With the Kremlin’s attention fixated on Ukraine, the Caucasus Emirate, a terrorist group fighting to establish an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus, threatens to undermine Russian domestic security in new ways.
The death of the emirate’s veteran leader, Doku Umarov, sparked an internal power struggle last fall that resulted in a significant shift in the group’s organizational structure and strategy. Although not initially well-received by certain influential cells in the organization, Umarov’s successor is now consolidating his authority and seems poised to abandon outdated ideology and broaden the movement’s scope of operational capabilities. Most significantly, the Chechen influence over the organization appears to have diminished.
The major question at this point is how rapidly can Russian security officials adapt to the Caucasus Emirate’s changes? A Kremlin that is distracted by events in Ukraine could easily lose ground in its efforts to contain the morphing insurgency in the North Caucasus.
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Peter J. Marzalik is an independent analyst of Islamic affairs in the Russian Federation.