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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stability in Russia’s Chechnya and Other Regions of the North Caucasus: Recent Developments

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Terrorist attacks in Russia’s North Caucasus—a border area between the Black and Caspian Seas that includes the formerly breakaway Chechnya and other ethnic-based regions—appeared to increase substantially in 2007-2009. Moreover, civilian and government casualties reached levels not seen in several years and terrorist attacks again took place outside the North Caucasus. Although the number of terrorist incidents may have leveled off or even declined slightly in 2010 from the high levels of 2009, the rate of civilian and government casualties continued to increase throughout the North Caucasus in 2010 and a rising number of terrorist incidents took place outside of Chechnya. Illustrative of the new range and scope of violence, the Moscow subway system was bombed in March 2010, resulting in over 40 deaths and dozens of injuries.

Before the recent rise in terrorism, it seemed that government security forces had been successful in tamping down their range and scope by aggressively carrying out over a thousand sweep operations (“zachistki”) in the North Caucasus. During these operations, security forces surround a village and search the homes of the residents, ostensibly in a bid to apprehend terrorists. Critics of the operations allege that the searches are illegal and that troops frequently engage in pillaging and gratuitous violence and are responsible for kidnapping for ransom and “disappearances” of civilians. Through these sweeps, as well as through thousands of direct clashes, most of the masterminds of previous large-scale terrorist attacks were killed.

Some observers suggest that the increasing scope of public discontent against zachistki and deep economic and social distress are contributing to growing numbers of recruits for terrorist groups and to increasing violence in the North Caucasus. Interethnic and religious tensions are also responsible for some of the increased violence. Many ethnic Russian and other nonnative civilians have been murdered or have disappeared, which has spurred the migration of most of the nonnative population from the North Caucasus. Russian authorities argue that foreign terrorist groups continue to operate in the North Caucasus and to receive outside financial and material assistance.

The United States generally has supported the Russian government’s efforts to combat terrorism in the North Caucasus. However, successive Administrations and Congress have continued to raise concerns about the wide scope of human rights abuses committed by the Russian government in the North Caucasus. The conference agreement on Consolidated Appropriations for FY2010 (P.L. 111-117), calls for $7.0 million to continue humanitarian, conflict mitigation, human rights, civil society and relief and recovery assistance programs in the North Caucasus. It also repeats language used for several years that directs that 60% of the assistance allocated to Russia will be withheld (excluding medical, human trafficking, and Comprehensive Threat Reduction aid) until the President certifies that Russia is facilitating full access to Chechnya for international nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian relief to displaced persons.

Date of Report: December 13, 2010
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: RL34613
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