The Chechen militant assault on Grozny on December 4 (TASS, December 5) is bound to have an impact on the neighboring republics. What the impact will be and how the other republics will try to prevent similar attacks by the Caucasus Emirate is an important question.
First of all, Ramzan Kadyrov’s vow to take action against the relatives of militants will be further developed and honed in the neighboring republics. After the rebel attack, Kadyrov stated: “I officially declare that an end has come to the time when parents were not responsible for the actions of their sons and daughters. In Chechnya, they will be held responsible!” The ruler of Chechnya also noted that the families of militants who kill law enforcement agents will be immediately expelled from the republic with no right of return and their houses will be “demolished along with their foundations” (Kavkazsky Uzel, December 6).
This practice is not new: it has already been implemented for several years (Hrw.org, July 2009). And the practice of destroying the houses of militants is gradually spreading to other neighboring republics. For example, at the beginning of 2014, in the Dagestani city of Khasavyurt, which is located on the administrative border between Dagestan and Chechnya, the house of the slain rebel emir of Khasavyurt, Asadulla (Marat Idrisov), was blown up (Vdagestan.com, January 17). In Ingushetia, the police have blown up the houses of suspected militants during special operations and even destroyed the remnants of these homes (Ichkeria.info, May 24). An anonymous anti-Salafist group created by the police in Kabardino-Balkaria has threatened the relatives of suspected militants with arson attacks (Qsec.ru, March 2011).
Government forces also are in a habit of setting forests on fire in an attempt to force the rebels to surrender, even though such fires do irreparable damage to the regional ecosystem (Wordyou.ru, March 28). Still, punishing the relatives of militants has not become a widespread practice in the republics of the North Caucasus other than in Chechnya.
Why is this practice so widely used in Chechnya and not in the neighboring republics? The answer is that Ramzan Kadyrov has the personal support of President Vladimir Putin, while the governors of the other republics in the region have to deal with human rights activists, politicians and scholarly experts who remain active despite pressure and do not approve of such methods (Regnum.ru, December 9). These actors can challenge the government’s decisions, something that is virtually impossible in Chechnya because of Kadyrov’s authoritarian rule. Thus, it is no surprise that only Moscow-based rights organizations have reported the arson attacks on the houses of relatives of militants in Chechnya, but none of the local rights activists have reacted to these actions. In Dagestan and Ingushetia, violations of human rights elicit a large response in society and victims manage to submit their cases to European human rights institutions for consideration (News.ge, December 9).
According to unconfirmed reports from independent sources, a massive crackdown on women who may have links to the rebels is occurring in Dagestan (Vdagestan.com, December 7). Any woman in the republic who wears the hijab is detained by the police for identification purposes. The detained women then are photographed, fingerprinted and catalogued on a special list of people the police deem unreliable. At the same time, official charges are not pressed and wearing the hijab appears to be the only reason for their harassment. In the opinion of women who have gone through the procedure, these detentions may be taking place because the militants who attacked Grozny on December 4 said in a video they released (for details on the video, see EDM, December 11) that they were taking revenge for the persecution of women wearing the hijab.
Since the December 4 attack in Chechnya, there have also been several disappearances of young men in Dagestan who were suspected of having Salafist sympathies. On December 5, a well-known Dagestani blogger, Kamil Guliev (a.k.a. Abu Usman on Facebook) did not return home from work. Guliev is known for actively campaigning to assist highly vulnerable people. His last online post was about a fire in the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Makhachkala. In his last text message, he said that he was being taken from Makhachkala to the Kizilyurt police department, which is 53 kilometers west of the Dagestani capital. Guliev was eventually found at the Karabudakhkent police department, 30 kilometers south of Makhachkala. The activist was accused of illegal arms possession (Golosislama.ru, December 9)—a classic pretext Russian police use to make arrests. Guliev’s wife said she was told his arrest was connected to the attack on Grozny. The websites linked to the armed Islamic underground movement in Dagestan also claimed other people were kidnapped and subsequently found at various police stations across Dagestan (Vdagestan.com, December 7).
The Chechen militant attack on Grozny may spur other insurgent operations across the North Caucasus. Since the Grozny attack attracted worldwide attention, the rebels in the North Caucasus will try to use it to refute the claims made by Russian authorities’ that the insurgents in the region are becoming less active.
The December 4 attack in the Chechen capital will directly or indirectly affect Moscow’s policies in the region. The Russian government is likely to harden its stance in the republics of the North Caucasus. However, the policy of punishing the relatives of the militants only creates greater numbers of humiliated and insulted individuals who want to take revenge on the authorities.