Sunday, December 21, 2014

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 

Russian Human Rights Group Under Pressure In Chechnya

Igor Kalyapin

The Grozny apartment that served as the office of the local monitoring group branch of the Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP) was destroyed by a fire late on December 13.

The following day, Grozny police detained two KPP lawyers, Sergei Babinets and Dmitry Dmitriyev, and confiscated from them their mobile phones, two lap-tops, and three cameras, one of which was the property of Al-Jazeera journalists who were visiting Grozny.

Just days earlier, KPP head Igor Kalyapin had antagonized Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov by formally asking Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chayka and Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to rule on whether Kadyrov had exceeded his authority by issuing orders in the wake of the December 4 insurgent attack on Grozny that the families of known insurgents be deported from Chechnya and their homes burned to the ground.

At least eight dwellings in Gudermes, Yandy, Engelyurt, Alpatovo, and Katyr-Yurt belonging to the families of suspected insurgents were torched last week.

The blaze at the KPP's Grozny office was just one move in a series of reprisals against the organization and Kalyapin personally. First, Kadyrov claimed that evidence has surfaced that "a man named Kalyapin" was instrumental in channelling funds from Western intelligence services to Akhmat Umarov, the brother of former Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov, to finance the attack by insurgents on Grozny. Kadyrov demanded a probe to determine whether that Kalyapin and the Kalyapin "who came to the defense of bandits and their relatives" are one and the same person.

Then on December 11, Kalyapin was pelted with eggs while speaking at a press conference in Moscow about the Chechen leadership’s policy of holding the families of suspected insurgents collectively responsible for their purported crimes. 

Kadyrov Supporters Throw Eggs At Rights Activistsi
December 11, 2014
Supporters of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov disrupted a press conference held by rights activists in Moscow, throwing raw eggs at the speakers. The press conference on December 11 had been called in response to Kadyrov's recent statement that relatives of militants involved in killings would be evicted from Chechnya and their homes demolished. (RFE/RL's Russian Service)

WATCH: Kadyrov Supporters Throw Eggs At Rights Activists

Two days later, some 50,000 people attended a mass demonstration in Grozny to protest "terrorism" and its perceived supporters; some participants carried placards inscribed (in English) "Kalyapin Go Home" and (in Russian) "Ramzan Kadyrov, protect us against the Kalyapins." 

Meanwhile, KPP members told journalists from Al-Jazeera during a press conference in Grozny on December 13 their car was being followed and they were afraid to return to the apartment that served as their base.

The string of reprisals constitutes deliberate defiance of Mikheil Fedotov, chairman of the Russian president’s Council on Human Rights, who is quoted as having warned the Chechen leadership that "if something happens to the human rights activists, it will be [an act of] the utmost stupidity."

In the wake of the Grozny protest demonstration, but before the apartment fire, KPP lawyer Andrey Ryzhov affirmed that the organization will continue its work in Chechnya. "There is no point in trying to scare us... We shall remain in Chechnya … and provide support to all those who ask us," Ryzhov wrote on his Facebook page. 

"Novaya gazeta" journalist Elena Milashina too requested clarification from Russia’s Investigative Committee whether Kadyrov's orders to exile insurgents' families and torch their homes , and threats by a man believed to be Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Apti Alautdinov to "do anything you like, incriminate, arrest, kill anyone" suspected of belonging to the insurgency, violate the law. She received a response saying the evidence she adduced (which included Kadyrov's Instagram post and YouTube footage of Alautdinov) contained no evidence of any criminal offense, and therefore the Investigative Committee will take no action. 

-- Liz Fuller 

Chechen Republic Head Implicates Human Rights Defender In Grozny Attack

Igor Kalyapin, head of Russia's Committee to Prevent Torture

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has indirectly implicated Igor Kalyapin, head of Russia's Committee to Prevent Torture, in organizing last week's attack by insurgents in Grozny in which 14 police and security personnel were killed and 36 wounded.

In an Instagram post on December 10, Kadyrov claimed that a man by the name of Kalyapin channeled from Western intelligence services to Akhmat Umarov, the brother of former Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov, the funds to finance the attack by insurgents on Grozny. Kadyrov demanded a probe to determine whether the Kalyapin in question and the Kalyapin "who came to the defense of bandits and their relatives" are one and the same person.

On December 9, Igor Kalyapin criticized as illegal and a violation of human rights and the presumption of innocence Kadyrov's orders in the wake of the Grozny fighting that the families of known insurgents be deported from Chechnya and their homes burned to the ground. Kalyapin formally asked Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chayka and Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to rule on whether Kadyrov had exceeded his authority by issuing such orders.

