Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blogger Arrested in Daghestan

Murad Nurmagomedov

Murad Nurmagomedov, 28, computer programmer, blogger, and author of a popular video clip in which prominent Muslims criticize the practice of celebrating the Julian New Year, was arrested on December 31 in Makhachkala on suspicion of illegal possession of arms.

He is being held in solitary confinement.

The independent weekly Chernovik for which Nurmagomedov used to work quoted his relatives as saying that operatives from the Center to Counter Extremism apprehended Nurmagomedov as he was traveling by minibus taxi to a Makhachkala clinic to arrange for his mother to undergo surgery. A search of his person yielded a hand grenade, which one of his friends told the website Caucasus Knot was clearly planted.

Later the same day, masked police officers conducted a search of the hostel room where Nurmagomedov lived with his wife and two small children. The statutory two witnesses were present during the search, but the police refused to allow Nurmagomedov’s wife, Nailya Dalgatova, to call a lawyer.

They “found” in a cupboard used for storing the children’s toys a parcel that when unwrapped contained a second grenade and ammunition that Dalgatova says were planted there. They also confiscated allegedly “extremist” literature, including a copy of A Muslim’s Fortress, a classic compilation of prayers of supplication and invocation.

Friends characterized Nurmagomedov as “quiet, peaceable, and with no radical ideas” and as an exemplary husband and father.

Nurmagomedov has not yet been formally charged. He is to appear in court on January 5, according to his lawyer, Ziyavudin Uvaysov.

Nurmagomedov’s anti-New Year video clip was uploaded on December 31, 2011, and has since received more than 150,000 views.

The following year, up to a dozen young Muslims in the towns of Khasavyurt and Izberbash were detained while distributing leaflets condemning as a pagan tradition the celebration of the Julian New Year.

Daghestan’s Interior Minister, then major general, now Lieutenant General, Abdurashid Magomedov, publicly defended as “a festival of children’s laughter” the practice of marking New Year with a New Year tree and gifts.​

-- Liz Fuller


Six North Caucasus Insurgency Commanders Transfer Allegiance To Islamic State

Over the past six weeks, at least three Chechen and three Daghestani commanders have pledged loyalty to Islamic State leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Sixteen months after his death, the continued viability of the Caucasus Emirate (IK) proclaimed by then Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Doku Umarov in the fall of 2007 is open to question.

Over the past six weeks, at least three Chechen and three Daghestani commanders have retracted their oath of obedience (bayat) to Umarov’s successor as Caucasus Emirate leader, the Avar theologian Sheikh Ali Abu-Muhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), and pledged loyalty to Islamic State leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.

How many more rank-and-file fighters have done likewise is unclear, but Kebekov’s warning of an imminent split within the insurgency ranks suggests the number is not insignificant.

The renegade commanders in question are:

-- Sultan Zaynalabidov (his surname is frequently misspelled Zaylanabidov), amir of Daghestan’s Aukh sector within the Khasavyurt district that borders on Chechnya. Video footage in which Zaynalabidov pledged loyalty to Baghdadi was reportedly posted on YouTube in late November, some six weeks after Zaynalabidov’s fellow commander Islam Abu-Ibragim denounced him for sowing dissent among the insurgency ranks, but has since been removed.

-- Rustam Aselderov (or Asildarov, nom de guerre Abu-Mukhammad Kadarsky), whom Umarov named commander of the Daghestan insurgency wing in the late summer of 2012. Aselderov was born in Kalmykia and reportedly joined the insurgency in Daghestan after being tried and acquitted in 2007 on a charge of illegal possession of weapons.

-- Abu-Mukhammad Agachaulsky (Arslan-Ali Kambulatov), commander of one of the militant groups operating in and around Makhachkala. In November 2013, he warned the Daghestani authorities that the insurgents would no longer demonstrate restraint but would “kill you together with your relatives, neighbors, and all those loyal to you” in retaliation for the killing of “peaceful Muslim women and children,” presumably meaning insurgents’ family members killed in the course of counterterror operations.

A video clip in which Aselderov and Kambulatov announced the transfer of their allegiance from Kebekov and the IK to Baghdadi and IS was posted on You Tube on December 20, but has since been removed. Aselderov reportedly claimed that most militants in Daghestan supported his decision, but apparently did not explain the reason for it.

