North Caucasus

Drawing the Line

Valeriy Dzutsev, in Eurasia Daily Monitor:

“While solving in part the security issues in Sochi by implementing restrictions on the movements of broadly defined hazardous population categories, Russian government also draws the line separating the North Caucasus from the rest of the country. The solution may look attractive to the security officials, but the price for such a solution is that the North Caucasus is de facto becoming increasingly less and less associated with the Russian Federation.”

Yet Another “Black Widow”?

In connection with today’s atrocity in Volgograd the Russian authorities have once again blamed a “black widow”. This gendered narrative regularly appears in Russia’s state-controlled media. As Amanda Alcott has pointed out:

The monstrous narratives used to describe black widows have become a lynchpin in Kremlin propaganda… and show the world the Russian portrayal of the ongoing war and security services’ operations in the North Caucasus. The narrative is particularly founded in the basic moral superiority of Russian masculinity over femininity, and reinforces the patriarchal power of the Russian government and society by using black widow propaganda as a way to in effect blame femininity for the actions of the black widows, removing any agency, legitimacy or pity associated with their actions and plight.

Also, as I suggested on this blog in 2010:

– Almost without exception, Western media accepted at face value the official statements by Russia’s FSB and other agencies, including the terminology that was used in them. The existence of a “Black Widows” organization dedicated to obtaining revenge for the deaths of slain Islamist insurgents was also treated in some reports almost as an established fact, even though there is little independent evidence to support it.

– The alleged involvement of female suicide bombers – in particular, the “Black Widows” – was a feature of Russian media coverage and official statements (notably the FSB) following earlier terror attacks in Russia, particularly at Nord-Ost and Beslan. In the past, many commentators both in Russia and abroad drew attention to the fact that the “Black Widows” scenario, with its dramatic and even theatrical elements, does not look particularly convincing on close examination. For one thing, among North Caucasus Islamic insurgents shahid or “martyr” operations are usually carried out by men.

Update December 30: Today’s trolleybus blast in Volgograd – the second in 24 hours – was apparently carried out by a male bomber. Some reports say both explosions were the work of male suicide bombers, but others still mention a female guerrilla in connection with the station blast.

Kremlin Dilemma

On October 24, Russia’s Kremlin-friendly politician LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky went on television, where he shouted and ranted about the North Caucasus, apparently calling for barbed wire to be placed around the region, for the fertility of ethnic North Caucasians to be suppressed, and for an increase in the military presence and level of surveillance in the area. His comments received wide support from viewers, by a ratio of three-and-a-half to one over those of his opponents on the show.

Zhirinovsky’s high-profile intervention came in the context of the suicide bombing in Volgograd,  the riots in Biryulyovo, and the recent ethnic pogroms in several of Russia’s cities.

Writing in North Caucasus Weekly, Jamestown analyst Valery Dzutsev commented that

the controversy surrounding Zhirinovsky’s latest comments may not end up being as beneficial to the political players as initially assumed—emotions within society are running high, and the politicians might be forced to actually take some decisive steps beyond simply making a show of their indignation. The Kremlin does not seem to have a good way out. If Moscow reprimands Zhirinovsky, thereby supporting the North Caucasians, it will face a backlash from ethnic Russians. If Moscow does not react to Zhirinovsky’s tirade, it will disappoint the North Caucasians and undermine the positions of the governors in the region. Since the Russian government cannot afford to offend ethnic Russians, the North Caucasians are likely to bear the brunt of ethnic-Russian resentment. This is likely to result in ever greater levels of distrust between non-ethnic-Russian North Caucasians and ethnic Russians, while the governments in the republics of the North Caucasus will have to adopt much more nationalistic stances in order to retain some credibility among their constituents.

Later, on November 12, Caucasian Knot reported Zhirinovsky as saying that his comments had been misunderstood:

“I regret that part of our society  got a negative impression. I spoke only about combating terrorism,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky said at a plenary session of the State Duma.

The LDPR leader also stressed that he meant “to take measures if terror acts were committed”, “Interfax” reports.

As far as the statements about birth control were concerned, then, according to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, he was talking about international practice, and did not make them with regard to the Russian  Federation.

The LDPR leader expressed his regret about the situation.


