Thursday, July 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Umarov’s Threat to Sochi Will Lead Moscow to ‘Tighten the Screws’ in North Caucasus, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 4 – Doku Umarov’s threat to stage a terrorist attack against the Sochi Olympiad next year is likely to become the occasion for more “tightening of the screws” in the North Caucasus by Moscow and its force structures there in the coming months, according to experts surveyed by the news agency.

            Umarov, the self-proclaimed leader of the Caucasus Imamate, this week said on a widely disseminated video tape that he was ending his “moratorium” on attacks against Russians that he declared on February 2, 2012, and would now focus the attention of his forces on disrupting the Sochi Olympics.

            As points out today, it is not clear how much authority Umarov has or how many people he may control or even if he is still alive, but however that may be, the news agency says, the number of victims of armed conflict in the North Caucasus “more than doubled” between April and May of this year (

            Consequently, the news agency says, one has to take the underground leader’s threats seriously, and it turned to three experts for their assessment of what Doku Umarov’s words may mean and how they are likely to affect Russian policy in the North Caucasus in the seven months before the Sochi Games are scheduled to begin.

            Aleksey Malashenko, a specialist on Islam at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says that no one will know whether Umarov can make good on his threats “until the Olympic Games are concluded.”  His words this week may be simply a “PR” action but they will have an impact on those thinking about attending the competition and also on Russian force structures.

            The former will undoubtedly be frightened, the expert says, and the latter “will use” his words in order to “’tighten the screws’ around the Olympiad in this region.”  But it is important to remember, Malashenko adds, that “the main threat comes not from Doku Umarov … but from terrorists acting individually.”

            That makes the task of the Russian siloviki much more difficult.  It is relatively easy to track “any organization” than to identify and block “amateur terrorists” as the recent terrorist incident at the Boston Marathon shows.  Consequently, he concludes, no one can “guarantee [absolute] security” at Sochi.

             Feliks Tsokov, the former head of the specially important crimes section of the Russian Investigation Committee of the North Caucasus Federal District, tells that the Caucasus Imamate is “’a geopolitical project of the US and the West’ directed against the Russian Federation in order to destroy its [territorial] integrity.” And consequently, “I do not consider Umarov an independent figure” but someone who is part of that effort.

            Umarov’s words this week, he suggests, are a provocation given that in the past, terrorists like Basayev have not telegraphed their intentions in advance but rather taken credit for attacks only after they occur. But his threats must be countered by the siloviki because if they are not, Umarov’s declaration “can become a catalyst of destructive processes” within the country.

             Tsokov adds that serious shortcomings in the work of Russian security forces do not allow anyone to predict that they will be able to provide real security for events “of such an extent as the 2014 Olympiad” and says that “either security must be guaranteed or the Games must be called off.”

            A third expert interviewed by, Orkhan Dzhemal, a commentator for “Izvestiya,” says that “Umarov really can make good on his threats” and is likely to try because in the past, he “has shown that he keeps his word.” And that poses real challenges to the Russian authorities.

            According to Dzhemal, the recent use of carrots as well as sticks by the federal authorities has led to the departure of many fighters from the ranks of the militants, the further criminalization of militant organizations, and a decline in the authority these groups enjoy in the population.

            Umarov’s announcement, he suggests, thus represents an effort by  the militant leader to recover authority by adopting a clear ideological position. The response of the authorities is likely to determine whether he succeeds. Any “witch hunts” by the siloviki, Dzhemal says, will only help him in this.

            And he points to the difference between the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga to make his point. In the North Caucasus, repressive measures by the state are driving many into the Salafi underground, but in the Middle Volga, where they are many Salafis in the population, there has been little repression and consequently, few people have joined underground groups.

            If Moscow orders repressive measures in the Middle Volga, Dzhemal suggests, that will change, and the Russian authorities will face exactly the problem there they say the most fearand most oppose.

            Enver Kisriyev, an expert at the Caucasus Center of Civilizational and Regional Research of the Moscow Institute of Africa, says that threats to stage a terrorist attack on Sochi are useful to the underground, especially in neighboring Chechnya, but he adds that in his view, Umarov himself may no longer be among the living, although he remains a symbol of resistance.

            But whatever and whoever lies behind the recent threats, he says, “a certain movement threatening the conduct of the games can emerge become the Olympiad,” and that is something that Moscow and the world must take completely seriously.

   cites two other comments about Umarov’s threat. Russia’s Natonal Anti-Terrorist Committee said on its own website yesterday that “particular attention is being devoted” to the possibility of attacks against Sochi. And Chechen leader Raman Kadyrov said that “Umarov will be killed before the 2014 Olympiad.”

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