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A Crash Course on Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan

By and
Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM

It has been widely reported that the two prime suspects in the Boston marathon bombings—one who was killed in a shootout early this morning—are ethnic Chechens. The brothers allegedly lived in Kyrgyzstan with their family before moving to the United States in 2002, and reports say they are citizens of that country. Here is a running list of sources that may prove helpful in learning about the conflict in Chechnya, where separatists have waged a war of independence against Russia for the last two decades. We will add to it over the course of the day, and will add materials about Kyrgyzstan as well, which has developed a significant problem in recent years with radical Taliban-style Islamism. Although it is undoubtedly premature to draw a firm line between the Chechen conflict or the situation in Kyrgyzstan and what is happening in Boston, it is never too early to learn something about regions of the world that may well prove relevant to what is unfolding. For those who wish to do so, the following resources may be useful.



On Chechnya:

  1. This CRS report by Jim Nichol entitled Stability in Russia’s Chechnya and Other Regions of the North Caucasus: Recent Developments is essential reading for background on the Russian-Chechen conflict.
  2. Gail W. Lapidus in Contested Sovereignty: The Tragedy of Chechnya outlines the causes, catalysts, and different stages of the conflict in Chechnya.
  3. John Russel, in Obstacles to Peace in Chechnya: What Scope for International Involvement? discusses why a peaceful resolution to the conflict has not yet been achieved, and what role the international community can play.
  4. Roland Dannreuther and Luke March discuss Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategies and successes in Chechnya: Has Moscow Won?
  5. C.J. Chivers of the New York Times sits down for an interview with Robert W. Schaefer, a Green Beret with extensive experience in the Caucasus, about his book “The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad” in Author Q&A: “The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.”
  6. Fiona Hill writes about Russia’s prospects at the turn of the 21st century after two wars with Chechnya in the 1990s in Russia:  The U.S. Response to Changing Policy Imperatives.
  7. Anatol Lieven and Fiona Hill cover the implications of the death of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov at the hands of Russian forces in 2005 in Now Let the Chechens Select Their Leaders: Chechnya After Maskhadov.
  8. Robert Bruce Ware, in Why Wahhabism Went Wrong in Dagestan, outlines the rise and fall of Wahhabism, a Islamic fundamentalist movement, in Dagestan, a Russian republic located next to Chechnya.

From Peter J. Munson at the Small Wars Journal (blurbs written by Wells):

  1. Matthew N. Janeczko provides an analysis of what did and did not work during Russia’s operations in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.  Among other things, the author criticizes the Russian military’s overconfidence, lack of discipline, and use of “indiscriminate violence.” The Russian Counterinsurgency Operation in Chechnya Part 1: Winning the Battle, Losing the War, 1994 – 1996 and The Russian Counterinsurgency Operation in Chechnya Part 2: Success, But at What Cost? 1999 – 2004
  2. Octavian Manea and Robert W. Schaefer, The Russian COIN Campaign in North Caucasus is a question-and-answer discussion with the two authors, one a graduate student in international affairs and the other a retired Green Beret.  They note that Russian forces sought chiefly to persuade Chechen opponents to abandon their fight—but did not, generally speaking, strive to win over the local population.

From Lydia Depillis of the New Republic:

  1. The Council on Foreign Relations’ backgrounder on Chechen terrorism, which describes the attacks Chechen nationals have launched in public places, against Russian-backed government buildings, on apartment buildings and trains. Chechnya has also been an Al Qaeda recruiting ground.
  2. 2009 Center for Strategic and International Studies briefing on violence in the North Caucasus; 900 people were killed that year.
  3. 2009 Human Rights Watch report documenting the Russia-backed regime’s practice of burning the houses of Chechen insurgents.
  4. A 2009 article from the Stanford Journal of International Relations on the U.S.’s failure to intervene in the Russo-Chechen conflict due in part to a desire to retain Russia as an ally in the war on terror.
  5. A 2006 State Department cable describing, in detail, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus in Chechnya and prospects for U.S. efforts to mediate the conflict (the author isn’t optimistic).
  6. C.J. Chivers’ account from the 2004 brutal hostage-taking at a school in the Russian city of Beslan by a Chechen terrorist group.
  7. New York Times report from 2010 on the U.S.’ decision to label a prominent Chechen separatist leader a terrorist, even though Western governments have historically been reluctant to put Chechen insurgents into the same category as Al Qaeda. Russia “officially” ended operations in Chechnya in 2009.
  8. Anna Badkhen’s 2010 account of the brutality of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
  9. 2011 article in Foreign Policy about corruption and violence in Dagestan, where the suspects spent time before coming to the United States.
  10. An October 2012 account from Long War Journal about Chechen fighters in Syria–the “Army of Emigrants and Helpers”–fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army.
  11. The latest news, from this past January, on two of the most wanted Chechen Islamic terrorists–also brothers–being killed in a firefight with Russian forces. Another rebel leader was killed in March.

On Kyrgyzstan:

  1. This CRS report is an excellent comprehensive background on the current political climate in Kyrgyzstan. Jim Nichol, Kyrgyzstan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests.
  2. Ryskeldi Satke, North-South Divide Fuels Kyrgyz Mistrust describes the rampant ethnic and social division, largely running between northern and southern Kyrgyzstan.
  3. CIA World Factbook gives demographic data, showing the country is composed of approximately 14% ethnic Uzbeks.
  4. This Human Rights Watch report catalogues the violence that erupted in 2010 between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, “Where is the Justice?” Interethnic Violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan and its Aftermath. According to the report, the clashes were a form of ethnic cleansing, resulting in the death of nearly 500 ethnic Uzbeks.
  5. American Foreign Policy Council’s World Almanac of Islamism describes the destabilizing influence of foreign money—primarily Saudi—that finances a resurgence of radical Islam in the country. It reports “Saudi money and educational materials were intended to promote the Kingdom’s intolerant, puritan strain of Islam, which encouraged opposition forces to support the creation of an Islamic Caliphate.”
  6. State Department Fact Sheet, U.S. Relations with Kyrgyzstan.
  7. The Economist, Stubborn Facts on the Ground: Ethnic Differences in Kyrgyzstan further describes entrenched ethnic tensions.
  8. The Economist, Another Faller: Politics in Kyrgyzstan notes how the country has lurched from crisis to crisis.