North Caucasus Authorities Engaging in Collective Punishment

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 137

Security forces in Chechnya

The wave of escalating operations by insurgents coupled with a number of high-profile murders and assassination attempts in June has pushed Russia into launching a campaign of pressure aimed at liquidating rebel fighters.
Russia’s campaign is manifesting itself primarily through methods and tactics employed to put pressure on insurgents and their families. In this vein, the strategies used for Chechnya’s "pacification" are now being widely applied in the adjacent republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. In the meantime, the federal government is turning an ostensibly blind eye with regard to these tactics, as evidenced by the total absence of objections from the prosecutor-general’s office or the justice ministry.
Moscow has clearly decided to let the local leadership have a free hand in using severe pressure methods, with the ultimate goal of reversing the surge of resistance actions that began to gain ground at a very unfavorable time for Russia. The Kremlin cannot fail to realize that the usual strategies used by the police and the Federal Security Service (FSB) are not having the desired effect, while Ramzan Kadyrov’s harsh methods in Chechnya, although starkly in violation of Russian laws, create the illusion of results more positive than the reality warrants.
Today the authorities in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria are making wide use of illegal and inhumane measures that they believe can make the difference in their anti-insurgency struggle and tip the balance in their favor.
The most common pressure tactic used against the rebel fighters is to hold parents and relatives responsible for the actions of their children: the family, in effect, is being blamed when their children leave to join the resistance (, July 10). The family members are subjected to interrogation by the police or FSB or other local agencies; they are commonly threatened, intimidated and stripped of their constitutional rights to receive retirement payments or other assistance benefits. The families are thus often driven to leave Chechnya or renounce their children publicly. These acts of renunciation are always broadcast by the local TV channels, which has the effect of making these individuals pariahs in Chechen society.
For instance, human rights activists are still concerned about the fate of Makhsud Abdullaev, the son of a Chechen resistance leader Supyan Abdullaev, given that they have no confirmation as to whether or not he has been incarcerated. The younger Abdullaev was deported from Egypt and vanished upon arrival at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. He subsequently appeared on Chechen TV to call on his father and his father’s comrades in arms to abandon their resistance. However, after his TV appearance he went missing again, which suggests that he is still being used by those who arranged for his deportation from Egypt in order to put pressure on his father (, July 10).
In the event that the government decides that the pressure tactics used to date were unsuccessful, the family will be subjected to other forms of coercion, such as burning down their houses (, July 3). Independent sources, including the Memorial human rights group, reported that at dawn on June 18 armed representatives from Chechnya’s interior ministry set fire to two residences in the village of Engel-Yurt in Chechnya’s Gudermes district. The elderly residents were allowed to leave the house, but all of their belongings remained inside (, July 2). According to Memorial, these arson attacks are no longer simply isolated cases, given that dozens of similar incidents have been recorded in Chechnya.
Torture and violence during pre-trial confinement have become routine across the entire North Caucasus (, July 10). The public is increasingly fearful of being detained, since arrests that are frequently documented improperly or not documented at all turn into tragic experiences in which the detained individuals are subjected to beatings in order to extract confessions of having ties to insurgents. Unauthorized searches may accompany arrests; besides, to demand a search warrant would be tantamount to openly challenging the law enforcement authorities, so the public’s reaction is to pretend that these violations are simply par for the course. People are often arrested for trivial reasons, such as complaints made by an offending party; other times, a young man may name his friends or relatives out of fear for his life. This spirals into a chain of multiple arrests, mostly of young people, who do not even realize that they have been labeled as insurgent sympathizers or accomplices. These tactics have already become routine in all the republics of the North Caucasus.
Most commonly, the victims of these arrests are those who do not support the Sufi sect of Islam; these individuals tend to avoid attention and try to blend in with the Sufis. Their abductions often end with the victims turning up dead (this is a common tactic of law enforcement authorities in Ingushetia, Dagestan and sometimes Kabardino-Balkaria).
Persecution reaches not only those who living in the region: people who left Russia years ago are also victims. Political asylum offers no protection against those who have embarked on the path of "elimination of enemies" (as the series of assassinations in Turkey and Austria in 2008 and 2009 illustrates). It is worth noting that blackmail is also being used to try to compel many notable Chechen politicians of Aslan Maskhadov’s era to return to Chechnya (, July 8).
Just this week, news media reported on the public execution of Rizvan Albekov in the village of Akhkinchu-Borzoi in Chechnya’s Kurchaloi district, who was suspected of alleged ties to the insurgency (, July 10). The victim was executed in the center of the village in full view of the crowd of young people as a lesson to others who might want to provide aid to the rebels. It should be noted that the victim’s family had won a case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg regarding the death of Rizvan’s brother in 2000.
However, it is exactly crimes like these that motivate young people to join the insurgency. Moreover, those who join the rebels include current members of the police. For example, according to Chechen rebel leader Dokka Umarov, as many as 30 policemen who served under Ramzan Kadyrov’s command have joined the rebel forces since the beginning of 2009 (, July 11).
Nothing can excuse the use of intimidation tactics against peaceful civilians, including the claim that the rebels themselves do not stop at similar measures. A government that ignores the law is doomed to remain outside the law. These widespread pressure tactics produce an effect completely contrary to that desired, and cannot fail to cause an unfavorable public reaction. Therefore, the predictable consequences of these policies will provide further support for the resistance fighters, young people’s revulsion towards the government, and the alienation of Sufi Islam as a form of government propaganda in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.