-- Makhran Saidov (“Yakup”), veteran Chechen fighter and commander of Chechnya’s eastern front, who with his subordinate Usam, commander of the Vedeno sector, reportedly pledged bayat to Baghdadi in video footage uploaded on December 25. But a three-minute clip posted the following day on, the website of the Chechen insurgency wing, shows Saidov pledging bayat to Baghdadi along with two other Chechen commanders identified as Khamzat and Usman. That “Khamzat” is not, however Aslan Byutukayev, amir of the Chechen insurgency wing, who goes by the same nom de guerre.

The reasons for the commanders’ withdrawal of their pledged loyalty to Kebekov remain unclear. In the case of the three Daghestanis, the motivation may be rejection of Kebekov’s more moderate approach to the military component of jihad.

In September 2012, the Russian daily “Kommersant” cited Daghestani security sources as saying that the insurgency wing operating in that republic had split. One wing comprising several autonomous groups still reportedly abided by the requirements of Shari'a law in targeting clerics for assassination only after obtaining adequate evidence of their “guilt.” The second wing was subordinate to Aselderov, who was described as “exceptionally ruthless and cruel even by insurgency standards” and carried out executions simply on the word of their commander.

Kebekov, by contrast, has placed the primary focus on building up a support network within society. In a video address filmed before he was elect as Umarov’s successor, he outlined a vision of jihad not as the low-level insurgency of the past 15 years but as a clandestine ideological struggle within society as a whole in which “we must juxtapose our system to that of the infidels in all directions: political, economic, informational.”

At the same time, Kebekov has urged fighters to desist from suicide-bombings and to seek to avoid inflicting casualties on the civilian population. 

Russian journalist Orkhan Djemal, one of the most perceptive and informed observers of the North Caucasus insurgency, considers it plausible that the Daghestanis collectively rejected Kebekov’s more nuanced concept of jihad. He also suggests that the split within the insurgency ranks is a generational one. Kebekov turned 43 on January 1; Zaynalabidov is 34; Aselderov is 33; and Kambulatov, 30.

That latter explanation does not hold water, however, in the case of Saidov, who is 39. His defection is all the more puzzling given that he endorsed Kebekov unreservedly in video footage filmed some six months ago. In a second video address last summer, Saidov admitted that the insurgency wing in Chechnya is not yet strong enough to retake Grozny but that “we believe that tomorrow we may be strong enough to do so.” Whether that statement means that Saidov and other fighters plan to leave Chechnya temporarily with the specific objective of honing their military skills fighting alongside IS forces is a matter for conjecture.

There has been no reaction to Saidov’s statement from either Byutukayev or Kebekov. But Kebekov, visibly subdued and speaking less assertively than he generally does, and Abu Usman have commented separately on Aselderov’s announcement. Both brand his oath of loyalty to Baghdadi “a betrayal” which they attribute to “jahiliyyah” -- ignorance of questions of Shari'a law and politics, and both make the point that not all scholars recognize Baghdadi as the caliph he has proclaimed himself to be. They also rebuke Aselderov at length for failing to consult either with Kebekov as IK leader or any religious authority.

Abu Usman further recalls that at their last meeting, Aselderov assured him of the need to support Kebekov.

Kebekov concludes his 16-minute address by announcing the appointment of Said Kharakansky, the former commander of the Temirkhanshura sector whom Aselderov named his first naib (deputy) in March 2014, to succeed Aselderov as amir of the Daghestan insurgency wing.

As noted above, it is not clear whether Aselderov’s claim that most fighters in Daghestan support his decision is true, how many IK fighters in all have already decided to join IS, and how many more may do so. Consequently, it is impossible to estimate whether and to what extent the military capacity of IK may have been weakened. Kebekov’s orders that fighters still loyal to him should not cooperate with the dissenting Aselderov faction will not enhance combat readiness or morale, not to mention the possible impact on support personnel.

In an earlier statement made before Aselderov’s withdrawal of his allegiance to Kebekov became public knowledge, Abu Usman acknowledged that some Daghestani militants had transferred their loyalty to IS, but did not specify how many. He appealed to them to return to the fold, arguing that the only consequence of their pledging loyalty to Baghdadi will be “to split the insurgency in Daghestan,” which suggests that, as Aselderov claimed, more than a handful of fighters are involved. On that occasion, too, Abu Usman resorted to the term “betrayal” to describe withdrawing their support for Kebekov “at a time when the entire Russian Army is amassed against a small number of Daghestani fighters.”

