Islam Online reports:
When Russia announced an end to its near-decade, long “Counter-Terrorist Operation”(CTO) in Chechnya last April, many observers were taken by surprise. The decision to call an end to this security regime was taken by senior Russian officials at the orders of Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov.
Over the past several years, Kadyrov has overseen the relative stabilization of the security situation in Chechnya, compared to the increasingly chaotic state of affairs in neighboring republics such as Ingushetia and Dagestan. Kadyrov claims that his militias have all but eliminated militants based in Chechnya. Those who have managed to survive, he claims, have fled to Ingushetia and Dagestan where they have taken advantage of less stringent security regimes to regroup and reorganise.
Indeed, almost immediately after declaring an end to the CTO in Chechnya, Kadyrov, in tandem with the President of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, announced the inauguration of a fresh “counter-terrorist” campaign along the borderlands between Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Umarov’s Economic War?
The main target of this operation, rebel leader Doku Umarov, is believed to be located somewhere along the volatile border that nominally separates these two republics.
Umarov, who declares himself as the “Emir of the Caucasus Mujahedeen”, is fighting not for the Chechen independence, but for the establishment of a Caucasus Emirate — a Shari`ah-based state that would encompass the entire North Caucasus. According to Kadyrov and his Russian allies, Umarov is an “international terrorist” with links to Al-Qaeda. However, this latest campaign to hunt down the elusive Umarov has provoked a vicious backlash from the rebel movement.
On June 22, Yevkurov was critically injured when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle laden with explosives into his presidential motorcade. Authorities blamed Umarov for orchestrating the attack. Several suicide attacks have taken place since, both in Chechnya and Ingushetia.
On August 17, a suicide attacker — or shaheed (martyr) in their parlance — drove a truck filled with explosives into a police compound in Nazran, Ingushetia’s largest urban centre, killing at least 20 people and injuring over 100. This last attack coincided with the dramatic events at the Sayano Shushenskay; a hydro-electric dam in Siberia. Only hours after the suicide attack in Nazran, an explosion at Sayano Shushenskay killed scores of people.
Russian officials were quick to attribute the explosion to a faulty transformer which unexpectedly exploded during ongoing repair works. However, on August 21, an internet communiqué posted by the so-called Riyad-Us- Salihiin Martyrs Battalion claimed responsibility for sabotaging the dam. This group was created in the 1990s by the late Chechen rebel leader, Shamil Basayev.
As of April of 2009, however, the battalion has been under Umarov’s direct command and has stated its intent to wage an “economic war” against Russia. Members of this battalion have reportedly participated in the Moscow theatre seige of 2002 and the infamous school seige in Beslan in 2004. The group also claimed responsibility for the suicide attack against Yevkurov.
Its culpability for the dam disaster seems less certain, however, and it should be noted that members of this group have previously claimed responsibility for events they have had nothing to do with, such as the massive power outage in Moscow in 2005.
Smashing Kadyrov’s Make-Believe Security
On the same day the Martyrs Battalion announced that it had sabotaged the Sayano Shushinskaya facility, Chechnya was rocked by a fresh series of lethal suicide bombings.
In five separate locations throughout the Chechen capital, Grozny, suicide attackers riding bicycles attacked policemen, killing four. This audacious series of attacks caught the attention of the Russian leadership; three days later, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the chief architect of the Kremlin’s current policy in Chechnya, arrived in Grozny for talks with Kadyrov. Whatever was said at this meeting, it failed to put a stop to the rash of suicide attacks.
However, for the next day, four policemen were killed and a another was seriously wounded when a man approached them and blew himself up in the Chechen village of Meshker-Yurt. It is ironic that the security situation in Chechnya deteriorates so badly at a time when Kadyrov has secured one of the most high-profile political victories of his presidency.
Over the past several months, Kadyrov’s representatives have been conducting sensitive negotiations with Akhmed Zakayev; a Chechen political émigré currently residing in London. Zakayev, hitherto a stubborn advocate of Chechnya’s right to independent statehood, fell out with Doku Umarov in late 2007 when the latter controversially declared the establishment of the Caucasus Emirate. Zakayev correctly regarded Umarov’s declaration as a direct challenge to the kind of a sovereign, liberal-democratic state that he and many other Chechen nationalists would like to see established in Chechnya.
Since his acrimonious break with Umarov, Zakayev has flirted openly with Kadyrov. Their courtship has taken on a fresh impetus over the summer months, with Zakayev meeting in Norway with one of Kadyrov’s key political advisors, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov.
Zakayev has since called on all Chechens fighting under the banner of his “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” to lay down their arms and to refrain from attacking Kadyrov’s police force. For his part, Kadyrov has stated that Zakayev would be welcomed to return to Chechnya, though it remains somewhat unclear whether Zakayev is still sought after by Russian prosecutors, who have previously labelled him a kidnapper and a murderer, seeking his extradition from the United Kingdom.
For their part, Umarov and his colleagues have taken a dim view of the Kadyrov-Zakayev talks. Last week Umarov’s Shari`ah court condemned Zakayev as being guilty or “zindiq ” (being in a state of heresy, of betraying Islam) and sentenced him to death.
Kadyrov’s fruitful courtship of Zakayev undoubtedly represents a bona fide political triumph. However, the deteriorating security situation in Chechnya has certainly taken some of the gloss off this achievement.
Kadyrov’s “Robespierreian” State
The political pressure on Kadyrov has also been increased by the international outcry against the murder of the celebrated, Chechnya-born human rights advocate, Natalya Estemirova.
Estemirova was abducted by unidentified men in Grozny in July, and was found dead several days later across the border in Ingushetia. Estemirova had suffered a notoriously fraught relationship with Kadyrov. “I know… who is guilty of Natalya Estemirova’s murder, we all know him. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov,” stated Oleg Orlov of the human rights organization “Memorial”.
Kadyrov has reacted indignantly to this accusation, and has since filed suit against Orlov for slander. Nevertheless, the Estemirova murder has attracted severe criticism from foreign governments, and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has demanded that Kadyrov finds and punishes her killers. Ramzan Kadyrov has based his reputation on the claim that he is the only man capable of bringing stability to Chechnya.
Recent events have undermined this image and Russian officials will be displeased that their decision to end the so-called “counter-terrorist operation” in the republic has coincided with a dramatic increase in violence throughout the region.
Whether Kadyrov will pay the price for this troubling development remains to be seen.