Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Caucasus Report

After Latest Bombing, Assessing Security Threat To Sochi Winter Olympics

Doku Umarov seen in a video screen grab from August 15
Doku Umarov seen in a video screen grab from August 15
The suicide bombing at the Volgograd main railway station on December 29 in which more than a dozen people died raises yet again the questions whether and how self-styled Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov could prevent the staging of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

[An explosion that destroyed a trolleybus in Volgograd less than 24 hours later, at rush hour on December 30, killed at least 10 people.]

In a video address to his supporters six months ago, Umarov declared that “they are planning to hold the games on the bones of many, many Muslims buried on our land by the Black Sea. It is incumbent on us as Muslims not to permit that, resorting to any methods Allah allows us."

The answer to that question hinges on two interrelated imponderables. First, does Umarov have the manpower and tactical skills to stage one or more military operations of such magnitude and complexity that they could disrupt the games? And second, assuming the answer to the first question is “no,” what level of security threat to participants and spectators is the Russian leadership prepared to accept?

The first question is all the more difficult to answer because there is no way of knowing whether Umarov intends to present Moscow with a credible ultimatum after seizing hostages -- "Call off the Games or hundreds of people die" -- or mount a series of terrorist attacks so shocking that the Russian authorities have no choice but to abandon an undertaking into which they have reportedly channeled 1.3 trillion rubles ($40 billion).

There are precedents for both approaches. Between 1995 and 2004, the Chechen resistance staged four major operations with the aim of wringing political concessions from Moscow: the Budyonnovsk hostage taking in June 1995 masterminded by radical field commander Shamil Basayev; a similar hostage taking in Kizlyar in December 1996 commanded by Salman Raduyev; the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002; and the Beslan-school hostage taking in September 2004. None achieved the desired results, although Basayev succeeded in securing from then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin free passage for himself and his men back to Chechnya.

Both Basayev and Raduyev are now dead. Umarov himself has never been identified as having masterminded a major operation, and it is questionable whether any of his senior commanders has the necessary tactical vision to plan and carry out a major military offensive, as opposed to providing logistical and psychological training to potential suicide bombers, as Umarov deputy Aslan Byutukayev (aka Amir Khamzat) has reportedly done on more than one occasion.

Aslanbek Vadalov, arguably the most effective military planner among the surviving Chechen field commanders, successfully planned two major attacks in Chechnya in August and October 2010, but they involved only a dozen and three fighters respectively. And Vadalov has not featured prominently in any of Umarov’s video clips since re-pledging his loyalty to him in the summer of 2011.

Thwarting a possible large-scale hostage taking in a hospital was nonetheless one of the practice exercises carried out in November by 7,000 combined military, Interior Ministry, and Federal Security Service (FSB) troops in preparation for the Sochi Olympics.

In addition to the question of who might coordinate and command such an attack, it is not clear how many fighters Umarov has at his disposal in light of the new rift between him and Tarkhan Gaziyev, who has formally challenged Umarov’s argument that his rejection in 2007 of the cause of Chechen independent statehood was justified under Islamic law. A report recently compiled by the Center for PolitInformation headed by Aleksei Mukhin noted the (admittedly remote) possibility that Umarov’s men could be reinforced by more experienced fighters from Afghanistan or (less unlikely) from Syria.

The North Caucasus insurgency has also mounted two successful operations targeting major sporting events despite tight security. In the first, in May 2004, then-Chechen President Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov was killed, together with five other people, by a remote-controlled bomb apparently cemented under his seat at a Grozny sports stadium. No less an expert than former FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev suggested that the bomb was planted by, or with the connivance of, Kadyrov’s immediate entourage.

In the second, six years later, the Kabardino-Balkaria insurgency wing planted an explosive device at the Nalchik race course with the aim of killing former Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov. Shogenov was one of 30 prominent officials injured in the blast, which killed only an elderly World War II veteran.

The risk that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) could be implanted in the fabric of facilities constructed specially for the Olympic Games was highlighted in the Mukhin Center report.

The alternative tactic would be for the insurgency to mount in the run-up to the Olympics a series of suicide bombings such as those perpetrated in Moscow in 2010 and 2011, and/or car bombings such as the one that targeted the main police station in Nazran in the summer of 2010 in which 25 people were killed and up to 250 injured.

The chances of a successful attack of whatever kind must, however, be assessed in the light of the unprecedented security arrangements already in place.

All the construction workers brought from outside the region to work on infrastructure projects in preparation for the Olympics are to be sent home by the end of December. Access to Sochi by motor vehicles has been restricted by law for the duration of the Games.

The security measures for the Sochi Olympics drafted in 2009 will be enforced by 42,000 police officers and 10,000 Interior Ministry troops, while 23,000 Ministry for Emergency Situations personnel will be deployed in the mountains and along the coast.

