Saturday, March 23, 2019

Daghestan Underground has Restructured Itself but Not Disappeared, Experts Say


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – The Islamist underground in Daghestan has restructured itself into a collection of conspiratorial cells but it has not disappeared, despite the fact that the number of terrorist incidents has declined in recent months, according to officials and experts on the region with whom the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency has spoken (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/333266/).

            Magomed Baachilov, the head of the Daghestan branch of the Russian National Guard, points to this development as well as to another: In the past, it was the wives of radicals who left to go the Middle East; now, he says, the flow consists increasingly of unmarried young girls, thus creating an additional threat in the future.

            Claims earlier this year by Baachilov and Daghestani interior minister Abduraashid Magomed that the situation in Daghestan itself is much improved, however, are misleading, according to Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the director of the Center for the Analysis and Prevention of Conflicts.

            “On the one hand,” she says,” he is right: now there are none of the armed groups which at one time existed in Daghestan. But this is connected not only with their destruction but also with the fact that the underground itself has changed its structure and method of operations.” Now, these people operate in “conspiratorially organized cells.”

            They typically consist of people who from the outside look completely ordinary and carry out ordinary lives but “at the same time are preparing attacks.”  Typically, their attacks are suicidal, because of the actions of the authorities, but they are nevertheless important as an indicator of allegiance to radicalism and opposition to the authorities.

            Sokiryanskaya says that she does not think Daghestan is threatened by the return of a large number of radicals from Syria and Iraq. The borders are too tightly controlled, and the repressive measures that Russian officials use against those who do try and are arrested are sufficient to frighten most people off.

            Instead, she says, Daghestanis who have gone to fight for ISIS are hiding out “in other countries or zones of military conflict” rather than trying to come back.

            Akhmet Yarlykapov, a specialist on the Caucasus at MGIMO, says that the formerly organized resistance is largely a thing of the past but there are still “so-called lone wolves” who are prepared to act on their own and stage terrorist attacks.  That means it is far too early to say the situation in Daghestan is stable.

            Dzhoanna Prashchuk, the founder of the Chechens in Syria project, says that she has very serious doubts that any unmarried women are leaving Daghestan for the Middle East now. Some did earlier, but now ISIS does not control much territory; and many women who went earlier are in prison camps in Kurdish areas. 
            And Mikhail Roshchin, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says that Daghestanis like Muslims in other parts of Russia continue to turn to Islamist radicalism because of official persecution of their faith and because of social problems which if anything are greater in Muslim regions than anywhere else.

            “I would suggest that this sympathy for the militants is a form of protest.” Some people may believe in ISIS goals, but far more see that group as one that is at least opposed to the regime under which they are forced to live.  And the existence of such attitudes means that “new armed groups” can be formed in Daghestan and elsewhere at any time. 

            Consequently, the reported decline in the number of armed incidents in Daghestan from 24 in 2017 to 11 in 2018 is far from the full story, Roshchin says.  They do not show that “no active underground remains in Daghestan. There may be fewer incidents than there were, but the size of the underground may be even larger, now in the form of “sleeper cells.”

            One cannot easily predict when such “cells” will awake and cause a new wave of violence and problems.

Lukashenka Plans to Flee to Arab Country, Moscow Patriarchate’s TV Channel Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – In yet another example of Russian fake news intended to ratchet up tensions in Belarus, the Tsargrad television channel, a nationalist outlet sponsored by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, says that Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka is not only planning to retire but to flee to a country in the Middle East.

            The story which can be found online at tsargrad.tv/news/lukashenko-gotovit-pobeg-v-belorussii-popolzli-sluhi-o-skorom-uhode-prezidenta-strany_190315 has no basis in reality, Belarusian outlets say but is very much part of the diet of fake news that Tsargrad has been feeding Russians about Belarus for years (by24.org/2019/03/22/escape_for_lukashenko/).

                Citing “the anonymous Internet community, Kompromat Belarus,” the Russian channel says that “the security service of the president of the Belarus Republic has been given an order to work up plans for evacuating Aleksandr Lukashenka.  It is planned,” Tsargrad continues, “that he will be evacuated to Arab countries.” 

            Such “news” is unlikely “to sow panic among Belarusians,” given that the Tsargrad channel does not have a license to broadcast there; but it may convince some Russians that the Belarusian state is on the brink of collapse – yet another way the Kremlin may be preparing in deniable form for a move into Belarus of one kind or another.

Kazakhstan’s New President Merits a Second Look as the Primakov of Central Asia


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – Most commentators have dismissed Kasym-Zhormart Tokayev, who replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev as president of Kazakhstan, as a cypher either because they believe that Nazarbayev will continue to make all the decisions behind the scenes or assume that Tokayev is merely a placeholder until Nazarbayev’s daughter can take office next year. 

            Such interpretations may prove correct, but they fall short for two reasons. On the one hand, given that Nazarbayev could have chosen almost anyone to be his successor, his selection of Tokayev given the nature of that man’s career and personality says something important about where the former president wants his country to go.

            And on the other, Tokayev’s elevation highlights something that is often ignored: there has emerged in Kazakhstan, in contrast to some of the other former Soviet republics, a coterie of well-trained, highly skilled and much experienced diplomats who can be counted on to promote their country’s interests, even if Tokayev’s time at the top turns out to be brief.

            In a profile for the 365Info.kz portal, commentator Amir Zhanuzakov says that “by virtue of his professional and international authority, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev is often compared with Yevgeny Primakov” whose skills are unquestioned and who almost rose to the top in Russia (365info.kz/2019/03/portret-tokaeva-peregovorshhik-intellektual-lyubitel-literatury).

            Indeed, Zhanuzakov says in admiring tones, Tokayev “not only embodies in himself but even exceeds” the qualities of the Russian diplomat. “This isn’t a compliment: it is a fact.” His combination of Chinese restraint and European polish, “his encyclopedic knowledge and phenomenal ability to conduct discussions” are all qualities he has demonstrated again and again.

            Most important as an indicator of his abilities and focus is the list of the foreign languages he has mastered and used abroad and in Kazakhstan. They include; Russian, English, Chinese and French. That speaks volumes about how he can interact with the world and what Nazarbayev views as necessary for the future.

            A 1975 graduate of MGIMO, Tokayev acquired many of the skills of the Primakov generation and has put them to use for the interests of Kazakhstan, the Kazakh commentator continues. But like the man he is often compared with, the new Kazakh president has broad and unexpected personal interests and qualities.

            His favorite poet, for example, is Irina Ratushinskaya, who was part of the Sinyavsky-Daniel generation of dissidents in Soviet times.  And he has acquired the reputation as a reader and someone who takes regular exercise, again qualities that not everyone expects to find at the upper reaches of political pyramids.