The Situation Inside the North Caucasus Rebel Leadership Remains Unclear

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 157

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov.

This past week brought little clarity as to whether Doku Umarov in fact resigned or not from his position as the leader of the North Caucasus rebels. It still remains unclear who suggested to Umarov that he cancel the announcement he himself had made earlier and, moreover, to call it “fabricated” (, August 4). If Umarov’s first announcement was indeed fictitious, then it is again hard to find in his second announcement any explanation for why he allowed himself to take part in this game. In order to support Umarov’s latter decision, that is to not quit his position, Movladi Udugov could not come up with anything better than to publish an open letter, in the best Soviet tradition, from the “residents of Chechnya,” urging Umarov to stay on as Emir of all Muslims of the North Caucasus, since they could not see anyone among his comrades-in-arms who would be capable of replacing him (, August 6). It is not difficult to conclude that the “collective letter” is not as much in support of Umarov as it is against Aslanbek Vadalov, his purported replacement, whose leadership is placed in doubt by the letter’s signatories.

Simultaneously, texts began to appear on the websites of the North Caucasus national jamaats calling for subordination to the emir and the punishment of those who orchestrated a mutiny against his authority ( This, in fact, means that the reader is being told that the controversial episode involving Umarov’s dismissal might well be a plot against him, and that the conspirators should be punished. Among the culpable could be four leading Chechen rebel commanders: Emir Aslanbek (aka Aslanbek Vadalov), first deputy emir of the Caucasus Emirate; Emir Hussein (aka Hussein Gakaev), emir of the Chechen Vilayat; Emir Tarkhan (aka Tarkhan Gaziev), emir of the Southwestern Front; and Emir Mukhanad, deputy military emir of the Caucasus Emirate. It appears the last remaining influential commanders of the highest echelon of the Chechen Jamaat could end up being punished.

In order to show that there is authority among the ranks of the armed resistance movement, it was decided to not “hurt too much” Movladi Udugov, the chief ideologue who until recently served as director of the information and analysis service of the Caucasus Emirate, but to “temporarily” relieve him from his obligations at the Kavkaz Center website, the main ideological outlet of the rebels (, August 6). But what remains nebulous is why the decree on his removal from his position, albeit “temporarily,” was issued by some “plenipotentiary representative of the Caucasus Emirate” named Mayliev Hussein instead of Emir Doku Umarov himself. Everything that has happened so far brings us to the conclusion that things are far from being well in the rebel camp. We are dealing with the vestiges of power of those rebel commanders who remain loyal to the ideas of the late President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, and his successor to the post, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev. Meanwhile, the position of Emir Aslanbek Vadalov, who served as the North Caucasus rebel leader for only about two days, remains unknown. Incidentally, Emir Aslanbek was immediately vilified in Moscow, with some journalists, who clearly had not anticipated his rise, rushing to portray him as nearly the right hand of al-Qaeda (Ekho Moskvy, August 7).

Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Russian President of Chechnya, did not remain on the sidelines and demanded that the law-enforcement agencies liquidate Doku Umarov. This, of course, was not the first nor the last such directive issued by Kadyrov on Umarov. Kadyrov has many times in the past given deadlines for Umarov’s elimination and has even pledged while standing in front of the TV cameras to have Umarov liquidated in a matter of days. But, like three years ago, the police can only rely on chance rather than a well-planned operation. According to some independent analysts, this permanent search for the rebel leader is simply a way to demonstrate the constant readiness and unmitigated zeal of the police (, August 4). In fact, the siloviki themselves are trying to avoid encounters with the rebels since nothing good for them can come out of those encounters. In rare cases, rebels might be captured alive during special operations, but in most cases they would fight to death.

Whatever the issue with the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, the uncertainties surrounding him and the cadres he has appointed have so far not affected his subordinates and ordinary members of the North Caucasus Jamaats.

August has not been a good month for the Chechen authorities. Since the beginning of this year, the law enforcement agencies in Chechnya have killed 51 and captured 128 individuals who either fought in the rebels’ ranks or were rebel collaborators. Three of those who were captured are accused of recruiting militants. This has already become the typical wording in reports prepared for Kadyrov by subordinates trying to ingratiate themselves with their leader and show that they are successful in outmaneuvering the rebels. Chechen Interior Minister, Ruslan Alkhanov, shared those figures with Kadyrov during a recent meeting to sum up the results of the first six months of the year.

Alkhanov also reported that two rebel bases filled with camouflaged caches of arms and munitions had been discovered and destroyed. He said that 159 firearms, more than 12,000 bullets, 134 projectiles and mines, 281 grenades, 28 self-made explosive devices, and more than 137 kilograms of explosives had been seized.

But those accounts did not distract the rebels from striking the police, often in the Chechen capital Grozny. For instance, on the night of July 31, two police officers were killed during a special operation in Grozny’s Zavodsky district. On August 3, a police officer was wounded in a clash with a group of rebels in a nearby forest several kilometers from the village of Shalazhi in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district. And on August 8, a special police operation to liquidate two alleged rebels in Grozny’s Leninsky district lasted only half a day. One police officer was killed and one wounded during the operation. The two slain alleged rebels were identified as Anzor Elmurzaev and Elbrus Ibragimov (, August 8).

During the same period, the authorities in Chechnya reported that they killed six and captured two rebels. Two more rebels surrendered voluntarily.

Doku Umarovs’ controversial power games at the beginning of August evidently have had no real impact on the situation in the North Caucasus in general and in Chechnya in particular.