Chechnya or Bust

In his blog, Berlin-based U.S.-Swiss-Korean journalist Lucian Kim presents a remarkable series of reports on contemporary life and conditions in the North Caucasus – in particular notes and photographs from a journey to Chechnya. He writes:

Before the Boston Marathon bombing, few people had heard of Dagestan. Two years earlier, in April 2011, I traveled to the Russian province and its neighbors Chechnya and Ingushetia. I wanted to see for myself a region that most Russians associate with bandits and Islamic terrorists. And I was dead-set on tracking down Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed warlord who holds Chechnya in an iron grip.

The whole of the blog is well worth reading and studying.

Hat tip: Nina Ivanovna – @ninaivanovna –  on Twitter


Tales of the Caucasus

A recent Levada Center poll indicates that half of Russians would not oppose Chechnya’s secession from Russia:

Meanwhile, a new video by Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov appears to call for a resumption of hostilities on Russian soil, and contains a threat to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics:

U.S. – Russia Relations After Boston – 2

North Caucasus analyst Alexander Cherkasov, interviewed by Vladimir Kara-Murza on Radio Svoboda’s Grani vremeni programme:

Of course, the fact that the main issue in Russian-American relations might be a topic that isn’t Syria at all  … but rather the Boston attack – has somehow, in my opinion, made the subject of the situation of NGOs in Russia even more relevant. Above all, the organizations that undertake independent expert studies – either the monitoring of civil rights, in particular, civil rights in the zones where counter-terrorism operations are underway, or the work with refugees like that done by Svetlana Gannushkina. The Boston terrorist attack is an event that everyone is trying to duck responsibility for. The Chechen authorities say it’s nothing to do with them, the bombers lived mostly in Central Asia and then in the States, and the one who did come to Russia went to Dagestan. The Russian authorities are washing their hands of the whole affair. I would point out that this is the second time in the last half-century when there has been a need for close cooperation between the two countries. The last occasion was the Kennedy assassination, when the Soviet Union had to provide information about the presence of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Soviet Union… At a time when the powers that be on all sides have interests of their own, only independent expert organizations like Human Rights Watch or Memorial can say how far this terrorist attack may be linked to the North Caucasus underground, or the Chechen sector of the North Caucasus underground. Right now we are seeing that those organizations that are working in the region more intensively are either being called “foreign agents” or are having every square inch of their activities minutely examined.

U.S.-Russia Relations After Boston

Inside Out

In EDM, Mairbek Vatchagaev writes that “locating Tamerlan’s ideological trajectory in the North Caucasus may prove to be little more than a distraction.” He points out that, with impaired links to Chechen culture, Tsarnaev appears to have been relatively isolated from the Chechen world, and probably picked up his Islamist views in Boston, from local Salafists. This would account for his hostility to U.S. Middle East policy, and his choice of the U.S., rather than Russia, as the target for a terrorist attack.

The article also draws attention to the fact that it was only some time after the Boston attack that the potential North Caucasus link began to be mentioned, giving the Moscow authorities an opportunity to become involved in the investigation:

In all this tragedy, Moscow seems to consider itself a winner. President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference that Russia had long sought cooperation from the US in the field of international terrorism ( There was more of a reprimand of the US in Putin’s words than an admission of Russia’s own guilt for the attack in Boston. Moscow interprets terrorism in quite broad terms and includes everyone who is dissatisfied with the Russian political system and seeks to secede from Russia.

It has been observed that one point not addressed in the piece – though raised obliquely in one passage – is the question of whether Tsarnaev might have been a Russian agent.

Meanwhile, an RFE/RL report considers the role social media may have played in interactions between Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his Kazakh college friends Dias Kadyrbaev and Azamat Tazhayakov:

The vKontakte post by Kadyrbaev is striking mostly because of its timing. When it was posted there had already been reports of a shoot-out that had left one suspect dead and another on the run, but at the time, most of the world — perhaps including police — would still not have been able to connect a name to the grainy image of suspect no. 2 being shown on television screens. Kadyrbaev though, had allegedly already known for up to nine hours.