As of December 10, seven homes had reportedly been torched, including that in the village of Katyr-Yurt in Achkhoi Martan district of the family of Aslan Byutukayev (nom de guerre Amir Khamzat), the head of the Chechen insurgency wing. According to one participant, it was Byutukayev who gave the orders for the raid.

Amnesty International has criticized those reprisals, saying that "punishing the relatives of those suspected of involvement in crimes is a flagrant violation of international law. Nothing can justify acts of collective punishment." John Dalhuisen, director of AI's Europe and Central Asia Program, said the Russian authorities "must ensure an independent and impartial investigation is conducted into the burning of the houses and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials."

In fact, however, there are already signs of a move afoot to legalize reprisals against fighters' relatives. "Obshchaya gazeta" reports that lawmaker Roman Khudyakov has submitted to the State Duma a draft law under which the relatives of people who commit "crimes against security" could be prosecuted. The paper quoted Chechen Duma deputy Khozh Magomed Vakhayev, who is first deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee on Security, as citing the Israeli practice of deporting the relatives of "terrorists." Vakhayev said that if Kadyrov asks him to draft such a law, he will of course do so as "there is no alternative."

Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov for his part appealed to Kalyapin to retract his "populist" request to Chayka and Bastrykin and formally apologize to Kadyrov. Abdurakhmanov alleged that Kalyapin was motivated not by the need to protect the rights of those whose homes were destroyed but by the desire for publicity. He further argued that "the authors of such statements are not taking a stand against terrorism but against Ramzan Kadyrov, the man who is leading the fight against terrorism."

Writing on Facebook Kalyapin dismissed Kadyrov's Instagram post as "ravings" and reaffirmed his conviction that Kadyrov's calls for reprisals are not only illegal but will "play into the hands of the ideologists of terrorism in the Caucasus." At the same time, Kalyapin acknowledged that Kadyrov's allegations are so cautiously formulated that there is no point in trying to sue him for libel.

Kalyapin may well have incurred Kadyrov's displeasure by his efforts earlier this year in defense of Assembly of Peoples of the North Caucasus head Ruslan Kutayev, who was arrested and sentenced on a trumped-up charge of possession of drugs after he defied Kadyrov's injunction that there should be no formal events to mark the 70th anniversary in February of the deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations on orders from then Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

-- Liz Fuller

Georgia To Continue Talks With Russia Despite Landmark Abkhaz Treaty

Abkhazian leader Raul Khajimba (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchange documents during the signing ceremony at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi on November 24.

Georgia plans to continue talks with the Russian Federation despite the implications of the Russian-Abkhaz treaty "On Union Relations And Strategic Partnership" signed late last month, according to veteran Georgian diplomat Zurab Abashidze, who represents Tbilisi at those talks.

On November 28, the Georgian parliament voted down a resolution put forward by former President Mikheil Saakashvili's minority United National Movement (ENM) faction calling for suspending those talks in retaliation for what the ENM termed "Russia's attempts to annex occupied Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region," meaning the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgia formally severed diplomatic relations in late August 2008 to protest Russia's formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The talks between Abashidze and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin began two years ago, shortly after the October 2012 parliamentary elections in which the Georgian Dream coalition headed by billionaire philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili defeated the ENM.

The new Russian-Abkhaz treaty was reportedly first mooted in June of this year at the time of the political standoff in Abkhazia that culminated in the resignation, apparently with Moscow's consent, of then de facto President Aleksandr Ankvab. Raul Khajimba, the opposition leader who coordinated the campaign for Ankvab's ouster and was elected his successor in August, stressed during his inauguration address on September 25 the need to sign, before the end of the year, "a new treaty directed at deepening integration, in the first instance, in the sphere of defense, of border protection, and of broadening our economic possibilities."

The initial version of the treaty, drafted in Moscow and provisionally titled "On Union Relations And Integration," was unveiled in mid-October. It immediately triggered outraged protest both in Tbilisi, where it was construed as heralding Abkhazia's imminent incorporation into the Russian Federation, and in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, where politicians across the political spectrum saw it as a threat to the region's self-proclaimed independence, which only a handful of states in addition to Russia have recognized.

Abkhaz commentator Aslan Basaria pointed out that some provisions of the preamble contradicted the main body of the treaty; he added that the document as a whole appeared to have been drafted by persons who were totally unfamiliar with the situation in Abkhazia. Even Khajimba went on record as admitting in a televised address to the nation that he disagreed with some articles of the draft (he did not specify which ones).

