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The North Caucasus Insurgency: Dead or Alive?

Authored by Dr. Emil Aslan Souleimanov.

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This is the first monograph to date to offer a comprehensive explanation of the considerable decline of the insurgency-related violence in Russia's North Caucasus since around 2013, and to assess the prospects of the North Caucasus insurgency in the years to come.

The monograph identifies four major factors that have led to the weakening of the locally operating insurgent groups: (1) the selective targeting of insurgents and their supporters; (2) the collective punishment of insurgents’ relatives; (3) the infiltration and decapitation of insurgent groups; and, (4) the North Caucasians’ recruitment into the Syrian Civil War.

The monograph also points to the inherent shortcomings of these factors that have disabled the federal and local authorities, in spite of their triumphant reports, to put an effective end to the regional insurgency. First, the risk of severe penalization notwithstanding, many locals, driven by the locally embedded codes of retaliation and hospitality, as well as by their sympathies toward the insurgents, have continued to provide support to the insurgents and to put up resistance to the incumbent forces. Second, with elite counter-insurgent forces limited in numbers and increasingly deployed outside of Russia—for instance, in eastern Ukraine and Syria—local police, infamous for incompetence and corruption, have recurred as the main counterinsurgency force. Third, while decapitation has failed to put an effective end to insurgent groups, these groups' infiltration, in itself largely effective, has become more difficult due to the insurgent groups' increasingly selective recruitment policies. Fourth, the falling numbers of North Caucasian volunteers to the Syrian Civil War since around 2015, has opened the avenue for prospective recruits to join the jihadist groups operating in their native region.

In spite of severe blows dealt to insurgent groups since the early 2010s, this monograph concludes that the North Caucasus insurgency is still alive and likely to survive in the years to come.

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