An attempt to implicate deceased North Caucasus insurgency leader Doku Umarov in acts of subversion allegedly committed at his behest in Tatarstan 10 years ago lacks credibility, given that during the period in question Umarov lacked the authority to issue any such orders.
Albert Galiyev, 43, has nonetheless confessed to setting up an illegal armed group that blew up more than a dozen oil or gas pipelines or power lines in the Volga region in 2004-05 on Umarov's orders, Kommersant reported on October 8, quoting the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
Galiyev is said to have set up the group, named the Rybno-Slobodsky Jamaat, after Galiyev's home district in Tatarstan, in the early 2000s. He then purportedly established contact with the Chechen resistance and traveled to Chechnya to undergo military training there -- which is plausible, if unlikely.
But other aspects of the FSB's summary of Galiyev's activities appear to lack credibility.
Specifically, it is claimed that Galiyev and his men were acting in 2004 and until the arrest of four group members in late 2005 at the behest of Umarov, who was said to have supplied them in 2004 with arms, cash, detonators, and instructions on how to assemble improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
In 2004, however, Umarov was simply one of several Chechen field commanders and thus not authorized to co-opt or assist militant Islamists elsewhere in Russia, even if it had been within his capacity to do so. Umarov was named Chechen Republic Ichkeria vice president in the spring of 2005, when Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev succeeded Aslan Maskhadov as president, and himself became president when Sadulayev was killed in mid-June 2006. Former RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitsky, who met with Umarov in Chechnya in June 2005, noted that at that time Umarov's fighters did not even have proper tents.
In October 2007, Umarov ditched the cause of Chechen independence and proclaimed a North Caucasus Emirate with himself as its head. Even though Umarov personally demonstrated little talent as a military leader, especially compared with Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basayev, he was designated Russia's "terrorist No. 1" as a result of the failed attempt in June 2009 to assassinate Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and the suicide bombings in the Moscow metro in March 2010 and at Domodedovo Airport in January 2011, for which the Caucasus Emirate claimed responsibility. Alleged association or collaboration with Umarov thus automatically raises the profile of any criminal charge of terrorist activity.
That said, there were reportedly contacts in the early 2000s between Islamic militants in Tatarstan and Basayev. In February 2007, 17 members of what was identified as "the Islamic jamaat" went on trial in Tatarstan on charges of planning to perpetrate a series of terrorist attacks during the celebrations in summer 2005 to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Kazan.
The "Islamic jamaat" was said to have been established in 2001 on Basayev's orders by Ilgam Gumerov of the city of Naberezhnye Chelny. Its members were rounded up starting in late 2004. No explanation was given why Basayev and Umarov, acting independently, should have established parallel cells in Tatarstan at roughly the same time.
Umarov did seek to establish an insurgency presence in the Volga region, but only in September 2006, when he named Abdurakhman Kamalutdinov (Djundulla) as commander of the recently created Volga Front. Whether that front was intended to replace the groups headed by Gumerov and Galiyev, or whether other groups formed its nucleus, is unclear.
In October 2006, just weeks after Umarov named Kamalutdinov to head the Volga Front, the insurgency website kavkazcenter.com reported, quoting federal Interior Ministry data, that 14 sabotage operations had been registered in Tatarstan since the start of the year, and 214 in the Volga region as a whole.
Those statistics suggest that a sizable and effective militant wing had been active in the region for some time before Umarov formally designated it a North Caucasus insurgency "front."