Any insurgent group intending to launch an attack will thus not only be heavily outnumbered. They will probably also be operating on terrain that is unfamiliar (unless Umarov began deploying his men to Krasnodar Krai months ago) and hampered by logistical problems in the absence of the extensive network of support personnel that any insurgency needs to function with maximum effectiveness.

That said, a large-scale hostage-taking far enough away from Sochi not to fall foul of the intensified security measures might stand a greater chance of success.

Andrei Soldatov, chief editor of the website agentra.ru, takes seriously the possibility of terrorist action to sabotage the Winter Olympics. He argues, as does RFE/RL North Caucasus Service Director Aslan Doukaev, that “in order to thwart the Olympics there is no need to stage large-scale terrorist attacks in which a large number of people would participate. By and large, bombings could literally be organized by terrorist cells or even a single cell, that would be sufficient.”

Consequently, Soldatov argues, it will not be easy for Russian security services to guarantee the Olympics pass without incident. In that context, Soldatov also expresses bewilderment that the FSB officer put in overall charge of coordinating the security arrangements, Oleg Syromolotov, is a counterintelligence, rather than a counterinsurgency or counterterrorism, expert.

It should be noted that Umarov is not the only actor to have threatened to sabotage the Sochi Olympics. On December 27, hackers operating under the collective title Anonymous Caucasus uploaded a 2 1/2-minute video address to the Russian government declaring “large-scale cyber-warfare” under the slogan “Pay-back for Sochi.” The speaker accuses the Russian authorities of inhumanity in staging the Olympics on the ancestral homeland of the Circassian people, hundreds of thousands of whom perished fighting tsarist Russia’s expansion into the Caucasus in the 19th century. He affirms that “we support all the peoples of the Caucasus against the enemy of our people and the enemies of Islam -- Russia. Stop your activities on the territory of Sochi, and we will stop ours.... We shall try to destroy you, we shall try to achieve our aim, and you will not be able to stop us.”

Anonymous Caucasus succeeded three months ago in temporarily disabling the websites of Sberbank and the Bank of Russia.

Meanwhile, just 50 percent of Chechens believe that Umarov’s statement was indeed motivated by resentment at Moscow’s choice as the venue for the 2014 Olympics of the ancestral homeland of the Circassians. In a poll launched in mid-December by RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service, 10.5 percent of respondents attributed Umarov’s statement to the need to remind people he still exists, 7.9 percent to the belief that if he issues such threats, people will believe he is still a force to be reckoned with, and just 5.9 percent to the belief that he could force Russia to backtrack over the venue.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 29, 2013 17:13
"prevent the staging of the Winter Olympics in Sochi" :-)) You, guys, can continue hoping of course that something will prevent the staging of the Games, but if there is anything that this new terrorist acts points out it is that the Sochi area is safe, and this is why the terrorists focus their activities on regions geographically remote from where the Games will take place.

by: Sascha from: Frankfurt,Germany
December 29, 2013 19:07
1) Umarov and Gaziyev are allies,the Chechenpress-article was a fake-Zakayev-story against Umarov! there is no split!

2) The attack on Kadyrov´s home village in 2010 was carried out by more than 50 chechen rebels,one dozen were killed,together with circa 25 Kadyrovtsy-militiamen!

3) Your assumtion concerning Umarov´s current tactics are most likely wrong. I personally think,that Vologograd is indeed THE MAIN TARGET for Umarov´s planned olympic suicide-attack-wave. Volgograd is well known in the world,not as far away from the Caucasus as Moscow and much less protected than Sochi. The perfect location for a whole series of spectacular attacks in the coming weeks! Let´s wait and see

by: Anonymous
December 30, 2013 09:56
These men were "nationalist" Chechens. Then they became İslamists (in outward show, they leave ? nationalism, because İslam reject nationalism). And now they say "Allah allows us" what we want to do with our enemies... Do İslam really allows them ?

No. İslam has war laws, you can not kill old men, women, children, can not burn houses, trees, and fields. Fight like a man, die like a man. Without bombing any non-armed people.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 31, 2013 14:32
The Russian "podletc I negodyay" bosses allow them.
What Allah wouldn't allow - allow expanding Russia hams.
Beslan children murders done by some two hundreds men,
All Russian and half-Russian GRU assassins, no Chechen
Would agree, only few, as slaves, were there, half damned
Killed by Umarov - man and two women, protesting ordeal.
Any religion adapts to war. It is Russia that orders to kill.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 30, 2013 15:16

I wouldn't go into details or methods used in history of nations.
However, the history we must know - to learn from it a lesson.
12-7 millenniums ago, Iberian settlements spread in region,
From Black to Caspian Sea and from Northern step door,
Invited locals, created Caucasians - through Asia Minor.

