We have taken up arms to establish laws (interview with Movladi Udugov, part 2)
This is the second part of Prague Watchdog’s interview with Movladi Udugov. The first part can be read here.
PW: Let’s move on to military affairs. The second war has been going on since 1999, and yet there don’t seem to be any grounds for saying that either the Chechen resistance or, after it, the Caucasus Emirate have achieved any major success. For many years now the leaders of the underground have been indefatigable in their claims that the Muslims of the entire Caucasus are rising up with weapons in their hands. Yet in reality the tactical parameters that have emerged suggest that the underground is weak, and there certainly don’t seem to be any real prospects for a victorious march of true Muslims through the North Caucasus.
MU: We have different appraisals of what has happened and what is happening just now. You see no distinction between the various periods of armed struggle. But we, on the other hand, assess the situation in quite a different way.
I agree that at one time there was an emphasis on the military and tactical side of the issue. There was no clear strategy. When in 1991 we proclaimed the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, it was possible to glimpse elements of a strategy, however blurred, and everyone knew what direction we had to move in.
It goes without saying that freedom, independence, political independence and sovereignty are a very important moral boost for a nation, a people, and those who feel themselves to be part of it. The self-esteem of an ethnic group is based on this. But the situation has begun to change rapidly, both in Chechnya and in the world at large. In the place of those who with absolute sincerity went to fight under the slogan of national liberation there has come a new generation of young people who believe in the promise of Allah and the saving force of jihad. In other words, independence has ceased to be something abstract. Previously, it was seen as the sole and ultimate goal. But independence is only one of the conditions for the victory of truth. The new generation of mojahedin has gone to war not for the sake of independence and freedom alone, but first and foremost in order to restore Sharia law to the liberated lands.
It’s not just the ideology that has changed – the people who were willing to sacrifice their lives have begun to interpret the world quite differently. The new generation of mojahedin has moved away from the perception of ethnicity as an absolute value, and has turned to God. As a result, a very serious contradiction has developed on our side. Some of those who took part in the war, who fought for independence and grew mortally weary from all the years of tension, have seen some sort of prospects for themselves on the other side. They have found an explanation for their betrayal, declaring that it may be possible to get at least part of the way towards the ideal of national independence under the banners of Kadyrov. Though the facts suggest this may be an illusion, merely making a move in a chosen direction has become their excuse. They have laid down their arms and have either gone over to the side of the enemy, left the country, or have given up the struggle and just aimed at surviving the bad times.
That is precisely why the fighting generation has more or less changed completely, one hundred per cent. That is where the crisis erupted, because the new situation came into conflict with decrepit ideas and political and ideological structures which were only propped up by the force of inertia. I refer to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, its parliament, its president – all of its formal accessories. In this, a great danger lurked – the attempt to preserve a hybrid of old and new could have resulted in a real disaster. If military action on our side was still to be led by people who knew no truths other than Ichkerian independence, democracy, and international law, then a very powerful rupture could have occurred between them and the young people who had come out to die for Allah. The warring side might have collapsed into small, totally ungovernable groups that had no future at all.
After the death of Maskhadov, when the armed struggle was headed by the educated religious leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, the sense of danger became more pronounced. So much depends on the leader. Our leaders – those who waged jihad – have done tremendous work. Shamil Basayev played an enormous role in uniting the Muslims. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 he visited all the regions of the Caucasus – from the Caspian to the Black Sea. That was a titanic manoeuvre.
When in 2006 the leaders of the jihad finally understood that the changes were irreversible, documents were drawn up which formed the seedbed of a new strategy. And almost immediately after the proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate last summer, the military and tactical situation began to change.
For the first time there was the activation of a fundamentally different set of military-tactical techniques specially adapted for the new strategy. This was the result of a huge amount of work and effort that had spanned many years. The military tactical picture will eventually be completely updated, though the full effects of that will not be visible this year. But we hope that sooner or later our efforts will produce results and that the accumulated potential will manifest itself in an explosive manner. It will lead to some very serious political, military and territorial changes.
PW: And what are the strategic objectives that have been set? Why do they possess the kind of strength that can provide significant tactical successes?
