President Petro Poroshenko on Aug. 11 put Ukraine's armed forces on high alert and "full combat readiness" near the lines of control with Russian-annexed Crimea and the separatist region of Donbas. Russia meanwhile announced it has deployed long-range S-400 missile systems in Crimea. Russian state TV has broadcast footage of men confessing to a plot to carry out terror attacks on the annexed peninsula. The accused saboteurs tell interrogators they were acting on orders from Kiev. Said Russia's President Vladimir Putin: "Our special forces prevented terrorist attacks organized by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry—the situation is pretty disturbing." Responded Poroshenko: "These fantasies are just a pretext for another portion of military threats against Ukraine." (Kyiv Post, NYT, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
An ISIS commander described by the Pentagon as the group's "minister of war" was announced to have been likely killed in a US air-strike in Syria on March 8. Abu Omar al-Shishani AKA "Omar the Chechen" ranked among the most-wanted militants under a US program that offered up to $5 million for information leading to his removal from the battlefield, Reuters reports. The conspiranoid website Levant Report responds to this development with the headline "ISIS Leader Omar al-Shishani Fought Under US Umbrella as Late as 2013." As is often the case with conspiranoid claims, there is a grain of truth here worthy of examination, but it hardly justifies the click-bait headline...
We don't know if this is true, but the claim sheds some light on Russia's motivation (or at least justification) for its intervention in Syria. The Long War Journal reports Oct. 3, citing social media postings, that a small group of Crimean Tatars and other militants from the Russian-annexed peninsula, calling themselves the Crimean Jamaat, has pledged bayah (allegiance) to the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise. The pledge was apparently announced by Nusra sympathizers on Twitter, and on the official social media site of Nusra's Sayfullah Shishani Brigade, which is largely comprised of Chechens. "Kataib Crimean Tartars under the leadership of Emir Ramadan al Krim [Crimean] pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in Sham and joined the Al Nusrah Front," read a statement on White Minaret, the Sayfullah Shishani site. The page is said to also include pictures of the group, reportedly based in Hama governorate.
Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8)
Gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and stormed a media building in Grozny, capital of Russia's southern republic of Chechnya, Dec. 3. At least 20 were killed in the attacks and ensuing clashes—10 militants and 10 police. Authorities said no militants escaped. Chechnya's worst fighting in months erupted a few hours before President Vladimir Putin said in a speech in Moscow he would defend Russia against what he called attempts to dismember it, accusing the West of seeking a "Yugoslav scenario," and a "policy of containment" that it has pursued "for decades if not centuries." The Chechen insurgent underground, calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, took credit for the attack in a statement on its website, Kavkaz Center, improbably claiming over 80 "puppet soliders" were killed. The statement said the assault was revenge for "oppression of Muslim women." Media accounts interpreted this as a reference to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov prohibiting local women from wearing the hijab—an accusation he has denied. The Kavkaz Center statement also refered to Grozny as "Jokhar," part of the alternative nomenclature the "Emirate" has for the Russian territory it claims. The Russian policy establishment is already hypothesizing an ISIS hand in the attack. "I suspect ties to the Islamic State, even if they have not commented on it so far," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center. (Reuters, BBC News, Moscow News, RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, Dec. 4)
Foreign Policy reports that the newly declared "People's Republics" of Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa in eastern Ukraine have announced the return of "Novorossiya" (New Russia)—and are arguing among themselves as to who shall lead it. In the running is one Valery Kaurov, the Moscow-exiled leader of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine—and a former businessman who is wanted in Ukraine for his calls for separatism. The Washington Post adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the "Novorossiya" concept, recently saying: "I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days—Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa—were [sic] not part of Ukraine back then. The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained."
With the Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, Russian special forces troops killed five suspected militants and took another into custody Feb. 8 in an assault on a house in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan. The suspects were named as members of the "Buynaksk" militant group, and their leader, who was among the dead, as Alexei Pashentsev, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam. The Buynaksk network was named as tied to December's Volgograd attacks, although there was no claim that the cell targeted in the raid was directly involved. Three days earlier, a suspected mastermind of the Volgograd attacks was reported killed in a shoot-out with security forces following a raid on a house in the Dagestan town of Izberbash. However, Russian state media named the network targeted in that raid as "Kadarskaya." (CNN, Feb. 8; Vestnik Kavkaza, Feb. 5) Jan. 18 saw another raid in Makhachkala, in which seven presumed militants were killed, and links to the Volgograd attacks alleged. That time, Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee named the suspects as members of the Buinaksk group. (RIA-Novosti, Jan. 30; CNN, Jan. 18)
The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Jan. 9 that Russia must pay 1.9 million euros, or $2.6 million, to the families of 36 Chechen men who disappeared between 2000 and 2006. The court found that Russia was in violation of Articles 2, 3, 5 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF). These violations concern the right to life, prohibition of inhuman treatment, right to liberty and security and right to an effective remedy. The court found that the families presented credible evidence towards their claim that their loved ones have been seized by the Russian military and Russia had failed to prove that the military was not responsible for the disappearances. It is unclear whether Russia will appeal the judgment to a higher human rights court.