On March 19, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev held a government meeting in Grozny, Chechnya. Two primary issues were discussed—disrupting the financial channels that feed the insurgents in the North Caucasus and developing additional measures to prevent extremist outbursts in the Russian Federation and, in particular, in the North Caucasus Federal District. Patrushev claimed that terrorist crimes decreased by 30 percent in 2013, but also noted that out of 218 terrorism-related crimes that were committed in Russia, 214 took place in the North Caucasus, and 80 percent of those occurred in Dagestan. Patrushev warned that the North Caucasian insurgents do not simply want to destabilize the region, but also to strike targets outside the region, and cited the terrorist attacks in Volgograd in October and December 2013 as examples. Patrushev said that the security forces uncovered 30 instances of financing for the North Caucasus insurgents in 2013, but added that much more work was needed to disrupt financing of the rebels. “[T]he number of solved crimes is inadequate in comparison to the scale of the problem,” he said. “Stable channels of financial support for the bandit underground are still being uncovered and are not being disrupted sufficiently. These activities rely on a wide network of emissaries and intermediaries” (https://kavpolit.com/articles/v_groznom_proshlo_vyezdnoe_soveschanie_sekretarja-1967/).
On March 20, Russian media broke the news that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had uncovered an illegal arms supply channel. Conveniently fitting Russia’s information war with Ukraine and the West, the reports said 39 guns had been confiscated in a special operation, and that they had come from suppliers located in EU countries and were illegally delivered to the North Caucasus via Ukraine. Although no direct connection to the insurgency was reported, Russian news agencies implied that the illegal arms were ending up in the hands of the insurgents. According to Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Sydoruk, 5.3 percent of all crimes in the North Caucasian Federal District were connected to illegal arms, in comparison to only 1.2 percent on average in the entire Russian Federation (https://itar-tass.com/proisshestviya/1061132).
With relations between Russia and Ukraine tense following Moscow’s brazen grab of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, reports alleging Ukrainian involvement in the conflict in the North Caucasus are likely to proliferate further. The Russian government found no plausible casus belli prior to invasion in Crimea and it appears to be desperately trying to find one post facto.
The Russian government’s statistics concerning the North Caucasus once again do not add up. Nearly all official statements trumpeted the decline of casualties and terrorist activities related to the North Caucasian militants in 2013. According to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, 579 terrorism-related crimes were committed in the North Caucasus Federal District in 2013, accounting for 90 percent of all such crimes registered in the Russian Federation last year. Terror attacks increased by 80 percent and extremist crimes rose by 55 percent in comparison to the previous year. Chaika also admitted that the practice of attributing crimes to slain militants is still widespread in the North Caucasus Federal District, with 173 out of the 408 crimes that were putatively solved having been attributed randomly to slain rebels (https://www.interfax-russia.ru/South/news.asp?id=480337&sec=1671).
Earlier, the Kavkazsky Uzel website provided estimates of the casualties in the North Caucasus, also noting that there had been a substantial decline. It reported that 127 servicemen were killed and 297 wounded in attacks in 2013 (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237362/). Contradicting Kavkazsky Uzel, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sydoruk reported that 135 servicemen died and 337 were wounded in 2013 (https://itar-tass.com/proisshestviya/1061132).
The recent news about the death of Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov does not seem to have reassured Russian authorities. Some Russian experts, however, think that the Caucasus Emirate’s project will undergo significant changes or even die out. On March 18, the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Alaiskhab Kebekov, confirmed Umarov’s death and that he had been chosen to succeed Umarov. According to Islamic affairs analyst Orkhan Jemal, Kebekov is likely to pursue a more moderate version of jihad: in particular, the new leader is reportedly opposed to using suicide attacks. Jemal also said that the choice of Kebekov as leader of the Caucasus Emirate indicated the North Caucasian insurgency’s further departure from Chechen and other nationalisms to a supranational Islamist ideology. The new leadership of the Caucasus Emirate reflected the reality that Dagestan is now the locus of the insurgency, according to Jemal (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/239778/).
The transformation of the North Caucasian insurgency is going to take place in a profoundly new environment. With the formal annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin proclaimed his responsibility for the Russian World (Russky Mir) (https://www.kremlin.ru/news/20603). In this new environment, the place of ethnic non-Russians in the Russian Federation is also likely to change, as they will be more openly sidelined and discriminated against. The open declaration of Russian nationalism as the Russian Federation’s state ideology is likely to have serious repercussions in the North Caucasus and to fuel discontent in the region.