Insurgency in the North Caucasus

Insurgency in the North Caucasus
Part of the military intervention against ISIL

Former President of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, meets with FSB head, Alexander Bortnikov, in March 2009, to discuss the ending of the counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya.
Date16 April 2009 – 2017[1][2][3][4][5]
(7 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Location Russia
Result Russian victory


Pro-secular Chechens

Caucasus Emirate

Imam Shamil Battalion (since 2017)[10]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Commanders and leaders
Vladimir Putin
Dmitry Medvedev
Sergey Shoygu
Anatoliy Serdyukov
Vladimir Boldyrev
Rashid Nurgaliyev
Alexander Bortnikov
Alexander Khloponin
Ramzan Kadyrov
Vladimir Vasilyev
Yunus-bek Yevkurov
Yury Kokov
Vyacheslav Bitarov

Khuseyn Gakayev 
Tarkhan Gaziyev (POW)
Supyan Abdullayev 
Abdulla Kurd 
Umalat Magomedov 
Magomed Vagabov 
Israpil Velijanov 
Ibragimkhalil Daudov 
Said Kharakansky 
Ali Taziev (POW)
Said Buryatsky 
Dzhamaleyl Mutaliyev 
Arthur Getagazhev 

Anzor Astemirov 
Asker Dzhappuyev 
Alim Zankishiev 

Rustam Asildarov 
(Emir of ISIL in the North Caucasus)
Aslan Byutukayev
Undisclosed ~600 fighters
(government claim,
January 2013)[13]
~40 operating groups in the North Caucasus:[13]
10 groups
16 groups
3 groups
5 groups
Casualties and losses
1,079–1,110 killed[14] and 2,282–2,646 wounded[15] 2,247 killed and 2,448 captured[16]
602 civilians killed (2010–2016)[17]

The insurgency in the North Caucasus is a currently low-level[18][19][20] armed conflict between Russia and militants associated with the Caucasus Emirate and, since June 2015, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) groups.[12] It followed the official end of the decade-long Second Chechen War on 16 April 2009.[21] It attracted people from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Central Asia, who then participated in the conflict, but volunteers from the North Caucasus are also fighting in Syria.[22]

The insurgency has gone relatively dormant in recent years.[19][20] During its peak, the violence was mostly concentrated in the North Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Occasional incidents happened in surrounding regions, like North Ossetia-Alania, Karachay-Cherkessia, Stavropol Krai and Volgograd Oblast.

History and background

In late 1999, Russia's Premier, Vladimir Putin, ordered military, police and security forces to enter the breakaway region of Chechnya. By early 2000, these forces occupied most of the region. High levels of fighting continued for several more years and resulted in thousands of Russian and Chechen casualties and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. In 2005, Chechen rebel leader, Abdul-Halim Sadulayev, decreed the formation of a Caucasus Front against Russia, among Islamic believers in the North Caucasus, in an attempt to widen Chechnya's conflict with Russia. After his death, his successor, Dokka Umarov, declared continuing jihad to establish an Islamic fundamentalist Caucasus Emirate in the North Caucasus and beyond. Russia's pacification policy in Chechnya has involved setting up a pro-Moscow regional government and transferring more local security duties to this government.

An important factor in Russia's apparent success in Chechnya has been reliance on pro-Moscow Chechen clans affiliated with regional President Ramzan Kadyrov. Police and paramilitary forces under Kadyrov's authority have committed abuses of human rights, according to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and others. Terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus appeared to increase substantially in 2007–2010. In the summer of 2009, more than 442 persons died in North Caucasus violence in just four months as compared to only 150 deaths reported in the entire year of 2008.[23] In the whole year 2009, according to the official figures by the Russian government, 235 Interior Ministry personnel (Defense Ministry and the FSB losses not included) were killed and 686 injured,[24] while more than 541 alleged fighters and their supporters were killed and over 600 detained.[25] The rate of increase of terrorist incidents lessened in 2010, as compared to 2008–2009, however the rate of civilian casualties substantially increased throughout the North Caucasus in 2010 and a rising number of terrorist incidents took place outside of Chechnya.[26]

In the period from 2010 to 2014, the number of casualties in the North Caucasus insurgency declined each year, with the overall death toll falling by more than half.[27] Reasons suggested for the decline include the deaths of high-ranking insurgency commanders, the increased targeting by security forces of the support infrastructure relied on by the insurgents, and an exodus of insurgents to other conflict zones.[27] A special investigation by Reuters claimed that in the lead-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Russian security services had allowed and encouraged militants to leave Russia to fight in the Syrian Civil War, in order to reduce the risk of domestic attacks.[28]