Northern Caucasus, even less populated about 1500 AD,
Settled by the good tribes of Israel that Assyria expelled,
Went to steps, mixing with the Iberian-Caucasian people
And Guns and Skiffs - that helped bad tribes be repelled.
Not withstanding intrigues of "Vizant" Caucasus survived.

As millenniums of attacks of empires and barbarians lead
To Common Wealth, Hetia, Lidia, Media - Caucasus weld.
Iveria united new Common Wealth lead by Georgia Czars,
Some as part of United Kingdoms, some allied as Hazars,
United by Chechen Kingdom. Each ethnos of same group.

"Visant" and invaded by Russia "Vikings" used differences
With some bad tribes, like Sam and Gad, misguided ones,
Like some Skiffs - trying to invade Caucasus, but they lost.
In 12th Century Russians provoked Mongol Shah's "boast",
Attacking million army was destroyed near Georgia border.

Russians did it again in 13th century, second time Mongols
Didn't declare war, coming million army and burning arrows
Ambushed, winning by smoke. Genocide was the final goal.
Population killed. Mongols expelled, leaving only a sorrow.
North was left alone. The foe, Russia, taken by Mongols.

To survive Mongol conquest, North Caucasus found ally,
Arabs, but for price - many "Hazar" and Christian nobles
Converted to Muslim religion, participated in Arab's wars,
Brought wealth, wives and clergy, some of Chaldea tribe.
That didn't change much their Iberian-Caucasian culture .

Unfortunately, alliance brought military bases and armies
With Muslim Empires and insurgents to Caucasus region.
Rebuilding population Georgia, as Ukraine, suffered raids,
Killings, plunder and kidnappings. Finally a Georgian King
Turn backward Russia into power, since Peter "the Great".

Peter and his Uncle, King of Georgia, made an agreement,
In which Russia obligated repay - helping rebuild neighbor
And friends countries integrity from Eastern Europe worlds,
That in long run also applied to the Asia and World at large,
North Caucasus be restored - as historic Common Wealth.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 30, 2013 15:18

Considering the above, what is main direction of events?
As Caucasus, South or North, have positive inclinations,
They invaded by Russian army, cleansed, than annexed,
Assassinating the very leading people of positive change,
Some killed by Russia. Some by Emirat, lead by Umarov?

Beslan repared school? Children killed by the "Terrorists"
Of Emirat, Russian GRU with 3 Chechens Umarov killed,
Invaded Russians annexed it, flooding it by larger armies.
Ingushetia build two power plants? Insurged by "Terrorists"
Of Emirat, than Russians invaded, annexing for Russians.

Georgia helped its North economic, "Oboroten's" insurged
Along with its GRU Chechens, preceding Russian invasion.
Any place so-called Emirat goes, Russians use precedent
And invade - annex, cleanse - to repopulate it by Russians.
Excuse? Badly forged claims against to be invaded lands.

Sochi was not populated just by Muslims, it was Georgia,
Till tribe of Gad and Afro-Pechenegi invaded whole area,
Than liberated by Georgia, finally invading again Adygas
And Russian armies, send by Lenin as a genocide mafia,
Killed or expelled all Georgians - annexing it for Russians.

I wouldn't criticize the warrior fighting just war, it is his war.
But is it Just? Is it just an excuse for Russia expand more?
Is it to fortify annexations of Georgian-Cherkessian Sochi?
Is it to flood North Caucasus by invading armies of "vors"?
Is it to invade after Georgia and Azerbaijan to "zamochit"'?

Where are protests against Olympics? Silenced by GRU?
Silenced as "deviators from Emirat" by Umarov's dudes

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
December 30, 2013 15:58
Doku and his band of unemployed mountain boys want to twist the arm of one of the most powerful nations in the world? What a joke! They're just building on the horrible reputation of islam, slaughtering innocent civilians like all of the other islamists.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 31, 2013 14:04
"Doku" and his "Shape-shifter" boys
Are sacrificial mortars, they certainly employed.
Their employer "Shtaby" of one of "most powerful nations",
Invade, breed in our homes "Podletc I negodyay" abomination,
Not unlike "Shtaby Chechen beard" that inspired 2008 invasion
Of "Anychars"-Quislings, forwarding Russian macaques ploy.

by: Ivan from: California
December 31, 2013 17:10
These bombings are a result of Bashar al-Putin and Ayatolla Lavrovs campaign to kill as many sunnis as possible. They are getting what they deserve. Soon we will see Russian helicopters dropping barrel bombs on vegetable markets and bakeries to get rid of the terrorists in the Caucasus.

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.