In early December, the Chechen insurgency wing mobilized up to a couple of hundred fighters to attack Grozny, but they have not (yet) made good on a subsequent threat to launch a follow-up attack to mark the New Year.

By contrast, the Daghestani insurgency wing apparently lacks strategists capable of planning large-scale military operations and engages instead in ambushing and gunning down police officers, judges, and clerics loyal to the Moscow-backed Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan. According to police Lieutenant Colonel Magomed Khizriyev, there were 103 attacks on police and security personnel in 2014.

If Aselderov’s boast that most Daghestani fighters identify themselves with IS rather than the Caucasus Emirate proves true, the number of such attacks is likely to decline in 2015. In the longer term, assuming there is no parallel mass exodus of fighters from Chechnya, Chechnya may again become the epicenter of IK military activity, while Kebekov continues his efforts to expand his support base among practicing Muslims in Daghestan.

-- Liz Fuller

Sentences Passed In 'Trial Of 57' For 2005 Nalchik Attack

The trial of 57 men over attacks on police and security facilities in Kabardino-Balkaria lasted for four and a half years.

On December 23, after a trial lasting 4 and 1/2 years, the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Supreme Court finally passed sentence on 57 men accused of participating in the multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik, the republic's capital, in October 2005. 

Of the 57, 46 pleaded not guilty; the other 11 admitted only illegal possession of weapons. According to Russian journalist Orkhan Dzhemal, "no more than half a dozen" of them actually took part in the attacks. (He did not name them.)

Five of the accused, including former Guantanamo inmate Rasul Kudayev, who had a triple alibi were sentenced to life imprisonment; three  -- Anzor Ashev, Zalim Ulimbashev, and Kazbek Budtuyev -- received sentences shorter than the nine years they have already spent in custody, and walked free from the courtroom. The remaining 49 were jailed for between 10 and 23 years.

The Nalchik attacks served to highlight how the armed resistance to Moscow's recourse to brute force in the North Caucasus spread during the decade following the start of the first (1994-1996) Chechen war -- initially to Daghestan, then to Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. In Ingushetia, it was the systematic abduction by security personnel of young men known to be practicing Muslims that apparently impelled their siblings and friends to join the insurgency. 

In Kabardino-Balkaria, by contrast, the young men who perpetrated the Nalchik attacks were mostly themselves practicing Muslims who had been harassed, detained, and roughed up by the local police after incurring the suspicion and enmity of the official Muslim clergy. That process of gratuitous reprisals and the anger and alienation they triggered has been chronicled in detail by the Moscow-based human rights watchdog Memorial. 

An estimated 150-200 inexperienced fighters took part in the assault on October 13, 2005 on 15 different Interior Ministry and state security buildings and police posts across Nalchik, ignoring the advice of their mentor, renegade Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev, that they were not yet combat-ready. ("The Guardian" one week later quoted a witness to the fighting who recalled hearing one of the young attackers holed up in the security-service building yell to a comrade-in-arms, "How do you reload a grenade launcher?")

The operation was a disaster: Up to 95 of the attackers were officially reported killed, although lawyers and human rights activists say up to half were rounded up and summarily executed only after the fighting died down on October 14. Photos of the dead men show that many of them had been massively beaten. At least two had bullet wounds to the face or head from apparent execution-style killings.

According to their relatives and lawyers, many of the men who went on trial were similarly detained days or even weeks after the attack. Some, including Kudayev, who was attending a funeral, had cast-iron alibis. Others, such as Rustam Shugunov and Artur Kelemetov, say they were pressured by friends to take part in the attack, but fled the scene of the fighting without firing a single shot.  Shugunov and Kelemetov were nonetheless jailed for 16 and 18 years respectively.

In virtually every case, the indictment was reportedly based on incriminating "confessions" extracted from the accused under torture during the pre-trial investigation, and/or the testimony of police officers. Azamat Akhkubekov dismissed the indictment against him as "a fairy-tale," while Arsen Boziyev commented that "one would have to be Batman to commit so many crimes within the space of one hour."  Under apparent torture, some of the accused incriminated others during interrogation. 

