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Umarov Again Lambastes Dissident Field Commanders

Doku Umarov

Doku Umarov

Self-styled Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov has issued a new denunciation of the four senior field commanders who rescinded their oath of loyalty to him two months ago, and whom he has since stripped of their respective commands. Umarov implicitly accused the four men of having abandoned the cause of pan-Caucasian jihad and sold out to Akhmed Zakayev, the U.K.-based Chechen Republic Ichkeria prime minister in exile, and he demanded that they resubmit to his authority.

Umarov's statement, in video footage dated October 9 and posted eight days later to the website (which serves as the press service of Umarov's Caucasus Emirate), is clearly intended as a riposte to appeals for support to the entire Chechen nation by three of the four dissident commanders -- Aslanbek Vadalov, Khusein Gakayev and Tarkhan Gaziyev.

Those appeals were filmed in September and posted on October 6 on the independent website Zakayev responded by dissolving the government in exile four days later and formally recognizing Gakayev as Chechnya's legitimate leader.

Over the past two and a half months, since Umarov denounced as "fabricated" footage posted to the Internet in which he announced his intention to step down as insurgency commander in favor of Vadalov, he and his former subordinates have waged an increasingly bitter Internet campaign of accusations and counteraccusations. Each side has sought to justify its actions and demonstrate that the other acted wrongly, thereby undermining the common cause.

The accusations the dissident commanders level against Umarov are more consistent, and more plausible than his against them. Their primary stated grievance is Umarov's inconsistent and authoritarian leadership style and his unspecified tactical "mistakes," including his unilateral decision in 2007 to proclaim the Caucasus Emirate. Whether his endorsement of terrorist attacks against Russian civilians falls into that category can only be guessed at.

Umarov's initial counteraccusation, reiterated by his deputy Supyan Abdullayev and by senior commanders from Daghestan and Ingushetia, was that the four commanders first sought to pressure Umarov to step down, then when those plans misfired withdrew their oath of loyalty to him, thus violating Koranic injunctions stipulating the absolute need to maintain obedience to one's commander. Umarov in late August admitted to unspecified "mistakes" but argued that whatever his own failings, they did not justify the four commanders acting as they did.

By contrast, Umarov's most recent diatribe contains far more detailed and damaging allegations, apparently triggered by the recent appeal by Vadalov, Gakayev, and Gaziyev to their fellow Chechens. Umarov accuses Gaziyev and Gakayev of failing to fulfill the duties incumbent on them as commanders of the southwestern and eastern fronts, respectively, in particular of failing to secure adequate supplies of food, ammunition, and medications for their men.

He claims that the real reason the four sought to oust him as leader is that he rejected their argument that the Caucasus Emirate should consist of territorially based units that would be free to elect their own leaders and to pursue their own domestic and foreign policies, including "embarking on negotiations" (with whom is not clear). The "Chechnya first" focus of the three commanders' appeals, while by no means as explicit, is consistent with this interpretation.

Umarov implies that the dissident commanders have sold out to Zakayev (although he does not identify Zakayev by name) and to U.K.-based former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky who, Umarov insinuates, seeks to co-opt the insurgency as part of his long-standing battle with the Russian leadership.

Those allegations lack credibility in light of Gakayev's affirmation that while the three are openly appealing to their compatriots abroad for support, "it is you who will take orders from us." We will die of hunger, Gakayev went on, before we let anyone use us or manipulate us.

Umarov further seeks to depict his own faction as part of the global jihad, stressing the Caucasian fighters' brotherhood with, and admiration for, fighters engaged in jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Somalia, and elsewhere. In that context, he appeals to all "brother Muslims" to "pray that there be no splits in our ranks, that we should be united."

And in a move calculated to outrage the dissident faction, Umarov claimed that "it is we who are dying here on a daily basis. It is we who close the eyes of those who are killed, it is we who weep over the bodies of our slain brothers." That statement is a shameless allusion to footage posted to the Internet last week of the death in February of Arbi Yevmirzayev (nom de guerre Sheikh Mansur), respected both as a military commander and as an Islamic scholar. Yevmirzayev was the first senior commander openly to question Umarov's proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate, and Umarov reportedly tried to have him killed; it is reasonable to assume that had he lived, he would have aligned with the anti-Umarov camp.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.