The insurgency in the North Caucasus is a direct result of the two post-Soviet wars fought between Russia and Chechnya. The First Chechen War was a nationalist struggle, with both secular and Islamist overtones, for independence from Russia and took place between 1994 and 1996. After a vicious struggle between Russian federal forces and Chechen separatist guerrillas, Chechnya was granted de facto independence per the terms of the Khasavyurt Accord, signed on 30 August 1996. With a devastated infrastructure and various armed factions, subordinate to specific warlords, the next three years saw Chechnya devolve into a corrupted and criminal state, plagued by armed gangs, an epidemic of kidnappings-for-ransom and the rise of radical Islam in the region as a response to suppression.

In August 1999, an armed incursion of 1,500 Islamic radicals, led by Chechen warlord, Shamil Basayev, and Arab jihadist, Ibn al-Khattab, in support of a Dagestani separatist movement, combined with a series of apartment bombings in Russia, gave Moscow sufficient reasoning for re-invading Chechnya, thus triggering the Second Chechen War, a conflict fought with significant jihadist overtones.

Having learned harsh lessons from the first war, the Russian military, rather than getting entangled in messy urban engagements such as that seen in Grozny in 1994–95, relied heavily on aerial bombardment and artillery such as ballistic missiles and fuel air explosives, typically surrounding and then destroying any towns or villages that put up resistance before sending in ground forces for mop-up operations. The second Battle of Grozny in 1999–2000 saw the bulk of Chechen resistance smashed, particularly after a column of some 2,000 fighters attempted to break out of the besieged city in February 2000 and instead walked directly into a minefield that Russian forces had prepared for an ambush. What remained of the decimated rebel units then withdrew into the inaccessible Vedeno and Argun gorges in the southern mountains of the republic in order to wage a guerrilla campaign.

The republic remained a major center of violence for many years. According to Russian figures, between April 2009 (when the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya was officially ended) and April 2010, 97 servicemen were killed in Chechnya; at the same time, government forces killed 189 persons claimed to be militants or their collaborators.[29] Reported casualties declined, with 26 security forces and 24 suspected militants being killed in 2014.[30]


Dagestan is the most religious, populous and complex of all the north Caucasian republics.[31] It is double the size of Chechnya and consists of several dozen ethnic groups, most with their own language.[31] The conflict in Dagestan, however, is not between ethnic groups but between Sufism, a syncretic form of Islam which includes local customs and recognises the state, and Salafism, a more traditional form which rejects secular rule and insists that the Salafist interpretation of Islam should govern all spheres of life.[31]

Dagestan has the highest levels of violence and extremism in the North Caucasus republics.[32][33] The Russian Interior Ministry stated that of the 399 terrorist crimes committed in the North Caucasus in 2013, 242 were in Dagestan.[34]


Along with Dagestan, Ingushetia bore the brunt of the violence in the North Caucasus in the Insurgencies early years. The Islamist insurgency in the republic sprang from the wars in neighbouring Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s. In June 2004, Ingush and Chechen fighters launched a large-scale attack on Ingushetia's biggest town, Nazran, killing scores of civilians, policemen and soldiers.

As elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the brutality of state security forces has been a major factor, driving young men to join the Islamists. Under the presidency of the former KGB officer, Murat Zyazikov, teams of masked operatives kidnapped, tortured and killed suspected rebels and members of their families. Zyazikov's successor, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, appointed in 2008, had success in dampening the violence, although he was seriously injured in a suicide bombing by the militants during his first year in office. Human rights violations by Russian commandos decreased, but remained widespread.[35]

The capture of Ali Taziev in June 2010, an ethnic Ingush and one of the top leaders of the Caucasus Emirate, dealt a blow to the jihadists in Ingushetia, with the number of attacks falling substantially over the next 5 years.[27] In mid-2015, Ingushetia's president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, stated that the insurgency in the Republic had been 'defeated'.[36]


The insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria began in the early 2000s and was led by the Yarmuk Jamaat, a militant Islamist jamaat which flourished as a result of persecution of pious Muslims by police and security forces.

In October 2005, several score of the militants launched a raid on the capital of the republic, Nalchik, which left 142 people dead. The guerrillas have also carried out numerous assassinations of government officials and law enforcement officers.