Paradoxically, every single one of the accused was acquitted of murder, but found guilty of lesser charges such as terrorism, banditry, armed insurrection, illegal possession of weapons, and attempting to kill members of law-enforcement agencies. In other words, as Dzhemal commented,  "there was an uprising, the fighting went on for 24 hours, 35 police officers and 14 civilians were killed according to official data, but none of the accused had anything to do with those deaths," which the judges presumably blamed on the 95 attackers reportedly killed in the course of the fighting. 

Like the pre-trial investigation, the court proceedings too were, according to lawyers and relatives of the accused, conducted "so barbarically" (Dzhemal's term) that all the accused, whether innocent or guilty, should have been acquitted on the grounds of procedural violations. 

Over a year ago, when the prosecution asked for specific prison terms ranging from 4 and 1/2 years to life, the mothers of nine of the accused addressed an open letter to then Kabardino-Balkaria Republic head Arsen Kanokov, who had been appointed to that post just weeks before the 2005 attack. 

Citing the mistreatment of the accused during the pre-trial investigation and the procedural violations during the court proceedings, the signatories affirmed that "what is taking place…cannot be called anything except a thirst for revenge that bears no relation to justice."  They appealed to Kanokov to do all in his power to ensure that the verdicts handed down were just, warning that "an unjust verdict could destabilize the situation in our region and undermine the people's trust in the judicial system and the authorities as a whole."

Kanokov was dismissed just weeks after that appeal. Addressing a session of the republic's Antiterrorism Commission on December 25, his successor as republic head, police Colonel-General Yury Kokov, a former head of the federal Interior Ministry's Main Administration for Countering Extremism, stressed the need for more effective measures to eradicate "terrorism." "The republic has come through serious ordeals, and everything must be done to ensure that the tragic events of the recent past are never repeated," Kokov said.

-- Liz Fuller

Chechen Republic Head's Moscow Fan Club Rallies To His Defense

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (center) has been accused of meeting out punishment to the relatives of terrorists. (file photo)

It was only to be expected that Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's entourage would fall over themselves to defend him against the implication by Dozhd TV journalist Ksenia Sobchak that his orders to raze to the ground the homes of the families of Chechen fighters who kill police officers were unconstitutional.

Less expected, however, was the number of Russian State Duma deputies who have likewise sought to exonerate Kadyrov, while denouncing what they termed Sobchak's failure to comprehend the nature of the "antiterrorism" campaign underway in Chechnya.

Sobchak raised the issue on December 18 during Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference, asking him to comment in his capacity as a lawyer on the constitutionality of Kadyrov's demand two weeks earlier for an even more intense crackdown on anyone suspected of links to the Islamic insurgency. 

Addressing a meeting of law-enforcement personnel on December 5, one day after Chechen insurgents occupied two buildings in Grozny and killed 14 police officers, Kadyrov said that henceforth the families of insurgents will be held responsible for their actions. He warned specifically that the relatives of fighters who kill police officers will be expelled from Chechnya and barred from returning, and their homes will be razed to the ground.

Sobchak construed Kadyrov's words as "a de facto declaration that the laws of the Russian Federation and the Russian Constitution are not enforced on the territory of the Chechen Republic."

Responding to Sobchak's question, Putin stressed that, "in Russia, everyone must abide by the laws of the country. No one is considered guilty until he has been sentenced by a court."  But he then proceeded to argue that "in the overwhelming majority of cases," the relatives of "terrorists" have advance knowledge of their plans. That does not, however, Putin continued, "give anyone, including the leader of Chechnya, the right to engage in extrajudicial reprisals." Putin disclosed that an investigation is already underway to establish the identity of the masked men who torched the homes of fighters' relatives.

Putin further acknowledged that Kadyrov's "emotional" outburst was understandable in light of the casualties the Chechen police incurred during the fighting, and that it was possibly made in response to the public mood at a mass meeting Kadyrov convened in Grozny to denounce "terrorism."  That rally, however, took place on December 6, the day after Kadyrov announced that the principle of collective responsibility was to be extended to fighters' relatives. 

Kadyrov's press secretary Alvi Karimov, who was present at Putin's press conference, immediately branded Sobchak's remarks both libelous and untrue, and he hinted that legal action might be taken against her. He further accused her of "distorting the facts," and categorically denied that Kadyrov has ever violated the constitution.  

