Russia Errs Again in Trying to Resolve the North Caucasus Insurgency Problem

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 103

Ramzan Kadyrov (Source: nnm.ru)

The last few days in May have been tense in Chechnya, including inside the pro-Moscow government of Chechnya, with Ramzan Kadyrov sacking the republican government. Odes Baisultanov, Kadyrov’s cousin, had presided over the government since 2007 (http://ria.ru/politics/20120521/654518251.html). The former minister of agriculture, Abubakar Edelgeriev, replaced Baisultanov as Chechnya’s prime minister (http://top.rbc.ru/politics/24/05/2012/652005.shtml). Simultaneously, Kadyrov changed the structure of the government, diminishing the republican government’s importance and increasing his administration’s clout. The presidential and governmental administrations have been combined into one body and the Chechen president now has the opportunity to effectively control the prime minister through the combined body. Magomed Daudov, a man from the small circle of Kadyrov’s close associates, was appointed as the head of the unified administration of the president and the government of Chechnya.

Meanwhile, the Chechen media reported on a successful operation of government forces against separatist militants operating in the republic. Officials were quoted as saying that on May 24 police killed three rebels in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district. Chechen Interior Ministry forces, including its Akhmad Kadyrov special motorized regiment, and local district police took part in the operation. The three slain suspected rebels were aged 20, 22 and 25 (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/chechnya/1534694.html). The authorities emphasized that Ramzan Kadyrov personally oversaw the police operation. Speaking on local television, Kadyrov stated that “the work is underway to intensify the search for, detention and elimination of the members of illegal armed groups.” Kadyrov also reiterated that those militants who had not committed grave crimes had the opportunity to surrender and receive government help to reintegrate into civilian life. The Chechen Interior Ministry’s website quoted Kadyrov as saying: “According to the information we have, there is panic in the ranks of the bandits, as disagreements have erupted among them. Their days are numbered and they know it” (http://lenta.ru/news/2012/05/24/nohchi).

 If the operation were only about catching three rebels, such a formidable government force would not have been needed and Kadyrov would not have overseen the operation personally. Most likely the government is after a much bigger group and decided to strike at the rebels’ base after the insurgents published videos recorded on April 29 showing Doku Umarov flanked by dozens of militants. Kadyrov apparently took part in the operation because he hoped there would be some significant capture of a noted insurgent commander.

Literally two days later, Chechnya’s media reported a successful operation against an insurgent in Grozny’s suburbs. On May 26, government forces killed a militant, 22-year-old Adnan (aka Adam) Saparbaev of the village Kerla-Yurt. According to government sources, the militant was killed when he tried to resist arrest. Strangely, however, the alleged militant had only a Makarov pistol and two cartridges on him – the kind of weaponry that normally police officers have (http://lenta.ru/news/2012/05/26/noxchi).

Chechen authorities have had high expectations for an international theological conference on the theme of Islamic doctrine against radicalism that was recently organized from May 25-27, with part of the conference being held in Moscow (May 25-26), while the last day of the event was in Grozny on May 27. Kadyrov financed the participants’ travel to the Chechen capital for the last day of the conference. The conference intended to adopt collectively a fatwa – a ruling on Islamic law – that would condemn radicalism and extremism as well as the indiscriminate use of such terms asjihad, takfir (the practice of one Muslim declaring another Muslim an unbeliever) and caliphate (the historical concept of Islamic statehood). Speaking on Chechnya’s Grozny TV channel May 25, Kadyrov stated that Chechnya’s residents would understand and appreciate what the theologians at the conference had to say. Fifty delegates, including theologians, muftis and minsters for religion from Persian Gulf countries – 30 countries in all – attended the conference. The purpose of the conference apparently was not about convincing the rebels, but rather convincing the civilian population to stop assisting the insurgency. Russian authorities regarded the conference as a silver bullet against the armed resistance in the North Caucasus (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2012/5/26/136987/).

There is, however, an important caveat. Just as in other religions there is no single authority in Islam to deliver a final judgment. Every teaching in Islam has its own followers and authorities who have the right to issue fatwas. No doubt the participants in this conference believe Russia’s role in the world of Islam is exceptionally positive and were prepared not simply to issue a fatwa approved by Russia, but to do much more than that. Moscow expected that the sheer number of theologians would impress the North Caucasian Muslims and have an impact on them. It is noticeable though that Moscow traded the quality of the invitees for their large numbers.

The fatwa was expected to be announced in Grozny earlier this week as it implicates the age-old problem of the Russians’ inability to separate the wheat from the chaff. For example, the organizer of the conference, the al-Wasatiyyah Foundation of Kuwait, has its own branch in Moscow, which indicates the kind of forces that organized the conference and who will pass on the fatwa. Bekmurza Bekmurzaev, who is minister for ethnic policies, religious and external affairs of Dagestan, also helped organize the conference. Bekmurzaev is better known for making several scandalous statements. In 2011, for example, he forced Muslim scholars in Dagestan into adopting a fatwa stating that the true shahids (martyrs), predestined for paradise, were those individuals who died while defending the Russian constitution and Russian laws, fighting for the territorial integrity of Russia and Dagestan (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/187901/).

Thus, judging by these awkward moves, it appears Moscow is under severe time constraints. Russia has tried to come up with a solution to the insurgency problem, but is only looking for a remedy among the same people it has reared and fed. This approach makes Moscow’s efforts in the region ineffective, as the armed resistance of the North Caucasus is left out of the picture. Therefore, the fatwa is unlikely to have any significant impact on the situation in the North Caucasus. Russia’s preference to resolve issues with itself, instead of dealing with its actual opponents, continues to remain the hallmark of the Russian vision for conflict resolution in the North Caucasus.