Chechnya: Monster in the Mountains – II

Killed in 2006… Chechen commander Shamil Basayev.



by John Russell


Basayev was finally tracked down and killed in July 2006, a fate that, sooner or later, surely awaits Umarov. Inevitably, however, a successor will be found and the conflict will drag on until and unless a satisfactory political resolution is achieved.

While it is understandable that the Russian leadership is keen to stress the international nature of the common threat posed by such terror groups, and even point the finger at ‘foreign intelligence services’ in organising the Moscow blasts, the reality is that Russian domestic policy must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the North Caucasus tragedy.

Having effectively chosen, under Putin, to follow the Eurasianist ‘great power’ path of development, territorial integrity and a highly-centralised political ‘vertical’ became essential for Russia’s survival. This inhibited movement towards genuine federalism and democracy and enhanced the necessity for prerogative power to be exercised by those factions which were, in fact rather than constitutionally, running the country. Although Medvedev has recognised the obstacles that such policies place in the modernisation path, he seems incapable of shifting his country away from the course Putin has set.


The bizarre outcome of these policies was the emergence of Kadyrov’s medieval style of benevolent despotism. In effect duplicating Putin’s ‘vertical of power’, Kadyrov has emerged virtually unchallenged as the arbiter of Chechnya’s fate, eliminating all in his way, whether loyal to Moscow or not.

Heavily dependent on both Putin’s personal support and generous subsidies from the Russian treasury, Kadyrov, to his credit, has devoted much time and energy to rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and giving his people, at least those who do not openly oppose him, relative peace, prosperity and elements of cultural renaissance, embodied in the massive new mosque in the capital Grozny.

Here lies the rub. By actively promoting the Sufi brand of Islam, Kadyrov is not only marginalising the militant Salafis under Umarov, but also turning Chechnya into a cultural, national and religious enclave in Russia.

While this has brought some fame and popularity among his own people and Islamic leaders around the world, his eccentricities clearly remain somewhat of an embarrassment to the current Russian president and make him an unwelcome guest in any western capital.

The Russian leadership’s patent misunderstanding of the Caucasian mentality has led separatists and radicals to be lumped together with terrorists in cracking down heavily on any form of opposition. Deprived of any legitimate outlet and subject to repression at every turn, it is hardly surprising that young Muslim men and, as evidenced by the Moscow bombings, increasingly women, are being drawn to the fundamentalist Islamic resistance.

To be fair, even under the intense pressure of the suicide bombings, Medvedev has balanced the tough-talking military approach of his predecessor with a continuing commitment to socio-economic improvement throughout the North Caucasus. Here, Russian interests will undoubtedly at times continue to clash with those of Kadyrov.

Some Russian commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the bombings worked to Kadyrov’s advantage by weakening the position of Medvedev’s envoy Khloponin. Certainly, irrespective of whether he was involved in any way, following the murders of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, and the assassinations of pro-Russian Chechen commanders Movladi Baisarov and Sulim Yamadayev, it would appear that Kadyrov might yet again be the immediate beneficiary of acts of political terror.


However, neither Caucasian nor Russian politics are ever that simple or transparent. It might equally be argued that, by outperforming his predecessor in firmness and reason in dealing with the attacks, Dmitry Medvedev may well have consolidated his position as a frontrunner for the Russian presidency in 2012. His security forces will go after Umarov and his supporters with renewed vigour, while measures aimed at improving the welfare of citizens in the North Caucasus will continue.

Yet time is not on Medvedev’s side. The ability of the Russian economy to continue to bankroll the north Caucasian republics, the growing resentment of ordinary Russians against such generosity and the absence of the flexibility and understanding to reach a genuine political resolution, not to mention the unpredictability surrounding the likely longevity of Kadyrov’s rule, all point to the fact that Moscow has produced something of a monster in the North Caucasus mountains.

Insofar as that monster was born amidst, and has been bred on the blood of literally hundreds of thousands of victims, over the past two decades in a region in which the blood feud still holds sway, it would, regrettably, be foolhardy to predict that more will not be shed – be it in Makhachkala or Moscow.


Writer John Russell is Professor of Russian and Security Studies at the University of Bradford,and the  author of Chechnya – Russia’s ‘War on Terror’ (Routledge, 2007)

Related Post:  

Time to Set the Chechen Free

Source: World Today
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11 replies to “Chechnya: Monster in the Mountains – II

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