The Abkhaz duly sent back to Moscow a revised version that omitted or rephrased those points perceived as posing a threat to the region's sovereignty. Most, but not all, of those proposed revisions found their way into the final version, which at least from the Abkhaz point of view constitutes an exception to T.E. Lawrence's maxim that "all the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft." Russian analysts Sergei Markedonov and Aleksei Malashenko both commented that Moscow attached such importance to the treaty that it took into consideration virtually all the Abkhaz objections.

Arguably the most significant, if purely semantic change was to the formal title of the treaty, the hot-button term "integration" that set off alarm bells in both Tbilisi and Sukhumi being replaced by the more anodyne "strategic partnership."

The treaty encompassed three main components: military-security, foreign policy, and socioeconomic.


The military-security provisions included the creation of a "joint group of forces" that would defend Abkhazia in the event of attack in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter. According to Khajimba, not all Abkhaz military units will be subsumed into that joint group. The stipulation in the initial draft of the treaty that the joint group of forces would be commanded by a Russian was dropped from the final version.

A related provision in the first draft allowing citizens of Abkhazia who also possessed Russian passports to enlist as contract servicemen in either the regular Russian forces stationed in Abkhazia or the proposed joint group of forces was likewise dropped from the final text.

A parallel provision on the creation of a joint coordinating center for the two polities' Interior Ministries with the aim of combatting crime and extremism in Abkhazia was also fine-tuned at Abkhazia's insistence. The name was changed to "coordinating-information center," and the clause stipulating it will operate on Abkhaz territory and the reference to "extremism" were both dropped. That means Russian Interior Ministry troops will not be legally empowered to pursue suspected Caucasus Emirate fighters if they take refuge on Abkhaz territory.

Moreover, the revised Abkhaz version and the final version of the treaty contain an additional provision under which the Russian Federation undertakes to pay for providing the Abkhaz police force with new equipment and increasing police officers' salaries.

The articles of the initial draft dealing with foreign policy and with socioeconomic development underwent similar changes that reflect Abkhaz sensitivity to possible encroachment on the region's sovereignty. The initial formulation obliging the two sides to implement a "mutually agreed foreign policy" was changed, reportedly at the insistence of de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba, to read "coordinated foreign policy."

While the reference in the initial draft to Abkhazia's independence was dropped from subsequent versions of the preamble, Article 4 in all three versions obliged Russia to help enlarge the number of states that recognize that independence. The Abkhaz and final drafts also include provision for Abkhazia to participate in any integration projects in the former Soviet space, a clear reference to the Eurasian Economic Union. In anticipation, Abkhazia pledged (Article 11) to bring its customs legislation into line with that of the Eurasian Economic Union within three years.

A further concession to the Abkhaz side was the removal from the final draft of measures to facilitate the acquisition by citizens of the Russian Federation of Abkhaz citizenship -- which would have created the legal foundation for the mass purchase by wealthy Russians of real estate in Abkhazia.

The initial commitment to create a "common socioeconomic space" was rephrased in the Abkhaz variant and final draft to read "jointly contribute to the socioeconomic development of the Republic of Abkhazia." Russia's contribution will include raising Abkhaz pensions, allowances, and the salaries of public-sector employees to the average level in Russia's Southern Federal District on which Abkhazia borders. A separate article of the treaty (Article 21 in the final version) pledges Russian assistance to Abkhazia in implementing a program to promote the use of the Abkhaz language.

From the point of view of semantics and diplomatic terminology, there is little in the final version of the treaty to justify the stated fears of the Georgian leadership and the international community that the Russian Federation intends to annex Abkhazia as it did Crimea earlier this year, especially given the substitution in the revised and final versions of the preamble and Article 4 of "Caucasus region" for "Transcaucasus region" in reference to the signatories' shared commitment to "strengthening peace and stability."

On the other hand, insofar as the treaty is clearly intended to strengthen Abkhazia militarily and economically and bind it more closely to the Russian Federation, it enhances the potential for Moscow to use Abkhazia as an instrument to further its own interests vis-a-vis Georgia or, conversely, to thwart the regional designs of Georgia's Western partners, including perhaps plans to expand Georgia-NATO cooperation. Or, to quote Russian commentator Anton Krivenyuk, "Moscow's interest is in the region as a whole. And Sukhumi is viewed in this account as a conduit, a political and military ally, whose loyalty can help secure Russia's military-political interests in the region."

