Explosions in Volgograd (29 and 30 December 2013), as a result of which 34 people died, shocked Russian society and rekindled the debate on methods of combating terrorism. Some Russian politicians, experts and journalists stress that “liberals” are to blame, meaning those who want to restrict the police forces and special services. Others simply point to the incompetence of the authorities in the sphere of combating terrorist threats. Among the first proposed actions were stiffer penalties for terrorists (including the death penalty), and the restriction on the right of the media to publish information about terrorists and their activities. A public discussion about the nature of Islam began again. Some columnists try to fight the stereotype that terrorism is an inherent feature of this religion and its followers from the Russian North Caucasus. However, there are also opposing voices, which influence the growth of xenophobia among ethnic Russians, and hostility towards migrants from the North Caucasus republics.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Schaefer, U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) and Eurasian Foreign Area Officer, offers a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the situation in the North Caucasus in his book The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad. Though this book was published three years ago, the recent Boston Marathon Bombing in the U.S. by Chechen extremists makes a review of the book, and its subject matter, timely. In reviewing the book, I gained useful insight into the politics, and sources of instability, in the North Caucasus region, and was able to clarify the role of Islam in Chechnya. Schaefer tackles the definition of insurgency, differentiating it from terrorism, gives a comprehensive history of the region, focusing on the past 300 years, and brings the reader up to date by covering the Chechen-Russian wars in the 1990s, and the aftermath, in detail. In so doing, the reader receives a rare glimpse into the region’s political tensions, as well as a forecast for the future.
Russia’s National Counterterrorism Committee (NAK) says that a large operation in the North Caucasus involving forces from the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry has resulted in 49 militants and bandits being killed, including nine whom the committee called “odious” leaders of militant and outlaw groups.
The NAK reported on October 21 that the operations were carried out in Kabardino-Balkaria and Daghestan.
According to the NAK, four militant leaders were among those killed in Kabardino-Balkaria. It identified them by the names Batyrbekov, Ulbashev, Karkayev, and Tutov.
At least two separate operations were conducted in Daghestan, also leading to the deaths of several men who have been described as militant commanders.
On September 15, 2012 Dagestan, a Russian republic located next to Chechnya in the North Caucasus, was celebrating its Day of National Unity [ru]. While the holiday always seems to be forced upon Dagestan the need for unity is undoubtedly important for the region.
The North Caucasus is one of the most ethnically diverse regions of Russia, and Dagestan is no exception. Its largest ethnic group, the Avar, make up only 30% of the population – the rest is split between a dozen small nationalities.
Ethnic division combined with high levels of unemployment is a recipe for volatility. Opposition leader Eduard Limonov blogged on August 15 [ru]:
[The] impression is that Dagestan is about to stop being a territory of the Russian Federation, because every day we learn of subversive acts, murders and attacks …This is a classic beginning of a civil war.
Two weeks later talk of civil war [ru] was on everyone’s mind. On August 28, Said Afandi, a Sufi Sheikh and one of Dagestan’s most prominent religious scholars, was killed by a female suicide bomber [ru]. The bomber was a Salafi Muslim, and the killing was a manifestation of the tension between the republic’s traditional Sunni Sufis and a growing fundamentalist movement, according to Dagestani blogger[ru] Saif Nuri.