MU: In the first place, the leaders of the jihad, the mojahedin, have identified themselves by their goal and their flag. These are not merely symbols we have chosen – they are the driving belts of our struggle. They mobilize more and more forces, they provide motivation, and they indicate the precise direction of our movement.
PW: By “goal and flag” you mean the introduction of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus?
MU: Of course. And, as Dokka Umarov very accurately observed, this Islamic state does not yet have any borders. It’s not correct to say that we want to build some sort of enclave on the territory of these North Caucasus republics. No, today many Muslims living in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Buryatia, Russians from the most widely differing regions of Russia who have accepted Islam, swear an oath of allegiance to Dokka Umarov as the legitimate leader of the Muslims. And wherever he is – in Moscow, Blagoveshchensk, Tyumen, Vladivostok – when a Muslim swears that oath, he becomes a fighting unit. Just because these people are not visible in their cities just now and are not active, that doesn’t mean that they won’t become active in the future.
PW: So when the Emirate’s leadership deems fit, it will sooner or later set them specific military objectives?
MU: And the Russian authorities are perfectly aware of this. Therefore they try to use pre-emptive methods, preventive strikes to localize the situation. I may be wrong, but I have given it a lot of thought, have analyzed it thoroughly, and it seems to me that the processes that are underway not only the Caucasus but also around the world at a global level, put the Kremlin in the position of a chess-player forced into the so-called “zugzwang” situation, where any move means to lose the game.
They can use repression, they can ban the most innocuous Islamic literature, but by doing so they demonstrate their weakness and uncertainty, their lack of any understanding of how to act in the evolving circumstances.
It’s not a strategically adjusted sequence of steps, but rather a panic reaction, an instinctive fear of danger that pushes them into cruel and unwise actions which only increase the number of our supporters.
PW: This summer there have been more attacks and raids on villages than there were last year. Yet all of these developments remain within the limits of traditional tactics, and even though there are more of them, their quality is much as before. All the operations are planned along the same lines that have been adopted ever since the first war. Will new formats be developed?
MU: I think the question reflects a rather superficial approach. What is happening today is very different from the situation last year. There were similar operations in previous years: the events in Argun, the Nazran operation. But the current parameters of the fighting have changed completely.
Today the fighters go into the villages – there’s a different attitude between them and the villagers, and it works both ways. The fighters themselves are in a different position. Today when the mojahedin go into a village, they destroy the occupiers or their collaborators, but at the same time they carry out very serious ideological work with the local population. Nowadays they don’t just arrive, strike, put the enemy to rout and withdraw. The fighters who enter a village and maintain permanent contact with the local residents require them to observe Sharia law.
PW: How can that lead to any tactical military victories?
MU: It’s only the tip of an inner iceberg. I can’t talk now about all the changes. But I can describe the situation that has developed in the mountains of Chechnya.
On a ridge sit the Russians, below a village. A detachment of fighters enters the village under the eyes of the Russian troops who are keeping it under complete control, turns round and then leaves the place again in an orderly column, right under the Russians’ noses. And the Russians don’t shoot. Why? For the very simple reason which they quite unashamedly mention in their secret talks with the mohajedin. They say: "If you don’t touch us, we won’t touch you".
The internals of the situation are changing. There are a great many points which I can’t state openly. Our main strategy update took place last summer. There aren’t yet that many changes in tactics, and they’re not even very noticeable on the outside.
PW: Is there any hope that with Medvedev’s arrival the situation will improve?
MU: The Russians have a saying: “Horseradish is no sweeter than ordinary radish”. It’s irrelevant who is going to be there in the Kremlin – Medvedev, Putin or whoever. In order to understand our position and how we see things, one needs to have an Islamic view of the world.
PW: In military and tactical terms that probably means that successful combat operations by the mojahedin must sooner or later force Russia to the negotiating table?
MU: That is only a part of what the Muslims have in mind.
PW: When will victory come?
MU: I don’t know. When Allah wills it – that’s when he’ll grant us victory.
PW: And when would you like to have won it? Yesterday?
MU: Islamic scholars say that Allah grants the Muslims the conditions for victory once every hundred years. In this century we should like to take advantage of those conditions. We shall try to make it happen in our lifetime.
Kavkaz-Center archive photo
(Translation by DM)