The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad

Article excerpt

By Robert W. Schaefer

Praeger Security International, 2010

303 pp. $59.95

ISBN: 978-0-313-38634-3

Winston Churchill famously remarked that Russia is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." That would make Chechnya, by virtue of being inside Russia, nearly impossible to figure out. Yet Robert Schaefer attempts to do exactly that in one of the most important works on Chechnya's insurgency to date. His analysis is relevant to all such conflicts as Schaefer provides unambiguous recommendations on how to cope with all insurgencies. This is critical to the entire work since "insurgencies cannot be viewed like other conflicts because they are a fundamentally different type of warfare" (p. 2).

According to Schaefer, there are "four prerequisites" that must be present before a particular country sees an insurgency develop: lack of government control or illegitimate government (pp. 13-15), a common ideology (pp. 16-17), effective leadership for the insurgents (pp. 17-19), and a vulnerable population (p. 19). The last of these is most important to Schaefer. Insurgencies (and the counterinsurgencies) are fights over controlling populations and giving them something of value to fight for.

Next, Schaefer describes "common characteristics of insurgencies" (pp. 20-30). Many will read this section and others and wonder why the literature review is so light. Simply put, why is there so little provided to justify these claims? In many ways, this section is merely a foundation for the chapter on terrorism (pp. 31-48). Schaefer puts terrorism in the context of being one of many tools of insurgents. He then brings in the specific case study of Russia and Chechnya as an example of how the larger power has misread the smaller one and is, in fact, fighting the wrong kind of war. He firmly asserts, "The Chechen insurgency is alive and well and in better shape than it has been for much of the last 400 years" (p. 48). That is a long way away from what Vladimir Putin claims.

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The next couple of chapters on Chechen history and the centuries-old conflict with Russia seem a bit out of place when first reading the book. This was a concern because The Insurgency in Chechnya has no consistent methodology, but employs a hodgepodge of histories, personal experiences, and a modest literature review to buttress Schaefer's contentions. Still, by the time chapter five is presented, Schaefer is back on solid ground. From 1980, the reader gets the sense that he could provide a minute-by-minute account of the Russian-Chechen conflict. He is able to tie the prerequisites and common characteristics sections with those on Chechen history and the Russian responses to provide a succinct summation: "To say that there had been a lack of government control in Chechnya prior to the declaration of independence would be a gross understatement ... there was no Russian control" (p. 122). Thus, a political vacuum was fostered and external (that is, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) and Islamic extremists crammed the region with weapons and an ideology: "Wahhabism first entered the North Caucasus through Dagestan around 1986, although it would take another ten years before it would reach Chechnya" (p. …