The final version of the treaty was signed in Sochi on November 24 at a meeting between Khajimba and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin announced later the same day that Russia will make available to Abkhazia in 2015 5 billion rubles ($111.5 million) to cover the cost of implementation of the treaty's provisions, in addition to the 4 billion rubles already envisaged under a new investment program for 2015-17.

Krivenyuk had predicted in October during the impassioned debate about the shortcomings of the initial draft that the new Abkhaz leadership had no choice but to accept it, given that without that badly needed cash injection it would be unable to deliver on Khajimba's election promises to raise salaries and pensions and create new jobs. If the Abkhaz leadership (or Khajimba personally?) viewed the treaty from the outset in terms of absolute loyalty in return for minimum concessions and maximum cash and support, they certainly drove a hard bargain.

-- Liz Fuller


Photogallery Was The Insurgent Attack On Grozny A Trial Run?

Scenes From Grozny Gunbattlei
December 04, 2014
Russian authorities say at least 10 police and nine militants have been killed in hours of fighting in the capital of the restive North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.

Two days after the battles in Grozny between Chechen security personnel and militants claiming to act at the behest of Chechen insurgency wing commander Khamzat (Aslan Byutukayev), the North Caucasus insurgency leadership still has not formally claimed responsibility for the attack or clarified its objective. It has hitherto been accepted practice that such a claim of responsibility would be posted within days on one of the insurgency websites.

Just hours after the first shots were fired early on December 4, a two-minute video clip was posted on YouTube in which a man claiming to be one of the fighters at large in Grozny identified them as having pledged loyalty to Ali Abu-Muhammad, the Avar theologian who was chosen as early this year to succeed Doku Umarov as Caucasus Emirate leader.

Speaking in Chechen, the man said that "many" fighters had penetrated the city on orders from Amir Khamzat, and had already killed "many" of the enemy, destroyed vehicles, and seized larger quantities of weaponry than they could carry away. But in an implicit contradiction, he also said this was a suicide mission and "we shall fight to the death."

Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov dismissed that video and other footage filmed by Grozny residents as fakes "filmed far from Grozny and long before today."

The speaker in the video footage did not mention either of the two buildings the fighters occupied: the main press building and a school a few blocks away. That raises the question whether seizing the buildings was part of the original battle plan or, as the daily "Kommersant" suggests, a spontaneous decision after the vehicles in which some of the fighters were traveling were flagged down by traffic police with whom they then exchanged fire. Unconfirmed reports claim separate groups of fighters also tried to occupy the Grozny university building and the State Drug Control Agency.

According to “Kommersant,” the fighters who occupied the two buildings were planning to rendez-vous with comrades in arms in Grozny’s northern Staropromyslovsky district in order to carry out a large-scale attack. It seems equally plausible, however, that the occupation of two buildings close to each other in the city center was a deliberate diversion intended to concentrate the largest number of security personnel there for the longest possible time period to enable other fighters to attack secondary targets elsewhere in the city. The reports that gunfire continued in more than one location for several hours after the gunbattles at the press building and school were over suggests that this is indeed what happened, even though the Chechen authorities have not confirmed that fighting took place elsewhere in the city.

Speaking late on December 5 [], Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov gave a total casualty figure of 14 police and security personnel killed and 36 wounded. The previous evening, Russia's National Antiterror Committee had cited a figure [] of 10 killed and 28 wounded. It is not clear whether either or both sets of figures refer only to casualties in the initial shootout when police sought to intercept the fighters and in the subsequent fighting in which the militants reportedly deployed mortars and grenade throwers, or whether the larger figure also includes casualties incurred during fighting elsewhere in the city.

In a similar attack on Grozny in August 2004 [], a detachment of up to 400 Chechen resistance fighters killed 54 police and security personnel before withdrawing.

Whether or not the December 4 attack proceeded strictly according to plan, it accomplished at least four important objectives.

First, it demonstrated that the Chechen insurgency wing is still a force to be reckoned with, even after Umarov's death, and notwithstanding militants' failure to stage the widely anticipated terrorist attack(s) on the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in February.

Second, it has demolished Kadyrov's repeated assertions that no more than a handful of militants remain in Chechnya. When the fighting began in the small hours of December 4, Kadyrov's first reaction was to argue that the participants must have entered Chechnya from one of the neighboring republics, as the Chechen insurgency wing was no longer strong enough to undertake such an attack. The following day, he claimed [] the attack was organized by Umarov's brother Akhmat. Kadyrov said he will seek Akhmat Umarov's extradition from Turkey, where according to Kadyrov he currently lives.

