Split in Rebel Ranks: Does it Help the Rebels, or the Russian Siloviki?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 11 Issue: 8

Insurgency-related violence continued across the North Caucasus this past week, most notably in an attack on the Chechen parliament, as observers continued to discuss the apparent split within the ranks of the North Caucasian rebels.

A policeman and his brother were wounded late yesterday (October 21) when unidentified gunmen fired on them at the Komsomolsky state farm in the Dagestani city of Kizilyurt. The policeman was shot in the arm and not seriously wounded while his brother was seriously wounded in the stomach. The attackers escaped (www.newsru.com, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 22).

On October 20, Marat Ramazanov, a businessman and former deputy in Dagestan’s People’s Assembly, was shot and killed in Makhachkala, the republic’s capital. That same day, a counter-terrorist regime was imposed in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district and two alleged rebel fighters were blockaded in Bavtugai, a village in the district Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, announced later that day that the two alleged militants were killed during a special operation carried out by Chechen law enforcement officers in Bavtugai after lengthy negotiations broke down. Kadyrov said the two slain alleged rebels had been identified as Ayub Dudaev and Yunus Yasaev, residents of the village of Benoi in Chechnya’s Nozhai-Yurt district (Interfax, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 22).

In Kabardino-Balkaria, a member of an OMON special task police unit from the Volgograd region and another policeman were wounded during a special operation launched on October 21 against a group of alleged militants who were reportedly hiding in a mine shaft at the out-of-service Tyrnyauz Tungsten-Molybdenum Plant. A security official told Interfax that security forces, with the help of the Elbruss district imam and a deputy from the local legislature, had appealed to the militants to give up, but that the appeal was ignored and the special operation was launched.  The previous day (October 20), a local policeman and three gunmen were killed in a shootout at the disused plant after the gunmen allegedly opened fire on police (www.newsru.com, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 21).

The insurgent attack on the Chechen parliament in the republic’s capital Grozny on October 19 killed at least six people and injured 17 others. At least three attackers and possibly as many as four or five reportedly managed to penetrate the security perimeter around the parliament, with some apparently getting inside the building and blowing themselves up. Officials said at least two policemen and the parliament’s supplies manager were killed in the attack, while seven policemen and 11 civilians were wounded. The attack coincided with a visit to Grozny by Russian Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliev, who met with Kadyrov following the attack and claimed that such incidents are rare and that Chechnya is “safe and stable” (www.telegraph.co.uk, October 19; www.moscowtimes.com, October 20).

Kadyrov blamed the London-based Chechen rebel emissary, Akhmed Zakaev, and his “patrons in other Western countries” for the raid on the parliament. Zakaev denied Kadyrov’s allegation, saying he had nothing to do with the raid on the parliament (www.moscowtimes.com, www.echo.msk.ru, October 20). Zakaev recently declared support for Chechen rebel field commander Khusein Gakaev –who, along with at least two other Chechen rebel field commanders, has broken away from Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader and “emir” of the Caucasus Emirate.

Observers differ over the potential effect of the apparent split in the ranks of the rebels. The Kavkazsky Uzel website today (October 22) quoted Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center as saying: “This split, besides objective reasons, was also somehow provoked by the special services. This is not demonstrable, but it all happened so unexpectedly.” Still, Malashenko told the website that the split will make it more difficult for the Russian authorities to combat the armed underground in Chechnya. “Our siloviki are used to acting when there is some kind of defined organization, to catch the leader, and that is it,” he said, adding “But when it is not clear who is doing what, when there is no strict hierarchy, it will probably be more difficult for the siloviki to fight against them [the insurgents].”

On the other hand, the journalist and political analyst, Orkhan Dzhemal, predicted that the split in the rebels’ ranks would make it easier for the Russian siloviki to fight the insurgency. Dzhemal said that while rebels under Umarov’s leadership and the Russian siloviki have fought each other verbally, in reality there have been no “serious” armed clashes between the two sides. The rebels under Gakaev’s leadership, on the other hand, are targeting Chechen government officials personally, and thus are a more dangerous enemy than Umarov’s militants. Nonetheless, the split of the rebels into two groups can make them less organizationally efficient, which the siloviki can use to their advantage, Kavkazsky Uzel quoted Dzhemal as saying.

According to the website, both Malashenko and Dzhemal believe that the attack on the Chechen parliament and the August attack on Tsentoroi, Kadyrov’s ancestral village, create the preconditions for an increase in the number of federal troops in Chechnya and a return to a counter-terrorist regime in the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 22).