Russian journalist Ksenia Sobchak asks her controversial question during Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference in Moscow.
Russian journalist Ksenia Sobchak asks her controversial question during Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference in Moscow.

State Duma deputy and former Chechen Republic Nationalities, Press, and Information Minister Shamsail Saraliyev, who in recent months has emerged as a vocal promoter of Kadyrov's political credo, similarly dismissed as "ravings" Sobchak's insinuation that Chechnya does not abide by Russian law. Saraliyev rejected any possible connection between Kadyrov's statement and the subsequent burning of homes, which he attributed to the fact that "now peace has been restored, people are angry with the terrorists and those who abet them." 

It is worth noting that neither Karimov nor Saraliyev is quoted as making any reference to Putin's response to Sobchak, in particular his assertion that no one, including Kadyrov, has the right to engage in extrajudicial reprisals. The same holds true for other State Duma deputies and Public Chamber members who commented on Sobchak's question. Vladimir Vasilev, who heads the Duma faction of the majority United Russia faction, affirmed that "we support the actions of Ramzan Kadyrov in fighting terrorism within the framework of the law." 

Olga Batalina, who chairs the Duma Committee on Labor and Social Policy, construed Sobchak's words as "an insult to the Chechen people," given that Chechnya "is essentially defending the whole of Russia against penetration by terrorist groups." She praised Kadyrov's role in restoring Chechnya and "uniting the Chechen people," and expressed pride in "those Chechens who secured the release of the Life News journalists" detained in Ukraine in May. Kadyrov's plenipotentiary in Ukraine, Ramzan Tsitsulayev, reportedly fled from Russia to Kyiv earlier this month after a botched attempt to arrest him in Moscow in connection with an illegal cash withdrawals racket.

Andrey Lugovoy (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), who is deputy chair of the Duma Security Committee, argued that the question of how best to fight terrorism should be left to professionals. He categorically denied that Kadyrov had advocated extrajudicial reprisals, explaining that the Chechen leader was clearly referring to the insurgents' support personnel. 

Vyacheslav Bochorov, a member of the Public Chamber who participated in the operation that ended the September 2004 Beslan hostage-taking, said Sobchak's question shows clearly that she does not support "effective measures against terrorism."

There is of course no way to determine whether or not those statements in support of Kadyrov are part of a  carefully orchestrated public relations campaign on his behalf, a campaign that may well culminate in the ongoing probe establishing that it was insurgents themselves who torched the houses of their slain  comrades-in-arms' families in order to embarrass Kadyrov. That conclusion would be in line with Kadyrov's assertion to "Izvestia" that "the fighters of today have not strayed from the right path, they are sick. There is no way to cure them; all you can do is destroy them." 

(Never mind that blaming the Chechen insurgents is difficult to reconcile either with Kadyrov's assertion that there are no fighters left in Chechnya, or with eyewitness reports from Gudermes that the buildings were demolished under the supervision of uniformed servicemen who first cordoned off the street and then brought in bulldozers.)

One final detail worthy of note is Sobchak's earlier cordial relationship with Kadyrov. The daughter of Putin's one-time mentor, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, Ksenia was a member of Putin's closest inner circle until she defected to the political opposition two years ago. In January 2005, she accompanied Kadyrov to the ceremonial opening of a waterpark in Gudermes. 

-- Liz Fuller

Jailed Ingush Oppositionist Faces New Criminal Charge

Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov

Businessman Iles Tatiyev, 42, who chairs a North Caucasus NGO that promotes cooperation between the executive branch and civil society, has been charged with money-laundering just weeks before he was due to qualify for pre-term release from jail for good behavior.

Fellow Ingush human rights activists are convinced the new charge was fabricated by the Republic of Ingushetia authorities, whom Tatiyev, along with other oppositionists, has accused of incompetence and corruption. But Shamsuddin Bokov, Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s press secretary, has rejected those allegations as “totally without foundation.”