The republic saw a flare-up of violence in late 2010 and early 2011, in the wake of the death of Anzor Astemirov, a senior figure in the Caucasus Emirate and the head of its United Vilayat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay. The new leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria's guerrilla movement, Asker Dzhappuyev and Ratmir Shameyev, preferred a more aggressive approach and the militants murdered several civilians in the republic, including Russian tourists. In response, a shadowy vigilante group called the Black Hawks threatened the relatives of some of the Islamists.[37] Dzhappuyev and Shameyev were killed in a special operation by security forces in April 2011.[38]

Casualties fell in the following years. There was a total of 49 people (militants, security forces and civilians) reported killed in the republic over the whole of 2014.[30]

North Ossetia-Alania

On 9 September 2010, a car-bomb attack occurred at a crowded marketplace in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, killing 19 adults and children and injuring over 190. President Medvedev responded, that "we will certainly do everything to catch these monsters, who have committed a terrorist attack against ordinary people. What's more, a barbarous terrorist attack. We will do everything, so that they are found and punished in accordance with the law of our country, or in the case of resistance or other cases, so that they are eliminated."

Vilayat Galgaycho reportedly took responsibility, stating that the attack was aimed against "Ossetian infidels" on "occupied Ingush lands".[39]

List of clashes in the North Caucasus


Year Killed Wounded
2009 508[40] 574[40]
2010 754[41] 956[41]
2011 750[42] 628[42]
2012 700[43] 525[43]
2013 529[44] 457[44]
2014 341[45] 184[45]
2015 209[46] 49[46]
2016 202[47] 85[47]
2017 134[48] 41[48]
Total 4,127 3,499

The majority of the civilians killed were Russians, but also foreigners from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, Austria, United Kingdom and Armenia were killed in terrorist attacks.

Note: The casualty totals are compiled by the news site Caucasian Knot, which does not vouch for the data's 100-percent accuracy.

