Migrating Violence in the Caucasus

by Joshua Foust on 8/19/2010 · 8 comments

I have a new piece up at PBS.

Dagestan hasn’t had it as rough as Chechnya. The Russian army did not stage two separate, brutal offensives into its cities. Makhachkala has never faced the same devastation as Grozny, the Chechen capital declared by the United Nations in 2003 as the most destroyed city on Earth (a distinction repeated by Andrew Meier, who, in his haunting 2005 portrait of Russia, “Black Earth,” says Grozny’s fall was worse than Kabul’s, since it had so much farther to fall). But Dagestan has been the center of an increasingly violent explosion of violence in recent years.

Part of that explosion is because of Chechnya. Russia cleverly installed Ramzan Kadyrov — a former militia leader in the Second Chechen War who switched sides to fight for Moscow in 1999 — as president of the region in 2007. Since then, incidents of violence within Chechnya itself have leveled off — only to migrate east to Dagestan and west to Ingushetia and North Ossetia. The violence was pushed out of one Russian republic, making its neighbors worse off.

I go on to wonder what this might mean, as Russia steps up some counterterror policies in Daghestan. Where will it push the violence to next?

Update: RFE/RL has an excellent piece on the deteriorating situation in Daghestan as well:

More effective police action alone, however, is not the answer. Nor is Moscow prepared to take sole responsibility for turning the situation in Daghestan around, as Medvedev made clear when he told Magomedov peremptorily “You’re president, it’s up to you to continue what you’ve started.” …

The litany of complaints aired in Sochi last week substantiate the widely held perception that the Kremlin has no comprehensive strategy for tackling the problems that plague the North Caucasus as a whole, or the individual republics. Other analysts argued at the time of Khloponin’s appointment six months ago that even if such a plan existed, the firmly entrenched regional elites would fight tooth and nail to thwart its implementation.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Mireau August 19, 2010 at 11:01 am


why didn’t you mention that Ramsan is the son?

Joshua Foust August 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

Brevity, that’s all. Is there some connection to Akhmad you think I should have made?

Mireau August 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Not really. Just felt short.

john August 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm

thanks to your CIA/saudi/turkish backed criminal gangs.

So, go fool yourself with your usual nonsense doversions.

Render August 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

“There is very little evidence that militants from Chechnya or Dagestan travel to other al-Qaida fights, such as Afghanistan or Yemen.”

Josh – The link in that sentence is dead (or was when I clicked). There are an awful lot of reported dead Chechen terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen over the last decade. I would think dead bodies are pretty compelling evidence?

Brevity be damned, could you expand on that, please?


Gee “John” – you left out Mossad, RAW, and the ISI? They’ll be so disappointed…


Joshua Foust August 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

There’s actually very little evidence that there are dead Chechens in Afghanistan (here’s a working link). In fact, if you were to go by “reported dead,” there should be hundreds of dead Chechens littering the Afghan landscape. But not a single one has ever been identified by name. Similarly, there are more credible reports of Chechens with names in Pakistan, but last I checked (which is, granted, 18 months ago) it was less than a dozen, which hardly makes for a trend or any reason for concern.

I’m unaware even of rumors that Chechens are in Yemen. Have any links to share?

Render August 20, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Just the one from Yemen at the moment.



Josh – Over the last two years I’ve seen several Taliban videos from both Afghanistan and Pakistan in which the Talib themselves were rather proudly pointing out (or claiming) the Chechens that were operating with them, (much to the accuseds obvious discomfort). At least one of those videos was related to either Keating or Wanat, (not sure I remember which though).

I understand (and agree with) the premise that for a bunch of obvious reasons most of these crews are of the stay at home types, wherever they call home. I totally understand that the vast majority of Taliban are just not likely to travel very far outside of their region for the same reasons that the majority of HizbAllah isn’t going to travel very far from Lebanon, or HAMAS far from Gaza.

But I also understand that they have their own version of what we call Tier One. Professionals who travel from one front to another, imbedding with the locals. And I know we’ve nailed HizbAllah members inside Iraq.

Regards the Chechens, they seem to travel every time the Russians crack down on them. Which makes a certain amount of sense. It’s got to be easier for them to deal with us then with the Russians. We haven’t done a Grozny in a very long time.

So, hordes? Nope (they were never exactly a horde in Chechnya either). Small numbers, probably so. There isn’t smoke without a fire and there are an awful lot of nations claiming there’s a fire.

I’m just guessing here but I’d say probably never more then 1,000 Chechens in AfPak at any one time after 2001, but probably higher then 200 most of that same time frame.


And Josh, thank you for the response. I don’t always agree with you, but you never fail to teach me something. That counts.


Shannon August 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

Just voicing my appreciation for articles about Chechnya and the Caucasus on Registan.

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