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

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

by Robert W. Schaefer

Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security Int.'l 2010

293 pages

$59.95

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Does the limited readership for Chechnya and the North Caucasus need another book? The uptick in violence and major terrorist acts in Moscow in recent months has sparked greater interest in the region, but arguably this need is more than filled by recent books and articles by such noted specialists as Thomas de Waal at Carnegie, Miriam Lanskoy (National Endowment for Democracy) together with the former Chechen Foreign Minister Akhadov, and Georgetown's Charles King. What does a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army have to offer to this intellectually rich literature?

A lot, it mms out. Robert Schaefer is sufficiently steeped in the complicated ethnic-religious-historical stew of the North Caucasus; he fully understands and successfully communicates the background against which the insurgency takes place. To this he adds his experientially based knowledge of counterinsurgency (COIN). He goes beyond a US-centric interpretation of COIN to look at the situation from the Russian government and military's point of view. His insight helps answer the paradox that most of those who have studied the region grapple with: Why have the Russians never succeeded in extinguishing this 300-year insurgency while, at the same time, the Chechens have never been able to win their independence? In part, it is because the Russians have successfully addressed aspects of the conflict in their own terms, but have failed to adequately address the essential "hearts and minds" aspect of COIN, preventing them from ultimate victory. The Chechens (and other peoples of the North Caucasus) have been highly skilled in the initial guerilla warfare stages of insurgency, but have failed to defeat the far more numerous Russian forces at the advanced stages of the conflict when there is a need to mass forces. The initial and outwardly successful "Chechenization" of the Chechen struggle in which resources poured into the area failed. Additionally, cessation of violence resulting from the former insurgent Kadyrov deftly playing Moscow and his local rivals is unraveling due to the failure to provide security and build trust among the local population.

A very useful introductory chapter, "Insurgency 101," sets the stage for Schaefer's thesis that the Chechen/North Caucasus rebellions should be analyzed as classic insurgencies. More than an "Insurgency for Dummies," the chapter underscores the key elements of an insurgency--lack of governmental control, available leadership, ideology, and vulnerable population--which Schaefer weaves throughout his account of the history of the North Caucasian struggles against Russian rule. Similarly, the clear distinction he draws between insurgency and terrorism (the former a strategy, the latter a tactic) is important to understanding where the Russians have gone wrong in branding the insurgency as terrorism.

In his detailed history of the conflict-ridden region, Schaefer stresses that religion was a galvanizing force in the struggle since the 18th century--and not a new element resulting from the Chechen war of the mid-1990s. The Russian response to the Chechens was consistently violent and suppressive, including such tactics as forced resettlement--a pattern that continued in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation. The Russians consistently exploited the fissures in Chechen society, including those between followers of fundamentalist Islam and other local traditions.

The period of perestroika in the late 1980s gave hope to Chechen nationalists and other repressed people of the region for greater freedom and autonomy, but ultimately the turmoil and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union created the preconditions for the Chechen wars. Presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev played Chechen leadership that were competing in their own power struggle with disastrous results for the Chechen peoples. …