Who Was Behind the Recent Bombing in Stavropol?

Against the background of Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov’s, growing concerns about the number of rebels operating throughout Chechnya (EDM, May 28), it has been decided in the capital Grozny to set up a special commission charged with counting how many Chechens are in fact engaged in the armed resistance movement against the Russian authorities (Vedomosti, May 25). Considering the reaction of the authorities, it can be supposed that henceforth this type of information will be kept strictly secret. That, in essence, means that anything which would contradict Kadyrov’s statements would be deemed “untrustworthy.”

Meanwhile, in the neighboring Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, the local authorities have come up with their own figures on the number of militants operating throughout the territory within their jurisdiction. The interior ministry of Kabardino-Balkaria estimates that there are nearly 700 fighters in this tiny republic. As the head of the Kabardino-Balkaria section of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Investigative Committee, Valery Ustov, recently said, “according to the special departments of the ministry of internal affairs (MVD) and the Federal Security Service (FSB), there is approximately a 700-men-strong underground militant organization in the republic. This is the total number of militants across Kabardino-Balkaria, including sympathizers.” The illegal armed units generally include young people, many of whom have college degrees. Valery Ustov became one of the first among the siloviki to admit the fact that the armed resistance movement has a common leadership. “We have proof that their activities are fully coordinated,” Ustov asserted, adding, “This movement inside Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, Ingushetia [and] Dagestan definitely has common goals [and] leadership, and this is all coordinated and planned” (www.yuga.ru, May 28).

His words mean that it took years for the Russian authorities to officially acknowledge what everyone else has known and talked about for a very long time (See The Jamestown Fondation conference “The Circassians: Past, Present and Future,” May 21, 2007 Washington DC). In any case, this admission by the authorities shows that they can no longer hide what is obvious. The public mood is resolutely changing to Moscow’s disadvantage and this process is taking place against the background of numerous arrests and the religious harassment of young people. Attempts by Russian authorities to open old Soviet-type summer camps for youths from all of the North Caucasus republics, as a peculiar counterbalance to the rebel ideology (www.rg.ru, May 27), demonstrate that there Moscow has no realistic policy toward the region.

Explosions and shootings targeting the siloviki have already become a part of everyday life in Kabardino-Balkaria. But a blast in front of the theater hall in the town of Stavropol 15 minutes before the beginning of a performance by the Vainakh Chechen national dance ensemble came as a loud slap in the face to President, Dmitry Medvedev’s, envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin. The explosion on May 26 in downtown Stavropol killed seven people, including an 11-year-old Chechen girl, and wounded more than 40. It is worth noting that Stavropol is the center of the Cossack region that played an important role in the Russian conquest of the Caucasus and is now the stronghold pressuring the highlanders (Gortsy) in the North Caucasus. The deadly blast in Stavropol is no less significant a demonstration by the rebels of their capabilities than the March 29 explosions in Moscow perpetrated by female suicide bombers (shahids). Both in Stavropol and Moscow, the militants apparently sought the same goal: that is, more than killing someone, to show that they are capable of striking anywhere in Russia.

That is why the idea that the Stavropol explosion was perpetrated by Russian nationalists is no more than the fantasy of journalists who eschew the obvious facts for incredible interpretations (Novaya Gazeta, May 28). There are no nationalist groups among the Russian-Cossack population in the North Caucasus that would be able to strike against the Gortsy. Besides, any action similar to the recent one in Stavropol would also go against the interests of the Russian authorities, and nationalists in such a highly explosive region would never choose this type of tactic without first securing permission from the authorities themselves. Rebel actions, on the other hand, seek to destroy the prestige and self-esteem of the Russian government as it is engaged in preparations for the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics scheduled for 2014. The hasty information that both the organizer and the perpetrators of the Stavropol blast were detained turned out later to be premature. The local authorities in Ingushetia refused to confirm that the detainees were residents of this North Caucasus republic (www.ingushetiyaru.org, May 30).

Taking into account that the explosion in Stavropol was timed toward the performance of the Chechen dance ensemble, some Russian commentators were quick to link the terrorist act to the Chechens at best or the Ingush at worst. Nonetheless, militants from Chechnya or Ingushetia would hardly have been sent on this special assignment to organize an explosion in a faraway place, not to mention the fact that the locally operating Islamist jamaats, such as Yarmuk, Karachay and Nogai Steppe, have their own long experience of organizing such actions in that region. From the year 2000 to this day, the Stavropol region has seen a great many rebel activities, but the Russian authorities right away chose to come up with a more convenient “Chechen connection” to the Stavropol blast. If the involvement of local jamaats is confirmed, then that will herald the revival of the Karachay Jamaat, which greatly suffered in 2007-2008 and had to merge for some time with the Yarmuk Jamaat in Kabardino-Balkaria.

The Russian authorities tend to be increasingly concerned about the role the internet is playing in the consolidation of the rebel movement. Russian politicians claim that extremist materials available on the internet have tripled since June 2008, and this was confirmed by the first deputy minister of justice of the Russian Federation, Aleksandr Fyodorov, during a May 25 meeting of the joint commission for national policy of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament (https://xakac.info/news/201005267916#title). Even a harmless interview by North Ossetian Mufti Ali Khaji Yevteyev, himself an ethnic Russian, was declared extremist. The reason was his reminiscence of the time when he was making his first steps into Islam and, as a jamaat member, became acquainted with Anzor Astemirov, Emir Khattab and other rebel leaders. Yevteyev’s previous ties were known to everyone, including the authorities, when they gave their consent to his assuming the position of the Mufti of North Ossetia. The Russian authorities thought at that time that he could play a key role in bringing Ossetian radicals to their side. Ali Khaji Yevteyev proved to be successful to some degree. But his sincere confession in the interview, and his unambiguous disrespect for the Russian Orthodox Church, have caused a public scandal. The harsh criticism with which Yevteyev’s revelation was met by nearly all muftis of the country forced him to quit his position (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/2052665.html). Being unable to escape its Soviet past, the Russian authorities keep regulating all the activities of the official Muslim clergy, and this compromises the clergy in the eyes of the Russian Muslim community.

Moscow refuses to acknowledge the loss of its role in the North Caucasus and is more and more often making inexcusable mistakes that further weaken its influence throughout the region.