Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Illusion Of Peace

Some quick thoughts on the suicide attacks this morning in Chechnya; you can read full reports of the event here and here, but to sum it up, this morning a combination of suicide bombers and suicide gunmen attacked the parliament building in Grozny, the capital of the Russian Republic of Chechnya, leaving at least four dead and at least 17 others injured. The high-profile attack punctured the idea promoted since last year by both Russian officials and Chechnya's President Ramzan Kadyrov that after a decade and a half of bitter fighting, Chechnya was finally at peace.

Of course peace in this southwest corner of Russia was and is an illusion. Even if we accept Kadyrov's claims that he had finally pacified the Chechen insurgency, the reality is it was more like squeezing a balloon – Kadyrov's brutal tactics may have briefly calmed Chechnya, but the militants merely spilled over to neighboring republics like Ingushetia and Dagestan, where terror attacks against government offices, security forces and frequently the general public are a common occurrence. Now it appears that Kadyrov can't even keep the peace in Chechnya; the attack on the parliament was a deliberate attempt by the militants to give his ruling regime a black eye, just as their attack in August against Kadyrov's hometown, which left 12 dead, was also meant to do.

Observers of events in the region, and in their more candid moments even Russian officials including President Dmitry Medvedev, say that the militancy in the Caucasus Mountains region along Russia's southern border is in large part a reaction to brutal tactics on the part of the local security forces, and is fueled by the rampant corruption, poverty and lack of possibility for future development (that being hindered by the first two factors) endemic in the region. In September, the de facto leader of the Chechen militants, Doku Umarov, oddly retired from jihading, only to unretire a few days later – it's suggested that Umarov's retirement/unretirement points to a split within the militant community between those who see their struggle as part of an al-Qaeda-linked global jihad and those who want to return to the militancy's original goal of securing independence for Chechnya (Umarov is in the global jihad camp, and has proclaimed himself the “Emir of the North Caucasus”). How the attack on the Chechen Parliament factors into this struggle remains to be seen. It also remains to be seem whether the Kremlin will decide that Kadyrov is more trouble than he's worth. Moscow has let Kadyrov have a free hand in running Chechnya in return for keeping the republic peaceful and firmly in the Russian camp; Kadyrov meanwhile has been accused of rampant human rights violations, has endorsed the oppression of women and introduced elements of Islamic fundamentalism into the governing of Chechnya.

In short, he's become a real embarrassment for Moscow, though the Kremlin seemed willing to put with him so long as he kept a lid on Chechnya. But now that Chechnya is starting to again show signs of boiling over will Moscow's attitude towards Kadyrov change? And would replacing Kadyrov with a less brutal governor truly help to reduce the militancy in the North Caucasus?
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