Jamestown Foundation’s Chechnya Weekly issue places the Nalchik Raid and the greater conflict in the Caucasus in Russia’s past imperial history. For anyone familiar with Russian history, this is not exactly news, but it helps bring some barring that Chechnya Conflict in and the Nalchik Raid is nothing new and should be expected.
Here’s what Jamestown’s Andrei Smirnov has to say:
The current Chechen policy of mobilizing other Caucasian nations in the struggle against Russia is not new. The Chechens have always tried to use this strategy to weaken the Russian offensive on Chechnya and strengthen their own forces.
In 1785, Sheikh Mansur, the leader of the first organized rebellion of the Chechens against Russian domination in the region, marched with his forces to Kabarda to persuade the locals to join him and spread the anti-Russian revolt to the western part of the North Caucasus. [This largely failed]
[Smirnov goes on to mention another attempted upraising in 1846 by Imam Shamil]
[Contemporary] Chechen commanders did not send squadrons of Chechen militants to other regions, but instead welcomed volunteers who wanted to help the Chechens fight against Russian troops.
Now, there is no longer any need for Basaev to deploy Chechen groups to attack outside of Chechnya. He can go individually to any of the neighboring republics and recruit as many local men as needed to conduct a large-scale operation. This ensures that Basaev does not have to divert his Chechen forces, which immobilize the best-trained Russian troops and who are stuck in a quagmire of endless guerilla war. The new tactic allows the insurgency to open new fronts without weakening their struggle in Chechnya itself. This is the worst scenario the Russian authorities could imagine.
The Importance of Historical Context
This first lesson from this article is that while Islamic terrorism of the Salafist/Wahhabi/Global Guerilla kind is new, the conflicts in Chechnya and the Caucasus are not. The Caucasus has always resisted Russian rule – whether it be an imperial, soviet or other incarnation of Russia. Indeed before Russia, Chechnya was busy resisting the Ottoman Turks. Thus even without the radical Islam element, we would expect some conflict against Russian rule.
Amy Chua in “World on Fire” argues that sudden transition to free-market democracy can spark ethnic hatred – she cite’s the ethnic riots againt the Chinese in Indonesia after Suharto’s fall. While she’s speaking of a very specific case, the greater macro level analysis is the renewing and eruption of ethnic hatred once the stability of the old and iron-fisted regime is gone. For Indonesia it was Suharto and for Russia it was the fall of USSR.
True there were Chechen revolts under the USSR, but back then the Soviets could act with ruthless abandon (mass deportation) – today, this has changed with a Russia constrained by new international norms and weakened by its deteriorating state.
From Chechen Upraising to Global Guerillas
As mentioned by Smirnov, compared to centuries past, the structure of the Caucasus insurgency has changed from mainly Chechen based forces to Chechen-led forces with volunteers from throughout the Caucasus region.
From there, it isn’t much a leap to begin to see leaders beyond Basaev and Chechens, bringing forth a fully decentralized insurgency. Without a doubt, John Robb’s Bazaar of Violence will appear in Russia in full form, if it hasn’t already.
Attempting to find a political solution in Chechnya was complex enough, doing the same from the entire Caucasus may prove impossible.
Related StrategyUnit Links:
– Guerilla War in Kabardino-Balkaria , Another Chechnya Erupts
– Green Revolution in Russia – Part II
– Nalchik Raid- Russian Civil War in the Caucasus