Recent Research on the North Caucasus — March 2018

A monthly report highlighting recent scholarly publications relating to the contemporary North Caucasus. 

Inclusion does not constitute endorsement. If there are any publications I’ve missed or you think should be included in the next report, please flag it via Twitter or email.

Zhirukhina (2017) ‘Protecting the State: Russian Repressive Tactics in the North Caucasus.’

Abstract: Since the end of the second Chechen campaign, the North Caucasus counterinsurgency has experienced the shift from military involvement toward prevalence of law enforcement instruments. This paper discusses the composition of repressive tactics that the Russian state developed as a result of the two decades long evolution of a counter strategy designed to eliminate illegal armed groups operating in the North Caucasus. It is focused on the late stages of conflict (2007–2014) when the violence that had spread across the region started in the early 2000s had symbolically culminated in 2007 with the proclamation of the Caucasian Emirate. This paper advances a reconceptualization of the Russian counterinsurgency by devising an analysis of indiscriminate and discriminate repressive tactics. It demonstrates that security agencies incorporated more selective uses of violence into their tactics, thereby reducing the number of indiscriminate violent actions to an insignificant level. Moreover, along with selective violence, security institutions reinforced their effort by conducting preventive work such as the detection of secret caches of weapons, seizures, and arrests. Findings regarding the current composition of repressive tactics are illustrated by means of new disaggregated media-based data that were especially collected and analyzed to form the basis of this research.

Reference: Zhirukhina, Elena (2017) ‘Protecting the State: Russian Repressive Tactics in the North Caucasus,’ Nationalities Papers, DOI: 10.1080/00905992.2017.1375905

Holland, Witmer and O’Loughlin (2018) ‘The Decline and Shifting Geography of Violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, 2010-2016.’

Abstract: A spatial analysis of the geography of insurgency in the North Caucasus of Russia from 1999 through the end of 2016, focused on the period since 2010, corroborates other work on the incidence of violence in the region. A sharp drop in the absolute number of conflict events over the past half-decade occurred as violence diffused from Chechnya in the mid-2000s and is attributable to a range of domestic and international factors. Domestically, the decline is broadly linked to the securitization of the region around the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the return to the use of the Kremlin power vertical as a system of political management after an interlude focused on economic development as a mitigation strategy, and the wider adoption of harsh management tactics at the regional and republic scales. Internationally, potential insurgents have left Russia to fight in the Middle East and Ukraine. Using a conflict-event data-set (N = 18,960) from August 1999 through the end of 2016 and focusing on the period since the creation of the North Caucasus Federal District in January 2010, the paper identifies a set of notable trends within the decline and shift in violence. Key findings include a percentage increase in arrests carried out by Russian security services, a decline in retaliation across conflict actors, and the failure of federal subsidies to contribute to declines in violence in the region. The long-term prospects for continued insurgency in the North Caucasus, specifically in light of the collapse of the Islamic State and Russia’s domestic challenges, remain uncertain and should acknowledge the recent decline in violence in the region.

Reference: Holland, Edward C., Witmer, Frank D.W. and O’Loughlin, John (2018) ‘The Decline and Shifting Geography of Violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, 2010-2016,’ Eurasian Geography and Economics, DOI: 10.1080/15387216.2018.1438905.

Clifford (2018) ‘Georgian Foreign Fighter Deaths in Syria and Iraq: What Can They Tell Us About Foreign Fighter Mobilization and Recruitment?’

Abstract: Despite their small number, foreign fighters in jihadist groups from the country of Georgia fighting in Syria and Iraq have played a significant role in the formation and leadership of several militant organizations. This study utilizes a sample of 29 Georgian citizens who died in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts to ascertain the overall dynamics that shape foreign fighter mobilization and recruitment in Georgia. Notably, the study finds that substantial percentages of the foreign fighters originally came from small, isolated rural villages in various regions of Georgia, had family or friendship ties to other foreign fighters prior to leaving for the Middle East, and spent time in a country outside Georgia before progressing onwards to Syria and Iraq. Close, in-person connections and similar experiences and demographics amongst the fighters in the sample provide strong evidence for the thesis that offline personal networks determine foreign fighter mobilization rather than any large-scale socio-economic factor or by “online radicalisation,” thus adding to broader debates concerning foreign fighter mobilization in the post-Soviet space and around the world.

Reference: Clifford, Bennett (2018) ‘Georgian Foreign Fighter Deaths in Syria and Iraq: What Can They Tell Us About Foreign Fighter Mobilization and Recruitment?,’ Caucasus Survey, 6:1, pp. 62-80, DOI: 10.1080/23761199.2017.1399701

Koehler, Gunya and Tenov (2017) ‘Governing the Local in the North Caucasus.’

Abstract: The article provides an in-depth analysis of local governance in the North Caucasus, by example of land tenure conflicts in Kabardino-Balkaria. We follow an iterative analytical strategy, systematically combining qualitative case studies to develop grounded hypotheses, with subsequent statistical hypothesis testing. Based on fieldwork conducted in Kabardino-Balkaria, we identify the most relevant patterns and dynamics of natural resource governance. Our research shows that there are three dominant patterns. The first pattern is formed in areas where land is of little value and communities are left to themselves to solve issues. In the second case, larger businesses with state backing manage to monopolize land resources and sideline local communities. In the third case, local communities are strong enough to defend their control over external attempts to take hold of land resources. Finally, we use original survey data to further investigate plausible causes for stronger and weaker local self-governance and its consequences for state-society relations. We show that local self-government (LSG) lacks independence, and its functional quality depends on the degree of state interference via patronage. Despite this challenging environment, we find that higher perceptions of LSG quality predict more trust in the state at central and subnational level.

Reference: Koehler, Jan, Gunya, Alexey and Tenov, Timur (2017) ‘Governing the Local in the North Caucasus,’ Eurasian Geography and Economics, 58:5, pp. 502-532. DOI: 10.1080/15387216.2017.1410440.

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