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WoE: Umarov’s Reversal Shows that Nor th Caucasus Militants are More Nationalistic and Less Islamist than Moscow has Claimed

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  • Norbert Strade
    Window on Eurasia: Umarov’s Reversal Shows that North Caucasus Militants are More Nationalistic and Less Islamist than Moscow has Claimed Paul Goble
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5 7:07 PM
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      Window on Eurasia: Umarov’s Reversal Shows that North Caucasus Militants
      are More Nationalistic and Less Islamist than Moscow has Claimed

      Paul Goble

      Staunton, August 5 – Doku Umarov’s reversal of his announcement last
      week that he was handing over the leadership of the North Caucasus
      Emirate to Aslambek Vadalov calls attention to something Moscow has
      worked hard to obscure: many of the militants in the North Caucasus
      continue to be animated by ethno-nationalism rather than by Islamist

      Indeed, Akhmed Zakayev, the leader of Chechen nationalists in the
      emigration, told Reuters yesterday that he knew Vadalov “well” from
      their common struggle for an independent Chechnya, was in “regular
      contact” with him, and knew that Vadalov is “an ally in the moderate
      wing with no links to Islamist groups”

      To the extent that is true, it may help to explain why Umarov reversed
      himself yesterday. Indeed, Zakayev’s interview may have played a role on
      that. Indeed, Umarov’s radicalism, as Zakayev pointed out, “was used [by
      Moscow] to convince the West that Russia is facing the same problems
      there as in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world.”

      If Vadalov in fact is animated more by Chechen nationalism than by
      Islamist radicalism, that would create a serious problem for Moscow
      because many human rights activists in the West have been far more
      supportive of Chechen nationalism, especially given Moscow’s and Ramzan
      Kadyrov’s brutality, than they have been regarding the Islamist movement

      And consequently, Western groups that supported Chechen independence in
      the past or at least insisted that Moscow resolve the conflict there
      through negotiations are likely to be re-energized by the latest Umarov
      reversal precisely because it appears to confirm the continued
      importance of ethno-nationalism in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North

      At the same time, Umarov’s change of heart may undermine any unity of
      Islamist elements there. According to Abdulla Ismatulov, the head of the
      SK Strategy Research Center, Umarov was forced into backtracking by the
      leaders of the Kabardino-Balkaria subdivision of the Emirate who appear
      to distrust Vadalov (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/172570/).

      In addition, such Islamist elements among the militants, Ismatulov
      continued, “need Umarov as a brand which they can use to ask their
      sponsors” among radical Islamist groups abroad for funding. “No one
      knows the militant Vadalov,” he continued, but the current supporters of
      the Emirate “will give money to the well-known [Umarov].”

      Another close observer of the North Caucasus, journalist Bakhtiar
      Akhmedkhanov suggests that Umarov may have acted as he did either
      because of differences of opinion among his backers or because “of an
      internal conflict in the Chechen segment of the resistance,” a segment
      that was unhappy with ideology and his attacks on the civilian population.

      According to Akhmedkhanov, “Umarov never enjoyed popularity among the
      Ichkeria militants.” That is because, he continued, “for the peoples of
      the Caucasus, the national idea always was stronger than the religious
      one,” adding that he is “certain” that “the Emirate of the Caucasus is a
      product of the Russian special services and is fated to disintegrate.”

      Not only do members of these services have a vested interest in
      promoting the notion that the entire North Caucasus resistance is
      Islamist in order to quiet Western criticism of Moscow’s policies there,
      but they are also interested in extending the conflict because it
      provides them with “uncontrolled access to resources” and gains them
      promotion in the organs.

      Aleksey Malashenko, an expert on the Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie
      Center, put what is taking place in an even broader context. According
      to him, “the Chechen militants are disappointed in a commander who
      speaks [all the time] for a universal jihad” rather than for the
      achievement of their specific national goals.

      “This is,” the Moscow expert says, “a little like what is taking place
      in Afghanistan. There too one can see this opposition between the
      universalists who call for struggle with the infidel in the entire world
      and the nationalists who are satisfied with the establishment of their
      own orders in their own countries.”


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