While Kadyrov and other Chechen officials seek to give the impression that the fighters numbered no more than a dozen (11 bodies have reportedly been recovered, seven of them from the press building), Grozny residents estimate the total number of militants involved at 100-300. But even if there were only 80-100 of them, it is logical to assume that the total Chechen insurgency man-power is at least three times that number, and possibly more: No sane commander would risk deploying his entire army in an attack of that kind.

Third, by seizing the nine-story press building and the school at an hour when they were empty, the occupying fighters induced the Chechen security forces to use against them heavy artillery that effectively wrecked both structures. In addition, the Berkat market close to the press building was severely damaged by fire [].

And fourth, assuming that the seizure of the two buildings was intended purely as a diversion, it provided the fighters who engaged in gunbattles with police and security personnel elsewhere in the city with valuable experience in urban warfare. They may also have replenished their arsenal, as the speaker in the video footage claimed.

In that respect, it is conceivable that the December 4 attack was intended simply as a trial run. In video footage uploaded in August [], veteran Chechen commander Makhran Saidov said that "today we are not strong enough to liberate the city [of Grozny], but we believe that tomorrow we shall have [the necessary] strength."

-- Liz Fuller

Video Chechen Insurgents Attack Grozny

A local media building called the Press House is set ablaze following a gun battle with Chechen insurgents in the regional capital, Grozny, on December 4.

Almost 20 years to the day since then Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent Russian troops into Chechnya to "restore constitutional order,"  Chechen militants have launched a major operation in Grozny. 

Russian news agencies report that at least seven fighters in three vehicles opened fire on road traffic police near the Heart of Chechnya mosque in the city center, killing up to five of them, before barricading themselves into the nine-story central press building. The insurgency website Kavkazcenter quoted an unnamed source at a Grozny hospital as implying that the number of dead and wounded was higher.

In a two minute video-clip posted on YouTube, an unidentified participant in the fighting said "many" fighters entered the city, where they have "destroyed many vehicles and armored columns" and seized more weaponry than they could carry away with them. The website Kavkaz-Uzel later reported receiving an SMS message citing unconfirmed rumors that as many as 400 militants had entered Grozny.

The speaker said the suicide operation was undertaken at the command of Amir Khamzat (Aslan Byutukayev), commander of the Chechen insurgency wing, in retaliation for the suffering and humiliation inflicted on Chechen women by the security forces subordinate to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. He said the group has pledged loyalty to Abu-Mukhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), the Avar theologian chosen earlier this year to succeed Doku Umarov as head of the Caucasus Emirate, which Umarov proclaimed in late 2007.

Kadyrov was quoted as saying in an Instagram post that the shooting near the press building has died down and six fighters in the building are dead. As of 9 a.m. local time, Chechen security personnel also said that the operation to regain control of the press building has entered "the final phase."

Ninety minutes later, the National Antiterrorism Committee reported that "all" the fighters within the press building were dead, but did not specify how many.

NEWS REPORT: Deadly Gunbattle Erupts In Grozny

Kadyrov initially dismissed as “absolutely untrue” rumors that fighting was underway elsewhere in the city. Several hours later, however, he was quoted as saying that a second group of fighters was surrounded in one of the city’s schools.

Kadyrov also suggested the attackers may have come from outside Chechnya: he claimed the insurgency wing in Chechnya is no longer capable of launching a large-scale attack.

Security personnel in Grozny, however, say the fighters came from Shalazhi in the Urus Martan district south-west of the capital. They say the attackers, who were wearing security service uniforms, summoned three taxis, neutralized the drivers, and then used the vehicles to drive to Grozny.

WATCH: Buildings Burn After Fighting In Grozny


The Chechen insurgents resorted to the same tactics in October 2010, when a group of three fighters drove up to the Chechen parliament building in Grozny in a taxi, claiming to be a lawmaker's bodyguards. One immediately blew himself up to create a diversion, while the other two entered the building and took hostage all deputies present, including speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov. 

The 2010 attack was masterminded by veteran fighter Aslambek Vadalov, of whom a fellow fighter observed that "he never loses his cool, even when you're in the forest, surrounded by the enemy, and you think there's no escape." The operation on December 4 also bears Vadalov's handwriting.

If the estimate of several hundred fighters in Grozny is even approximately accurate, then the question arises: was the failure of the Caucasus Emirate fighters to target the Sochi Winter Olympics in February not after all, as many inferred, a reflection of their weakness? Were they instead preparing for this assault?

And was today the "specific day" that Vadalov’s fellow commander Makhran Saidov said several months ago the Chechen insurgency wing was preparing for?

-- 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.