Tatiyev was first arrested in Moscow in June 2013, two days before the opening of an informal Congress of the Ingush People, when he was en route to give an interview to the radio station Ekho Moskvy. He was charged with failing to repay a 26 million ruble loan ($808,922 at the June 2013 exchange rate) from Rosselkhozbank, even though he had guarantors and had pledged real estate as security, transported to Ingushetia, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Shortly before his arrest, Tatiyev participated in a Moscow press conference together with other members of the congress organizing committee, of which he was chairman. The speakers described in considerable detail how the republic’s government had embezzled or misspent billions of rubles in budget funds. In 2009, Ingushetia was dependent on subsidies from the federal center for 96 percent of its budget; as of mid-2014, the figure was 82.7 percent. Russian Audit Chamber head Tatyana Golikova proposed in July 2014 cutting federal subsidies to Ingushetia and several other North Caucasus republics due to their failure to use those funds for the purpose for which they were intended

Speaking at the Moscow news conference, Tatiyev cited as one example of wastage of budget funds the construction of a state-of-the-art flour mill in Ingushetia, even though the republic does not produce grain. He also alleged that budget funds allocated from Moscow for the upkeep of public housing were routinely diverted to private companies.

Tatiyev further estimated that in the five years since Yevkurov was named president in 2008, the total amount lost to corruption was 20 billion rubles -- almost twice Ingushetia’s annual budget of 11 billion rubles. A probe earlier this year by Russia’s Audit Chamber established that in 2013 alone, 1.3 billion rubles of budget funds was spent in violation of the law.

The Moscow congress went ahead in Tatiyev’s absence. It concluded with the adoption of an appeal to Yevkurov to resign voluntarily and schedule a republicwide referendum on whether the republic head should be elected in a popular ballot or by parliament. Two months earlier, Yevkurov had convened his own Congress of the Ingush People to formalize the abolition of direct elections for the post of republic head -- thereby virtually guaranteeing himself a second term in office. Tatiyev and his opposition colleagues claim the vote at that forum was rigged.

The Republic of Ingushetia parliament duly elected Yevkurov in September 2013 for a further term with 25 of 27 votes.

None of the revelations of corruption and mismanagement that have surfaced since then appears to have seriously damaged his standing vis-à-vis the federal leadership.

-- Liz Fuller

Putin Warns Kadyrov In Connection With Reprisals Against Militants’ Families

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (left) and Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP)

In the course of his annual press conference on December 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear his disapproval of the reprisals undertaken against the families of the fighters who attacked Grozny on December 4. Putin described as “understandable” what he termed Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov’s subsequent “emotional” demand that the family homes of the fighters responsible be burned to the ground and their relatives expelled from Chechnya.

At the same time, Putin said that even if the families in question were aware of the militants’ intentions, “that does not give anyone, including the leaders of the Chechen Republic, the right to engage in extra-judicial reprisals.”

“In Russia everyone must abide by the laws in force in our country. No one is considered guilty until he has been sentenced by a court,” Putin stressed.

Human rights activists calculate that eight dwellings in Gudermes, Yandy, Engelyurt, Alpatovo, and Katyr-Yurt were torched last week; not all belonged to the families of men killed during the December 4 attack. Kadyrov and other Chechen officials have also threatened and vilified Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP) head Igor Kalyapin, who called on Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chayka and Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to rule on whether Kadyrov had exceeded his authority by issuing the order to burn militants’ families’ homes.

Putin also divulged that the law-enforcement agencies are conducting a “preliminary investigation” in order to establish the connection between Kadyrov’s outburst and the subsequent burning of the homes, and the identity of the masked men responsible.

Putin’s implicit criticism of Kadyrov is in stark contrast to his initial praise of the Chechen authorities’ response to the December 4 attack, during which, as Putin recalled at his press conference, 14 Chechen police officers were killed. Meeting with Kadyrov late on December 4, Putin assured him that “you have nothing to blush for.”

Putin’s remarks at the press conference will also inevitably reignite speculation as to whether Kadyrov’s days in power are numbered -- all the more so since during an interview with NTV earlier this week, Kadyrov himself twice mentioned that he might quit his current post. In the course of a diatribe against the Chechen insurgents who attacked Grozny, Kadyrov said he is “ready to write a letter of resignation and leave the post of republic head in order to do battle with these devils.”

Asked to comment on the stated intention of three Ukrainian parliamentarians to bring criminal charges against him for having threatened them, Kadyrov laughed off that possibility, adding that he “intends to ask the president to release me from post of republic head” in order to travel to Ukraine’s breakaway Donbas region to “defend the interest of the citizens who are waging war there, and to capture and destroy those devils, who have neither conscience or honor.”

