Was the December 4 Rebel Attack in Grozny Aimed at Tarnishing the Images of Putin and Kadyrov? Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 221

December 11, 2014 03:57 PM Age: 11 hrs
By: Mairbek Vatchagaev

The attack by militants in Grozny on December 4 was surprisingly large in scale. The last time Chechen militants launched such a large-scale offensive in Grozny was in October 2010, when three rebels attempted to seize the republican parliament building (NTV.ru, October 19, 2010).

Although suicide bombings took place in Chechnya, they were normally isolated incidents that had no connection to anything else. Isolated suicide bombings have periodically occurred in Grozny, but they were not always easy to interpret as having been carried out by the North Caucasus underground militant movement (Kavkazsky Uzel, ?ctober 5).

Following the death of Doku Umarov last year (Newsru.com, April 10), his successor, Emir Hamzat (Aslan Batyukaev), may have decided to change tactics and launch strikes in a populous area like Grozny in order to elicit a massive sympathetic response from the public. Emir Hamzat did not claim responsibility for the death of the shahid on October 5, Grozny’s City Day and the birthday of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. That attack was strange since the Chechen militants had not previously carried out attacks during the holidays. It should be noted that prior to his appointment as emir of the Chechen militants, Emir Hamzat was also commander of the Riyadh as-Salihin shahids battalion led by the infamous field commander Shamyl Basaev. The latest operation, which was codenamed Istikam (Retribution) (YouTube, December 4), was suited to the suicide bombers battalion, especially since the attackers knew that they could die in Grozny and their attack could therefore be regarded as a suicide attack.

In a video released the exact same day as the latest attack, a group of militants claimed responsibility and unequivocally stated that they were from the Caucasus Emirate (YouTube, December 4). In the video they said they had come to Grozny from Achkhoi Martan district on the border with Ingushetia, where Emir Hamzat has influence. If one tries to reconstruct the attack, it appears that they seized three cabs near the Achkhoi Martan district village of Shalazhi to the capital after 9 p.m. (Rbc.ru, December 4). The militants tied up the cab drivers and left them on the outskirts of the village in sleeping bags to prevent their deaths from cold weather. The armed group in the three small cars only could have totaled 12–15 people at the most. The cars arrived in Grozny at 10 p.m., since the distance from Achkhoi Martan district to Grozny is only 40 kilometers, a trip of no more than 30 minutes. The first shots in Grozny were fired at 12.45 a.m. It is unclear what the armed militants did in Grozny during the previous two hours. One of the cab drivers managed to escape, and he reported the attack, after which the police probably started searching for the three cars. Three police officers stopped the cars with the militants for a document check in downtown Grozny. The militants shot all three policemen dead and continued to drive for another half a kilometer, after which they entered the House of the Press, which is located in central Grozny. Some members of the group apparently remained there, while the others continued on to the Oil Institute. The militants later entered School #20.

Who were the militants looking for during those two hours? Were they seeking to carry out an attempt on Ramzan Kadyrov’s life?

In their video, the militants spoke only about attacking the police, which they said insults and humiliates Chechen girls by forbidding them from wearing the hijab (YouTube, December 4). However, this is less than convincing, given Kadyrov’s mass Islamization of Chechen society. They did not refer to President Vladimir Putin’s annual state of the nation speech, which he delivered that same day in Moscow, and did not say they were trying to make trouble personally for Kadyrov. What is most interesting to this analyst is that they said that they would leave Grozny by morning. Thus, they had no intention of staying in the city; indeed, they planned to leave the Chechen capital after the successful operation.

Kadyrov immediately accused Doku Umarov’s brother of organizing the Grozny attack (Gazeta.ru, December 5), but that is highly improbable. Even though Akhmad Umarov is the representative of the Velayat Nokhchiych (Ichkeria) abroad, he does not have the public standing in Chechnya that would allow him to organize an attack on such a scale in the republic. Akhmad Umarov is mostly preoccupied with settling scores with other Chechens living abroad (Checheninfo.com, November 23). It would be smarter for the Kadyrov regime to look for the mastermind and the executor of the attack inside Chechnya.

How many assailants were involved in the December 4 Grozny attack? The rebels said 100 insurgents had infiltrated the city and 200 more would come in, but that was only a claim made for propaganda reasons. Based on years of following the Chechen insurgency, this author estimates that the total number of Chechen militants to be no greater than 100 fighters maximum. In any case, no more than 20 militants took part in the December 4 attack.

Eleven militants and 14 police officers were killed in the recent rebel attack on Grozny, and 36 other servicemen were injured (Kavkazsky Uzel, December 5). According to Kadyrov, a relative, 22-year-old Umar Kadyrov, was killed in the rebel assault (Gazeta.ru, December 5). A civilian, Vladislav Vorobyov, chairman of the Chechen branch of the Russian Association of Young Businessmen, died of smoke inhalation in the House of the Press, according to preliminary information. The militants evidently attempted to avoid victims among the civilians at all costs.

What was the aim of this rebel attack? The insurgents spoiled Vladimir Putin’s speech, given that he was forced to refer to the militant assault on Grozny. Kadyrov, who is trying to prove that Chechnya is the safest place on earth, will now be forced to explain where the rebels came from, given that he had repeatedly insisted that all the rebels in the republic had been killed. The public standing of both Kadyrov and Putin suffered as a result of this attack. If the attack was aimed at undermining their political prestige, then the militants achieved their goal. However, on the flip side, Chechen society was probably not that happy to find itself once again in the crossfire, and it is unlikely that a majority of people sympathized with the rebels on this turbulent night.