After the 4 December attack on Grozny, the question was asked whether this was the beginning of a new insurgency by the Caucasus Emirate or a one-off attack. The answer may in fact be both. The insurgency in the Caucasus has never gone away. Skirmishes still happen, and Russian and Chechen anti-terror units are still “neutralizing” terrorists.
The real question that needs to be asked is why. Why did the Emirate choose that time to launch the attack? The timing is curious. The attack happened right before President Vladimir Putin’s annual address to Russia. Defying Putin on a national level certainly sends the message that the insurgency is still a force in the Caucasus. This line of thinking was even mentioned in one of the statements posted by Emirate propaganda site, Kavkaz Center. If that were truly the case, though, why didn’t they launch any attacks during the Sochi Olympics, when the whole world was watching? That would have been an opportunity to promote their cause of an independent Chechnya to a worldwide audience. But is that the message they are really trying to send? Instead of sending a message to the world they are likely sending a message to Russia that they are still a threat and will remain so regardless of any counter measures taken by Russia to put down the insurgency.
Another theory bandied about was the attack coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the First Chechen War, which began on 11 December 1994. The attack didn’t happen on the anniversary itself, but near enough to cause some to wonder. Beyond quiet local commemorations, there were no ceremonies marking the anniversary. There have also been no mentions of the anniversary in any messages sent out by the Emirate. The anniversary is was probably not a reason for the attack but taking advantage of Russia’s occupation with the war in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s economic woes, may have played a role. Russia is fighting a proxy war in east Ukraine, providing military support for the separatists there. At the same time, Russia is dealing with a rouble that is freefall.
It is also possible the Caucasus Emirate is also feeling encouraged and emboldened by the success of another: the Islamic State (ISIL). The Caucasus Emirate has seen hundreds of fighters from the region make their way to Syria and Iraq, finding success on the battlefield and gaining a sort of celebrity along the way. Caucasus fighters have gained a reputation of being fearless, strong, and devoted to the cause. From the Caucasus the Emirate has watched ISIL capture an incredible amount of territory and establish a (self-proclaimed) caliphate, both of which the Caucasus Emirate would like to see at home. In the aftermath of the attack, the Emirate released another statement on Kavkaz Center that varied slightly from the first, saying the attack was in retaliation for Russian oppression. Another post, addressed to the Mujahideen involved in the attack, commands them to “Bring back your land, bring back your religion, bring back your honor. Establish the Sharia of Allah on your land. Do not live under the law of infidels.”
It’s unlikely the Caucasus Emirate could do anything close to what IS has pulled off in Syria and Iraq. First, they lack the manpower. Of those who were not killed in the two Chechen Wars, many who would fight have either migrated out of the country or have traveled to fight with IS. This has weakened the Emirate. Second, despite the collapsing economy and proxy war in Ukraine, Russia will take steps to quash any uprising in the North Caucasus. Every time there’s been a major attack, Russia has retaliated, many times brutally. One cannot forget the actions at Nord-Ost or Beslan. There are less dramatic anti-terror operations almost daily in Chechnya and Dagestan. Sweeping raids of Salafist mosques, arrests, and even murders of anyone thought to be involved with the insurgency happen regularly by Russian FSB and Chechen police, under the command of Chechen leader (and Kremlin figurehead) Ramzan Kadyrov. in fact, in response to the 4 December attack in Grozny, Kadyrov vowed to destroy the homes of those involved – including their families – and drive them out of Chechnya.
Will there be more attacks in the Caucasus. Definitely. The Caucasus Emirate will continue their fight until they establish a Caucasian Caliphate or get neutralized completely. The most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle. There will be no end to the Russians trying to eliminate the insurgency altogether, but this is an ideology that has existed for centuries in various forms of sincerity. And given the ties to the fight in Syria and Iraq (the Caucasus Emirate supports al Nusra Front, which includes many Caucasian fighters), there is the potential for this conflict to grow in coming years as those fighters return home. In short, this is a conflict that is not going away any time soon, and its participants will take every opportunity to prove it.