Weapons Traffic in Russia's Caucasus

By Bowers, Stephen R.; Borov, Zaur et al. | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Weapons Traffic in Russia's Caucasus


Bowers, Stephen R., Borov, Zaur, O'Neill, Kyle M., The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


Since the first Chechen war of 1996, the Chechen conflict and - other violent clashes in the North Caucasus region - have been driven less by traditional nationalist-separatist motives and more by an adherence to radical Islam. The Moscow terrorist attacks in March, 2010, sparked renewed concern about spreading violence from the North Caucasus radical Islamic community.

Corruption, drug addiction, extremism and terrorism fuel an illegal weapons traffic in the North Caucasus. Corruption in Russian military circles is an especially significant factor. Illegal weapons traffic in these regions is linked with both organized crime and terrorist activities. Most arms dealers are motivated primarily by profit rather than by a political agenda. There is a growing trade in components, products and substances used in the manufacturing of mass destruction weapons (chemical, biological and nuclear). Many of the most recent Russian weapons, such as the AN-94 assault rifle, have gone directly from the factory to the Caucasus arms bazaars. Chechen troops had the B-94 before it was issued to Russian soldiers. With increasing frequency counterfeit dollars are used for purchases. Weapons traffic in the Caucasus has a global reach that affects political stability and security all the way from Eastern Europe to the Middle East.

Key Words: Northern Caucasus weapons traffic; international weapons traffic; conventional weapons; improvised weapons; Chechen conflicts; Russian weapons controls.

On 29 March 2010, Moscow was rocked by two explosions in the city's metro which left 40 dead and reawakened fears that Russia's North Caucasus region was a major security threat. A turbulent community which produced terrorists such as Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006, now presented a new face as a symbol of Islamic radicalism. While by no means a recent arrival, Doku Umarov quickly emerged as a hero for Jihadists throughout the world when he claimed credit for the attacks. Umarov, once a construction engineer, joined Chechen separatists when the USSR collapsed. In 1997, he became the head of the Chechen Security Council and was credited with defeating Russian forces in Grozny. In 2007, Umarov declared himself the emir of the Caucasus Emirate. Two years later the announced the revival of Riyadus-Salikhin, a suicide formation once led by Shamil Basayev. 1The morning after the Moscow subway incidents, Moscow police discovered and detached an improvised bomb which was on the underside of a police minivan parked near the Savelovskaya subway station.2 In the days following the Moscow incidents, additional attacks took place in the North Caucasus region itself.

By itself, the renewed violence of the spring of 2010 would have been a disturbing indication of an instability that threatened the Russian state. However, as a result of the increasing infatuation with radical Islamic by the leaders such as Akhmad Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev, it is important to see this conflict as an extension of a global struggle by Islamic fundamentalists against secular society. 3

Even more troubling is the fact that this violence took place as Russia was preparing to lift the restrictions imposed on Chechnya at the start of the second Chechen war in 1999. This restrictive security regime, referred to as "KTO", was declared in the autumn of 1999 when power was in the hands of separatists led by Aslan Maskhadov. As they continued with plans for easing the security regime, authorities pointed out that crime in Chechnya had been cut in half during this decade and that relaxation was recognition of the demonstrated political loyalty of local leaders. The fact that Russian officials fulfilled promises to reduce the security regime as the number of casualties among Russian security forces had increased is a tribute to the terrorists' inability to further drive a wedge between Russian Federation officials and local Chechen authorities who had counted on this measure of accommodation as a reward for their loyalty. …

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