tried to present Budanov as a victim of the Russian government’s policy in Chechnya. In fact, Chechen society’s attitude toward Budanov was largely a reaction to the Russian nationalists’ attempts to portray him as a national hero. The man who kidnapped, raped and killed a 17-year-old Chechen girl not only did not apologize, but continued to insult her relatives and memory. There were hundreds or even thousands of such Budanovs in Chechnya, but Yuri Budanov became the most vivid example of theconfrontation between Chechen society and Russian society, which were divided by the war in Chechnya. Inside Russia, Budanov was supported exclusively by the nationalistic circles of Russian society, while everybody in Chechnya, regardless of their political views, thought he was a criminal who deservedexecution. For the Chechens, Budanov became the embodiment of all the negative and criminal sides of Russian society. Every Chechen saw Budanov as their own personal foe, so that even the pro-Russian authorities in Chechnya did not hide their aversion to the ex-colonel, despite the protection and support he apparently received from very influential figures in Russia. Thus, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov voiced his negative attitude toward Budanov on multiple occasions, saying: “Budanov is a schizophrenic and a murderer, the enemy of the Chechen people. He insulted our people. Every man, woman and child reckons that while Budanov lives, disgrace has not been removed from us” (Regnum news agency, February 3, 2009).

If it is confirmed that Riyadus-Salikhin was really involved in Budanov’s murder, it will add weight to Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Aleksandr Bortnikov’s statement last month about having averted a terrorist attack (, July 18). If Bortnikov’s information is to be trusted, four people, three Caucasians and one Russian, were arrested in Moscow on suspicion of plotting a large-scale terrorist attack in the city. A police search found a bomb equal to 10 kilograms of TNT. So it follows that the North Caucasian militants appeared to be on the verge of launching another strike in Moscow – something which militant leaders had warned of in statements beforehand. Once again, this gives more reason to trust similar statements made by militant leaders. They no longer sound like propaganda statements, but rather have more of a warning, which is another break from the North Caucasian resistance’s early tactics.

A trend of particular note is the increasing numbers of people of Slavic origin who have engaged in terror attacks in recent years. Viktor Dvorakovsky, who was recently arrested in  the Stavropol region, and Vitaly Razdobudko, who was killed in the Dagestani village of Gubden, are the latest examples. Even among the terrorist suspects arrested in Moscow there is a Russian – Farid (or Faeel) Nevlyutov, a native of Mordovia who converted to Islam. So the North Caucasian resistance movement’s membership is expanding beyond simply natives of the North Caucasus. If this trend further escalates, it will be impossible to cope with militant attacks in Russia, specifically in Moscow, because the resistance movement will no longer be only regional in character.