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'Black Hawks' And Hot Air

Heavily armed officers search cars at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Nalchik in February.
Heavily armed officers search cars at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Nalchik in February.
Five weeks after the "Black Hawks" anti-Wahhabi force first attacked the home southeast of Nalchik of a suspected fighter's family, uncertainty persists about their identity and affiliation. Despite renewed threats to do so, they have still not attempted to kill a single one of the militants whose lives they have threatened.

The website on March 5 identified the masked leader of the so-called Black Hawks anti-Wahhabi movement who gave an interview on March 1 to REN-TV as an FSB officer named "Vadim." According to, "Vadim" featured in a REN-TV program last year that similarly focused on developments in Kabardino-Balkaria. Although in both video clips the man's face is partially covered by a black mask, to judge by the eyes it is one and the same person.

From the outset, many commentators assumed that the Black Hawks were created by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to annihilate with impunity the existing members of the Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai jamaat of the North Caucasus insurgency and deter potential recruits from joining its ranks. The fact that the masked speakers on two of the three video clips featuring the Black Hawks spoke impeccable Russian substantiated those suspicions. (The third speaker had a slight Kabardian accent.)

In the wake of the Black Hawks' most recent threat to kill the children of militant leaders in retaliation for their imputed killing of innocent civilians, the leaders of organizations representing both Kabardians and Balkars assured the news agency Regnum that it was unlikely the Hawks were acting in the name of either ethnic group. Anzor Shakhmurzov of the Coordinating Council of Adyg Organizations of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) said categorically that no Circassian would stoop to the killing of children. In fact, the insurgents have said repeatedly that they make every effort to avoid any civilian casualties. In an address last summer pegged to the beginning of Ramadan, KBK jamaat leader Asker Jappuyev (aka Amir Abdullakh) cited several cases when his men abandoned a planned attack rather than risk harming children in the immediate vicinity.

On the other hand, Russian security analyst Andrei Soldatov has cast doubt on the assumption that the Black Hawks are an FSB front organization, pointing out in a recent interview with the "Moscow Times" that "the FSB simply doesn't like creating informal organizations."

If the Black Hawks are answerable to a rival Kabardian political faction out to discredit KBR President Arsen Kanokov, it seems odd that they have still not sought to play up the perceived incompetence of the republic's police and security forces by targeting one of the insurgent leaders. On the other hand, their bluster furnishes Kanokov with the opportunity to pose as conciliatory. Meeting last week with the parents of unnamed suspected militants, he stressed that "we must not permit a confrontation" between the insurgents and relatives of their victims hell-bent on revenge. He went on to warn that "we must realize that unless we take coordinated measures and try to find a way out of this situation by civilized means, we could be plunged into a fratricidal war."

Days earlier, after the insurgents attacked multiple targets over a 48 hour period, Kanokov released a public statement saying that while "I can understand those people whose emotions get the better of them when they see what is going on, but I stress that the terrorists must answer for their actions exclusively in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation, and it is up to the law enforcement organs to put an end to those actions."

By contrast, Federation Council First Deputy Chairman and National Anti-Terrorism Committee member Aleksandr Torshin has argued that the police should co-opt the Black Hawks in what amounts to a "civil war" against the Islamic underground. Torshin described the Black Hawks as "a youth organization...whose members want to live by civilized laws" in a situation where the KBR police "are powerless to defend even themselves."

The ongoing uncertainty with regard to the Black Hawks raises once again the question: Just how much influence and control does Kanokov exercise over the republic of which he is the nominal head? The answer to that question, according to former Republic of Ingushetia President and Afghan War veteran Ruslan Aushev, is none whatsoever. Aushev was quoted by the website as telling a Russian TV station in January that "the prosecutor does not take orders from him. The head of the FSB administration does not take orders from him. The Interior Minister does not take orders from him. No one in the republic takes orders from him."

Kanokov was not among the top KBR officials who today attended a ceremony in Nalchik to mark the 67th anniversary of the deportation of the Balkars to Central Asia on March 8, 1944 on orders from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Nor has Kanokov's official webpage posted his traditional address to mark that date. In his address last year, Kanokov described the deportation as "genocide." Many are likely to attribute his failure to mark the deportation anniversary this year to the fact that Jappuyev is a Balkar.

Earlier today Kanokov did, however, send out a tweet congratulating the republic's women on the occasion of International Women's Day.

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.


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