Connect to share and comment
Russia's fundamental problems ― corruption, unemployment ― feed the dissatisfaction that motivates rebels.
Next door, things are much more tenuous, particularly in Dagestan, where attacks against police and suicide bombings are regular occurrences, with rebel violence compounded by clan warfare and a high degree of criminality. In Ingushetia, rebels have focused their violence on officials, attempting even to kill the republic’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in a car bomb attack two years ago. Kabardino-Balkaria saw a brazen attack in February, when a group of masked gunmen shot dead three tourists from Moscow and a ski lift was blown up.
“After Umarov, someone young and energetic will lead,” said Malashenko, noting that disaffected youths, many having grown up with little but violence and war, have filled local leadership ranks. Saradzhyan agrees, but warned that “it will take the successor a while to accumulate as much prominence in the North Caucasus and abroad and that's important for raising funds and soliciting assistance.”
It is impossible to tally the rebels’ resources, either under Umarov’s control or at the local level. Al Qaeda, which sent emissaries and funds to the region during the Chechen wars, has largely withdrawn physical assistance, focusing on other theaters of operation like Afghanistan and Yemen. The number and kind of attacks overseen by Umarov ― including last year’s attack on the Moscow metro and January’s suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport ― pale in comparison to those carried out by Basayev, who oversaw the terrifying mass hostage-takings that plagued Russia at the turn of the century.
“The influence of foreign powers on the Caucasus is much less than before,” said Malashenko. “The movement is currently self-sufficient.”
Hahn compares Al Qaeda’s role in the Caucasus to that of the Bolshevik Party that came to power in Russia’s 1917 revolution. “Al Qaeda is at the vanguard, like the Soviet Union was at the vanguard of the worldwide socialist movement,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they micromanage, but they help with financing, recruiting and all these groups are sharing ideas.”
The ultimate goal, he said, is the creation of a global Islamic caliphate. “It’s all aspiration. I don’t think they are going to succeed, but they could do a lot of damage along the way.”
For now, Russia will likely keep the heat on Umarov in a bid to avoid major attacks on its heartland. Yet it continues to lack any feasible strategy to bring calm to the Caucasus republics themselves. Its latest plan, announced in March, one month after the attack in Kabardino-Balkaria, was to pour $15 billion into the region to turn it into a skier’s paradise.
But the violence in the region continues to spread, bleeding into southern regions such as Stavropol that are considered, largely because they are mainly inhabited by Christian Slavs, to be the Russian heartland. Many analysts expect the violence to soon reach the nearby city of Sochi, which is due to host the Olympics in 2014.
Malashenko blames the failure to control the Caucasus on Russia’s greater ills ― a level of corruption, stagnation and government disdain that has led to a wholly inefficient government.
“Show me one place where the government works? How is it fighting corruption? How is it even building roads? The Caucasus are a part of Russia," said Malashenko. "What we see in Russia, we see there too.”
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the date of the Sochi Olympics.