On September 8, Nikolai Sintsov, an official with the Russian National Antiterrorist Committee, announced that a counterterrorist operation regime was introduced in three republics in the North Caucasus – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. According to the official, large-scale operations were taking place in all three of these republics. In Kabardino-Balkaria, the security services focused on the town of Baksan and the surrounding area. In Ingushetia, three suspected rebels were killed near its main city of Nazran, in Ekazhevo and the town of Ordzhonikidzevskaya. The official, however, did not disclose the extent of the counterterrorism operation in Chechnya (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 8).
The simultaneous introduction of counterterrorism operation regimes in three contiguous republics of the North Caucasus may reflect increased cooperation between insurgent units that provoked a corresponding government reaction. Chechnya had its nearly 10-year-long counterterrorism operation regime lifted in April 2009. By reintroducing even a limited counterterrorism operation in Chechnya, the Russian government may be signaling that it is no longer satisfied with the level of security there. The day before introducing the counterterrorism operation regime in Chechnya, Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Kholopin, criticized the republic’s ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, for limiting its young people’s freedom (www.gazeta.ru, September 8). Whether Chechnya’s leader is falling out of favor with Moscow or not, announcing a counterterrorism operation in his domain is not a positive sign for his political position. Although Kadyrov has himself declared counterterrorist operations before, this time the decision was apparently made outside of Chechnya.
Violence in Ingushetia subsided after the local rebel leader, Ali Taziev (aka Magomed Yevloev and Emir Magas), was arrested by the Russian security services in June 2010. However, the situation in this small republic never calmed down completely. It appears that Ingushetia is still rather unstable and may be on the path of further deterioration. The Ingush website Ingushetiyaru.org, reported the circumstances surrounding the killing of a group of suspected rebels in the republic on September 8 quite differently from official Russian sources. According to Ingushetiyaru.org, police had conducted a routine passport check of dwellings. In three separate instances, they grabbed three young people, led them outside and shot them in front of their parents. Two houses of rebel suspects were blown up by the security services under the pretext that the rebels had wired them with explosives (https://ingushetiyaru.org, September 11). The same Ingush website had reported cases of squatting on land in the republic as an indicator of lawlessness and that the region’s authorities had lost control over the situation.
The head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, stated that despite his multiple calls for the rebels to put down their arms, some of them were still harboring plans for terrorist attacks. According to Yevkurov, this prompted the police to launch a large scale operation (https://rbc.ru, September 8). Yevkurov also announced he was setting up a government commission for adapting rebels to civilian life. According to the Ingush leader, the commission would provide legal and social assistance to repentant militants, including moving them to permanent residences outside the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 9). The latter proposition strikingly resembles the Tsarist and Soviet-era practice of sending “unreliable” North Caucasians into exile in Siberia and other remote areas throughout this vast country.
While removing leaders of the Ingush insurgency might help Russia achieve some short-term gains, ignoring the political, social and economic concerns of the republic’s population is likely to reproduce violence in one way or another. Two leaders of Ingushetia’s civil society, Magomed Yevloev and Maksharip Aushev, have been killed since 2008, while their killers either received nominal prison sentences or were not identified at all. So Moscow appears intent on removing any leaders in Ingushetia who are not part of the local, Moscow-sponsored government. The removal of civil society leaders is likely to lead to the further degradation of Ingush society and the erosion of the government’s ability to organize it in any positive way.
Ingushetia’s bureaucracy is trying to fight against Muslim groups that are not officially approved. On August 29, Yevkurov announced a mosque registration campaign. After the campaign is over, only registered mosques will be able to function. Ingushetia’s public reportedly fears that the campaign is just another way of restricting religious freedom in the republic (https://ingushetiyaru.org, September 6). In his personal blog entry on August 14, Yevkurov hinted that the government was predisposed to the “legalization” of the Salafi (aka Wahhabi) branch of Islam in Ingushetia (https://ingushtoday.com/, August 26). The Salafi movement in Islam is not officially outlawed in Russia, except in Dagestan, but officials often equate this faction with outbreaks of extremism, so Salafis are often persecuted in Russia. The radical Salafis, in turn, insist on waging jihad, or holy war, against what they regard as an oppressive government.
The link between Salafism and the insurgency in the North Caucasus, however, is far from straightforward. Some analysts believe that non-Salafi Muslims in the North Caucasus became radicalized long ago. Others say that the essence of the insurgency’s cause is political and socio-economic, so Islam simply provides an organizational principle and mechanism for expressing political and social protest (see the interview with political Islam expert Ruslan Gereyev at https://www.regnum.ru/news/1376383.html?forprint).
To allow Salafism to function legally, Moscow would have to rescind government control over Muslim organizations and radically change its approach to the North Caucasus. To a large extent, Salafism in the North Caucasus has become synonymous with Islam that is not under government control. The movement’s independence from the authorities makes it popular, especially as trust in government institutions has been low. Systemic problems in the way Moscow rules the North Caucasus, and its unwillingness to change any important element of the system, seem to warrant a positive, non-violent resolution of regional crisis.