Chechnya Violence Shows Weakness of Putin’s Pacification Policy

Chechnya Violence Shows Weakness of Putin’s Pacification Policy
Firefighters and emergency workers examine the burned market pavilions in downtown Grozny, Russia, Dec. 4, 2014 (AP photo by Musa Sadulayev).

On Dec. 4, a major gun battle broke out in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, leaving 14 police and 11 militants dead. It was the worst violence in several years for the semi-autonomous Russian republic, which suffered through two bloody, failed wars for independence from 1994-1996 and from 1999-2009. The Chechen government has responded by demolishing the homes of the families of suspected militants, prompting condemnations by multiple human rights groups this week.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, some analysts suggested that the militants might have been affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS). As many as 800 Russian Muslims have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the jihadi group, and, as Michael Cecire explained in World Politics Review in October, one of the most prominent IS commanders is an ethnic Chechen from Georgia. Russian President Vladimir Putin also implied in his annual address following the attack that foreign fighters might have played a role.

However, a video recorded by one of the militants indicated that the attacks were in fact carried out by a homegrown jihadi group, the Caucasus Emirate, whose former leader Doku Umarov died in March in an apparent poisoning. This has not stopped the director of the Federal Security Services (FSB), Russia’s main intelligence agency, from openly speculating about links between the Caucasus Emirate and IS. Such links do exist, but mostly in the form of Chechen participation in the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq, rather than IS activity in Russia.

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