The Radicals Among the North Caucasus Rebels Appear to Have Gained the Upper Hand

Russian Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliev, during a visit to the Chechen capital Grozny on April 24, told a meeting he organized there that attempts might be made to commit terrorist acts in Chechnya during the May 9 Victory Day festivities (, April 24).
From April 29 through May 10, the entire personnel of the interior ministry of the Chechen Republic will be put on high alert (, April 24). This announcement sounds slightly inadequate and contradicts the day-to-day statements made by the federal government and the local authorities about Chechnya being “the quietest constituent territory of the Russian Federation.” But the interior ministry leadership has its own view on this. It is difficult to count how many times Nurgaliev has urgently flown to Chechnya over the past several months, and for good reason. According to him, given the events that recently took place in Moscow and Kizlyar, it cannot be ruled out that the rebels might attempt to destabilize the situation in Chechnya during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9 (, April 24).
Nonetheless, Nurgaliev’s decision to promptly fly in person to the North Caucasus republic could hardly be connected to the Moscow-Kizlyar linkage. Rather, there is inside information about ongoing preparations by Chechen rebels to strike again. By making such public statements, the interior minister apparently was less interested in perpetuating the image of Chechnya as “the quietest constituent territory” of Russia, than letting the insurgents know that the authorities supposedly have information about their plans and therefore that they should abandon their intention to strike during the celebrations. Rebel strikes during the Victory Day festivities would undoubtedly have a thunderous effect both inside Russia and abroad, and the government felt compelled to act preemptively, although just verbally.
During the meeting in Grozny in the Chechen interior ministry, Nurgaliev admitted that in general the situation in the North Caucasus remains difficult and that the level of terrorist threat is not decreasing (, April 24). He put five goals before the Chechnya interior ministry. First, the law enforcement officers (siloviki) must be put on high alert. Second, pay attention to the arrangement of forces and means in the organs of the interior ministry engaged in maintaining law and order and public security. Third, take under full control all important administrative facilities, transportation, etc. Fourth, thoroughly process all information on the rebels. And fifth, react to the rebel actions without delay. These instructions demonstrate that the siloviki have significant reasons to be concerned about possible insurgent activities during the upcoming celebrations. If their information is accurate, then it will not be very characteristic of the rebels, since the peaks of their activities usually do not coincide with specific celebrations or events. The reason for this is that during festivities and other special events there is a reinforced patrolling of cities and villages that involves not only the interior ministry but also the army, Federal Security Service (FSB), border guards and law enforcement officers sent in from other regions of Russia. Insurgents prefer not to perpetrate any actions under those circumstances. At least this has been the case so far (it is doubtful that the rebels were behind the assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov during the Victory Day parade in Grozny on May 9, 2004).
That Chechnya continues to be an unstable region was once again confirmed by Nurgaliev stating that “there will not be a significant reduction in the interior ministry’s rapid reaction task force in the North Caucasus since the situation in the region continues to be uneasy” (Ekho Moskvy, April 24). This means that the Russian authorities are in effect admitting that current conditions compel them to maintain additional forces in the region to contain and deter the insurgents.
It would be interesting to look at the figures the Russian interior minister cited at the meeting in Grozny. For instance, it was revealed for the first time that “over the past ten years 989 Islamist fighters have been neutralized, including 45 leaders of the mujahideen. There have been more than 15,000 special operations. Tens of thousands of firearms and tons of explosives have been removed. On the other hand, during the same period of time, 2,178 interior ministry officers have been killed in Chechnya; 53,500 people have been decorated for military service and 111 police officers have been given the title of hero of Russia, including 83 posthumously” (, Aril 25). In fact, the Russian authorities admit that the number of police officers killed during the operation is double the number of eliminated rebel fighters. But the figure says nothing about the army officers, the FSB, the border guards or other special units.
Meanwhile, Ziyad Sabsabi, the Syrian-born Chechen member of the Federation Council (the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament), recently introduced legislation forbidding “the improper use” of the words “shaheed” and “jamaat” in the Russian media. Sabsabi argues that if suicide bombers were instead called “murderers” and “criminals,” that might prevent the potential victims recruited by rebels from becoming “live bombs” (Ekho Moskvy, April 25). It is not quite clear what drives those kinds of initiatives, ignorance or a feeling of doom in the face of rebel actions. It would not really matter for those choosing to sacrifice themselves what they are called in the Russian media.
That the participants of the resistance movement have no interest in how their image is portrayed in the Russian mass media or seen by the public was shown in an appeal by the Ingush jamaat that was published by the website on April 15. The appeal asserted that the civilian population is not regarded as peaceful since they support the policy of their government. “We state with full responsibility that unless you demand that your government stop the genocide and the extermination of our peoples and unless you demand the withdrawal of your troops from the territory of the Caucasus Emirate, we will not consider you as the civilian population of Russia,” read the statement by the Ingush jamaat, adding: “All the more so, given that all the soldiers and mercenaries currently present in the Caucasus are not just foreigners coming from other countries, but your sons, husbands and fathers, for whom you wash socks and make soup” (, April 15).
This statement reflects the spirit of the announcements made by the leader of the militants, Doku Umarov, after the terrorist attacks in Moscow on March 31. The militants seem to have taken the idea that there is a “peaceful civilian population” off their agenda and this attests to the radicalization of the Islamist movement in the North Caucasus, against the backdrop of the positive trends observed in 2009 in recalibrating a common strategy of resistance. This might be an indication of differences of opinion within the supreme leadership of the resistance movement. Apparently, the radical forces that insist on waging total war throughout Russia have gained the upper hand.