The Caucasus Emirate
I am veering away from my usual topics (the elite in Moscow) to talk about the latest Dokku Umarov video. I am doing so because while Umarov is physically far away from Moscow and its elites, he seems to be more aware of what is taking place there politically than the elites are. And he is taking advantage of the weakness that the Putin regime has portrayed (and is continuing to portray) in its moment of political crisis.
The latest video was posted two days ago on the rebel website Kavkaz Center, with the headline: “Dokku Umarov has changed the status of the population of Russia, and gave the order to avoid attacks on civilian targets.” Umarov’s stated reason was that in protesting the falsified elections, the civilian population is currently in direct conflict with the regime, and therefore deserving of this moratorium.
While the man in the video was almost certainly Umarov, the sudden and remarkable change in tactics shows that Umarov may not be the one making all of the decisions anymore. In bringing Vadalov & Gakaev back into the fold last summer, some concessions were probably made about how decisions are reached within the Caucasus Emirate. Neither Vadalov nor Gakaev were in this most recent video, and Umarov made no mention of them. However, I find it very doubtful that they are not participating in discussions on tactics, and strategies, and targets. In fact, I would be willing to posit that the two are very much involved in the larger tactical plans.
Umarov and the Caucasus Emirate leadership seek to portray the Putin regime as weak, but they are weak too. Umarov may have been trying to project strength here, but everything about this video (except for the great graphics in the first 35 seconds) screamed weakness. He’s sitting out in the cold snow, and he is obviously in pain. A terrorist attack in Moscow, or anywhere outside the North Caucasus, has not been staged for a little over a year (since Domodedovo). We have not really heard anything from Riyadus-Salikhin since then. They tried to claim responsibility for the assassination of Yuri Budanov last June, but no one really took them seriously. And as for Khamzat, the supposed leader of Riyadus-Salikhin, we saw him the last time we saw Umarov (back in October) when Umarov declared that Khamzat had not been killed in Istanbul.
As a political strategy, this moratorium is a good one, but in practical terms, it is highly doubtful that the Caucasus Emirate is currently capable of attacking even a soft target in Russia’s heartland.