Terrorist incidents




    1. Joanna Paraszuk (12 May 2017). "Imarat Kavkaz in Syria splits more after Abdul AzizKBK ouster". From Chechnya to Syria. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
    2. Абдулатипов заявил об уничтожении всех террористических групп в Дагестане
    3. Евкуров: терроризм в Ингушетии побежден
    4. МВД объявило об отсутствии боевиков в Кабардино-Балкарии
    5. Кавказский Узел
    6. "TURKISH VOLUNTEERS IN CHECHNYA". The Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
    7. The Chechens: A Handbook, p. 237, at Google Books
    8. Politics of Conflict: A Survey, p. 68, at Google Books
    9. Energy and Security in the Caucasus, p. 66, at Google Books
    10. ""The Battalion of Imam Shamil" claimed attack in St.Petersburg, says they are Al-Qaeda, urging to withdraw troops from Syria - Map of News from Russia. From Vladivostok to Kaliningrad - News from Russia -".
    11. "Islamic State spokesman calls on other factions to 'repent,' urges sectarian war". The Long War Journal. 23 June 2015. Baghdadi, the "Emir of the Faithful," has "accepted your bayat and has appointed the noble sheikh Abu Muhammad al Qadarī as Wali [or governor] over [the Caucasus]," Adnani says.
    12. 1 2 "ISIS Declares Governorate in Russia's North Caucasus Region". Institute for the Study of War. 23 June 2015.
    13. 1 2 Russlands Innenministerium: 600 militante Extremisten im Nordkaukasus aktiv, Sputnik News, 25 January 2013
    14. 235 killed (2009), 225 killed (2010), 190–207 killed (2011),"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 211 killed (2012), 127 killed (2013), 41–55 killed (2014), 18 killed (2015), 32 killed (2016), total of 1,079–1,110 reported killed
    15. 686 wounded (2009), 467 wounded (2010), 462–826 wounded (2011),"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 405 wounded (2012), 166 wounded (2014), 31 wounded (2015), 65 wounded (2016), total of 2,282–2,646 reported wounded
    16. 270 killed and 453 captured (2009), 349 killed and 254 captured (2010), 384 killed and 370 captured (2011), 391 killed and 461 captured (2012), 260 killed (2013), and 88 captured 259 killed and 445 captured (2014), 172 killed (2015), 162 killed and 377 captured (2016), total reported 2,247 killed and 2,448 captured
    17. 356 killed (2010–2011), 78 killed (2012),"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 October 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 104 killed (2013), 37 killed (2014), 19 killed (2015), 32 killed (2016), total of 602 reported killed
    18. "Six Russian soldiers killed in Chechnya". BBC News. 2017-03-24. Retrieved 2017-10-03. Russian troops in Chechnya have faced a low level insurgency for years ... They still face a low-level insurgency in the mainly Muslim region in Russia's volatile North Caucasus area.
    19. 1 2 "Russia's North Caucasus Insurgency Widens as ISIS' Foothold Grows". Retrieved 2017-10-03. Russia's North Caucasus insurgency has gone relatively quiet, but reduced casualty numbers belie a still-worrying situation where long-standing grievances remain.
    20. 1 2 Walker, Shaun (2017-04-04). "Why suspicion over St Petersburg metro attack is likely to fall on Islamist groups". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2017-04-03. Retrieved 2017-10-03. A renewed crackdown on any suspected militant activity in the run-up to the Sochi winter Olympics in 2014 and the departure of many militants to fight in Syria led to a weakening of the North Caucasus insurgency.
    21. Russia 'ends Chechnya operation', BBC News, 16 April 2009
    22. Cerwyn Moore (2015). "Foreign Bodies: Transnational Activism, the Insurgency in the North Caucasus and "Beyond"". Terrorism and Political Violence. 27 (3): 395–415. doi:10.1080/09546553.2015.1032035.
    23. Moscow and Grozny Evince Growing Nervousness Over Regional Security, The Jamestown Foundation, 9 November 2009. Retrieved on 21 August 2010.
    24. North Caucasus saw over 230 Interior Ministry deaths in 2009, Sputnik News, 16 January 2010
    25. Кавказский Узел|Нургалиев: с начала года на Северном Кавказе нейтрализовано более 700 боевиков. Retrieved on 21 August 2010. (in Russian)
    26. Gordon Hahn, "Trends in Jihadist Violence in Russia During 2010 in Statistics", Islam, Islamism and Politics in Eurasia Report, Monterey Institute for International Studies, 26 January 2011
    27. 1 2 3 "Why Is The Death Toll Tumbling In The North Caucasus?". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 10 February 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
    28. "How Russia allowed homegrown radicals to go and fight in Syria". Reuters. 13 May 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
    29. Chechen Fighters Hold their Ground Against Kadyrov, The Jamestown Foundation, 28 May 2010
    30. 1 2 "Кавказский Узел – По итогам 2014 года Чечня стала единственным регионом СКФО с ростом числа жертв конфликта". Кавказский Узел. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
    31. 1 2 3 "From Moscow to Mecca: As this part of Russia's empire frays, fundamentalist Islam takes a stronger hold". The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited. 399 (8728): 24–26. 9–15 April 2011.
    32. Russischer Sicherheitsrat: Terrorismus im Nordkaukasus erstmals rückläufig, Sputnik News, 29 May 2013
    33. Kaukasus: Extremismusrate in Dagestan verdreifacht, Sputnik News, 15 February 2013
    34. Extremismus im Nordkaukasus nimmt spürbar zu, Sputnik News, 28 November 2013
    35. A Fear of Three Letters, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, 8 March 2011
    36. "Yevkurov Says Insurgency 'Defeated' In Ingushetia". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. 19 May 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
    37. Blood Relations, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, 21 February 2011
    38. Clashes in Russia's Caucasus Kill 10 Rebels, Reuters, 29 April 2011
    39. CEDR, 9 September 2010, Doc. No. CEP-950171
    40. 1 2 "Нургалиев: с начала года на Северном Кавказе нейтрализовано более 700 боевиков". Caucasian Knot. 2009-09-29. Retrieved 2009-09-29.
    41. 1 2 "Инфографика. Статистика жертв на Северном Кавказе за 2010 год по данным "Кавказского узла"". Caucasian Knot. 2013-12-23. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
    42. 1 2 "Инфографика. Статистика жертв на Северном Кавказе за 2011 год по данным "Кавказского узла"". Caucasian Knot. 2013-12-23. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
    43. 1 2 "Инфографика. Статистика жертв на Северном Кавказе за 2012 год". Caucasian Knot. 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
    44. 1 2 "Инфографика. Статистика жертв на Северном Кавказе в ноябре 2013 года по данным "Кавказского узла"". Caucasian Knot. 2013-12-18. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
    45. 1 2 "По итогам 2014 года Чечня стала единственным регионом СКФО с ростом числа жертв конфликта". Caucasian Knot. 2015-01-30. Retrieved 2015-02-16.
    46. 1 2 "В 2015 году число жертв конфликта на Северном Кавказе снизилось вдвое". Caucasian Knot. 2016-02-05. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
    47. 1 2 "В 2015 году число жертв конфликта на Северном Кавказе снизилось вдвое". Caucasian Knot. 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
    48. 1 2 "Инфографика. Статистика жертв на Северном Кавказе за 2017 год по данным Кавказского Узла". Caucasian Knot. 2018-01-29. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
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