North Caucasus situation – 2

In EDM, Valery Dzutsev has commentary on Kavkazskii Uzel’s interview with Emil Pain: 

As instability in the North Caucasus persists, experts are increasingly coming to the realization that Moscow’s present policies in the region can hardly address the pressing issues of the area. Even though Russian authorities appeared to be satisfied with a containment strategy in the North Caucasus for limiting violence to the region, this approach does not seem to work. A territorial dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia, a revolt by ethnic Russians in Stavropol region, and the expanding conflict in Dagestan and elsewhere in the region indicate that instability is not simply simmering at a certain level, but is proliferating and emerging in unexpected forms and in new territories. Given the current dynamics of the security situation unfolding in the North Caucasus, chances are slim that the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 will not be affected in some adverse way by regional developments and blowback from the ongoing insurgencies in the North Caucasus.

Present situation in the North Caucasus and Dagestan

In an in-depth interview for Kavkazskii Uzel, Emil Pain, director of CEPRS, Moscow, discusses the current situation in the North Caucasus. He believes that contrary to the assertions of some in the human rights community, tensions in the region are not diminishing but actually increasing. He ascribes this to a number of factors, but principally to what he sees as a change in the dynamics of political and religious activity: until recently, the types of conflict were localized: in the 1990s, the conflicts were mostly based on ethnic divisions, while in the 2000s they were predominantly religious in nature, especially focused on the division between Sunni and Sufi Islam. Since 2011, however, the different types of conflict have become combined with one another, embracing religious, ethnic and territorial issues. As examples he points to the Chechen-Ingush conflict, the conflict between Dagestan and Stavropol, and the reawakened hostility between Kalmykia and Astrakhan, dormant since the 1950s.

Pain also thinks that the apparent reduction in the level of tension is only superficial, and is due to a change of tactics by the boyeviki, who, instead of organizing large-scale terrorist attacks which tend to alienate the population, have switched to targeted attacks on individual figures in the power structures. He considers that Moscow is failing to suppress the insurgency because it tries to apply to it the same repressive measures and methods that it uses elsewhere in Russia – primarily against the liberals, who enjoy only marginal support in Russian society. And if such repressive techniques are applied to the nationalists, the result is quite the opposite of what is desired:

…они только увеличивают поддержку населения. В России оппозицию сдерживают тем, что ее обвиняют в сотрудничестве с Западом, то есть с Америкой. Попробуйте обвинить в этом оппозиционеров-националистов в русских краях и областях или нерусских республиках – и вас поднимут на смех, поскольку и те, и другие – еще большие антизападники, чем сама власть. Тот ограниченный набор мер, которым более ли менее удается сдерживать и погашать нестабильность в центральной части России, абсолютно неэффективен на Кавказе.

… they only increase popular support. In Russia the opposition is held back by accusing it of cooperation with the West, that is, with America. Try to accuse the opposition nationalists in Russian territories and regions or the non-Russian republics of this, and you will be laughed to scorn, as all those nationalists are even bigger anti-Westerners than the Russian government itself. The limited set of measures that are more or less successful in containing and suppressing the instability in the central part of Russia, is not effective in the Caucasus.

Pain also has an interesting commentary on the profile of the general social and political situation in the North Caucasus and Dagestan, saying that many observers think it is a form of “frozen traditionalism”:

А это неверно, потому что там происходят разные процессы, в том числе и модернизационные. Увеличивается активность и свобода выражения молодежи, чего раньше не было. Но эта активность молодежи не находит реализации в позитивной форме, и она направляется в сторону радикальных действий. Наконец, играет свою роль общая социально-экономическая ситуация в республике, которая далека от позитивной. Здесь дольше и тяжелее проявляются кризисные явления в экономике. Здесь острее, чем где бы то ни было, проявилась деиндустриализация. Сокращение рабочих мест в индустриальной сфере в Дагестане просто разительное, огромное. И, к сожалению, это не та проблема, которую можно решить за месяцы и даже за годы.

But that is not true, because various processes are taking place there, including the process of modernization. There is an increase in the activity and freedom of expression of young people that was not there before. However, this activity among the young is not finding implementation in a positive way, and it is being directed towards radical actions. In addition, the overall socio-economic situation in the republic is playing a role that is far from positive. The economic crisis is longer and worse here than in other parts of Russia. It is more acute than anywhere else, and there has been de-industrialization. The job cuts in Dagestan’s industrial sector in Dagestan have been sweeping, dramatic. And unfortunately this is not a problem that will be capable of solution within months or even years.