Speaking at a press conference on October 31, police Lieutenant General Sergei Bachurin, who heads Russia's federal Interior Ministry's directorate for the North Caucasus Federal District, claimed that during the first nine months of this year 296 militants were apprehended in the North Caucasus, the news agency Regnum reported.
Assuming that Bachurin was speaking just of suspected fighters, and not of fighters plus support personnel, that figure represents a fivefold increase over 2016, when just 49 fighters were captured in the course of the year, together with 328 support personnel.
Bachurin's claim seems implausible, both statistically and for two other reasons. First, there was a massive exodus of fighters from the North Caucasus to Syria in late 2013-early 2014, when most members of the Caucasus Emirate (IK) proclaimed by Doku Umarov in late 2007 transferred their allegiance to Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group Islamic State (IS).
Second, it is unlikely that enough new recruits have joined the vestiges of the IK network to account for such a large number being apprehended, especially as the destruction of IK's network of hidden bases and arms caches, the ongoing detention of persons suspected of having abetted the insurgency in the past, and the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies, especially in Chechnya, have made it increasingly difficult for the insurgency to operate.
On the other hand, two factors could partially account for Bachurin's claimed rise in the number of militants captured. The first is a hypothetical switch in tactics by security personnel from the shoot-to-kill approach during counterterror operations to a concerted effort to apprehend suspected IS militants or sympathizers alive and interrogate them. There is no record of such orders being issued, but such a switch in tactics would be logical given the seriousness with which the Russian security forces regard the threat posed by IS.
But the number of shoot-outs and counterterror operations reported across the North Caucasus this year, and the number of fighters said to have been involved, appears far too small to account for the kind of increase Bachurin cited.
The second possibility is that most or all of the young men rounded up by security forces in Chechnya since the start of this year, whether in connection with the December 2016 shootings in Grozny or for other reasons, have been branded fighters for statistical purposes. Twenty-six young men were apprehended in the villages of Novye Atagi and Chiri-Yurt south of Grozny in the last week of September alone, according to the news portal Caucasian Knot.