It is not clear whether by that latter category Kadyrov meant only the Ukrainian lawmakers in question or also the Djokhar Dudayev peacekeeping battalion headed by former Chechen field commander Isa Munayev which is fighting alongside the Ukrainian armed forces.

It is conceivable that Kadyrov had been warned that he has incurred Putin’s displeasure, and rather than risk public disgrace by being formally dismissed offered to resign as a face-saving solution for both of them. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted on December 17, however, as having told Interfax that Putin has not received a formal request from Kadyrov to be relieved from his post. That suggests Putin was intent on publicly upbraiding Kadyrov and reining him in, but is not (yet) thinking in terms of replacing him.

An article published three days ago in the Russian weekly “Versiya,” which on occasion floats trial balloons on behalf of government agencies, nonetheless suggests that Putin has an additional good reason to be angry with Kadyrov. The author, Ruslan Gorevoy, recalled that Kadyrov’s plenipotentiary in Kyiv, Ramzan Tsitsulayev, fled to Ukraine following a botched attempt by police last month to apprehend him in a sting operation on suspicion of involvement in an illegal cash withdrawals racket. Tsitsulayev, according to Gorevoy, subsequently mobilized a group of Chechens in Vynnytsya in early December a bid to gain control of financial assets belonging to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko and members of his immediate entourage reportedly have considerable financial interests in the Russian Federation which the Russian authorities have until now refrained from expropriating. Gorevoy predicted that Tsitsulayev’s gambit in Vynnytsya could trigger reprisals by Kyiv in the form of the confiscation of Russian-owned businesses on Ukrainian territory. If Putin is, as some analysts suggest, already concerned at the prospect of forfeiting the support of Russian oligarchs who are suffering under the brunt of international sanctions, the last thing he wants is to put them at risk of incurring the loss of assets in Ukraine. 

-- Liz Fuller

North Caucasus Insurgency Threatens New Attack On Grozny

Firefighters work at a marketplace, which was set on fire after a terrorist attack in Grozny on December 4.

The Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency that claimed responsibility for the attack on Grozny on December 4 is planning a follow-up attack on the city to mark the New Year, according to Akhmed Umarov, elder brother of the late Caucasus Emirate founder and head Doku Umarov.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov identified Akhmad Umarov as having organized the December 4 attack, and vowed to seek his extradition from Turkey, where according to Kadyrov he currently lives.

In a 15-minute video clip posted late on December 13 on, the website of the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, Akhmed Umarov warned Kadyrov in the name of the Chechen militants that they will launch a new attack on Grozny unless Kadyrov desists from his efforts to block their food supplies. (Two men were apprehended in Chechnya’s Sunzha district in September on suspicion of providing food supplies to the insurgents. Umarov quoted the fighters as admitting that they are experiencing problems in obtaining supplies, and "we are fed up with this."

Speaking in Chechen, Umarov, who was identified as the representative abroad of the Chechen insurgency wing,appealed to the Chechen population to help insurgents' families whose homes Kadyrov's security personnel have deliberately torched in retaliation for the fighting in Grozny, during which at least 14 police were killed and 28 injured.

Umarov further accused Kadyrov of being behind the deaths of his father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, in a terrorist bombing in May 2004, and of his elder brother Zelimkhan, who was found dead at his home, reportedly of heart failure, just weeks later. He did not offer any evidence to substantiate those accusations.

In addition, Umarov warned Kadyrov that many member of his immediate entourage would willingly betray him to the insurgency for money, but "we don’t have the cash to suborn them."

That admission is in stark contrast to the claim by a third Umarov sibling, Vakha, in early 2010. In an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, where he then lived, Vakha Umarov said members of Kadyrov’s entourage channelled money to the insurgency as insurance in the event that the insurgency finally comes to power in Chechnya.

Akhmad Umarov’s attempts to dictate conditions and terms to Kadyrov are totally unrealistic in light of the latter’s pathological enmity towards the insurgency. It is, moreover, odd that Umarov should not be aware of that fact, given that he must have met personally with Kadyrov after reportedly turning himself in in August 2006.

Akhmad Umarov vanished shortly afterwards; it is not known whether he was released (unlikely) or managed to escape, and how and when he left Chechnya.

-- Liz Fuller 

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.