The situation in Chechnya

<< No 5 (238), 6 February 2017 >>

•  The militant attack on staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which took place in Grozny on 18 December 2016 sent ripples through the Chechen Republic and led to the largest-scale security operation in recent years  •

In January of this year, around 60 people were detained on suspicion of involvement in the terrorist underground. GRIGORY SHVEDOV, chief editor at the Caucasian Knot website, tells Open Russia that, in his opinion, the recent detention of suspected terrorists is a reaction to the murder of police officers.

grisha-shvedov“These events are unusual for Chechnya in recent times. They underscore the fact that it’s not as peaceful a region as propaganda in the republic would have us think,” said Shvedov.

In his opinion, the most vulnerable social group is young people who see the injustice of what’s happening in their country: “They are the people ISIS is most interested in recruiting, and they are clearly having some success. It’s clear that conditions are right for young people to absorb terrorist propaganda that chimes with their aspirations and convictions. In addition, we can draw parallels between Assad’s regime and the one in Chechnya: both are authoritarian, both leaders inherited power from their father, and both countries have privileged elites as well as many people who have no legal means to influence the situation. Chechnya is notorious for its stagnation – the very problem that makes young people susceptible to propaganda. Even in Dagestan, where the situation is not great either, and the situation of many believers has worsened considerably, there is greater pluralism.”

Among other factors influencing young Chechens towards radicalism, Shvedov cited social exclusion and the impossibility of attaining a decent standard of living: “In modern consumer society, and also in Islamic Chechnya, the external trappings of prosperity are important.” Shvedov characterised the attacks as “suicidal”. “In fact, they are ‘shahada’- dying for the faith, suicide attacks. I don’t think they have the appetite for a long fight or involvement in a series of terrorist attacks.”

We remind our readers that in December, four police officers and seven militants were killed in a shootout. Four attackers survived, but according to reports by news media and the human rights organisation Memorial, three of them died in hospital. Caucasian Knot reported that sources were claiming that, after the attack on Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel, mass arrests of the relatives of suspected terrorists began. The Chechen authorities denied this. This move against militants was the largest since the seizing of the Press Building in Grozny in 2014.

Soon a new counterterrorism operation was launched across all Chechnya. As Novaya Gazeta reported, it became one of the largest in recent years: between 9 and 11 January, more than 20 suspected terrorists were detained; after a week, the number was up to 60. Novaya Gazeta published the names of some of those detained, and reported that there were minors among the detainees. Seven suspected terrorists and two soldiers of the North Battalion died in the operation. A source told the TASS news agency that those arrested had been preparing “a series of significant crimes in the North Caucasus”.

As in the case of the December attack, after the January arrests, relatives of those suspected of terrorism had difficulty finding their relatives: this time news media reported that the people of the villages of Kurchala and Tsotsi-Yurt, and the town of Shali decided in a “people’s assembly” to exile the families of the detainees from the republic. “The idea that relatives share responsibility is not a new phenomenon, and has always been traditional in the country. However, persecution under the guise of public opinion is a new thing, and here we clearly see the use of administrative resources and local customs for very specific ends,” explains Shvedov.

The most disturbing news turned out to be a report from the website Caucasus Realities that amongst the rebels was a member of the personal guard of Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic. This person was arrested, then his body was returned to his family, who were told that he had shot himself with a weapon he had seized from the police. Kadyrov himself denies [r] that the victim was a member of his personal bodyguard, saying that he was a “simple guard”. “There is no evidence to support the idea that Kadyrov is losing control of the country. However, militants struck a severe blow against Chechnya’s much vaunted security, and this shows that the country is not after all quite so secure. In my opinion, there will continue to be intermittent acts of terror and suicide attacks in Chechnya,” Shvedov sums up.

Translated by Anna Bowles

Moscow Helsinki Group
(from Open Russia, 24 January 2017)