Interpreting the ideological evolution of an insurgency: Lessons from the North Caucasus, 2007-2015

Ideology has fallen badly out of fashion. In the study of political violence in particular, it is often pushed to the margins, and there is considerable scepticism over its importance. Yet violent political actors often devote substantial effort to shaping interpretations of their activities, and explanatory models that neglect ideology typically rely on a narrow understanding of the concept and leave important questions about its role unanswered. This thesis interrogates ideology’s role in political violence through a rich empirical study of the insurgency that operated in Russia’s North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. It applies Social Movement Theory to unique datasets to understand how movement actors defined the conflicts they were engaged in and sought to persuade others to participate, and how internal and external contexts influenced these ideas. In doing so, it establishes the insurgency as ideologically shallow and weakly integrated, and argues that identity and pragmatism were more central to its ideological vision than specific grievances or goals. This thesis significantly advances our understanding of the insurgency and generates important insights into the role of ideology in political violence more broadly. At the same time, it contributes important methodological innovations to the study of clandestine social movements.

Click here to read this PhD thesis (open access).

Building ‘terrorism studies’ as an interdisciplinary space

Over the years, there have been many debates regarding the state of research into terrorism and whether “terrorism studies” constitutes an academic discipline in its own right. Such reflections, coupled with the natural evolution of what is still a relatively new area of research, have arguably led to significant improvements in quality and rigour. At the same time, the status of terrorism studies itself remains somewhat ambiguous: it is both discussed as a distinct field and simultaneously evades criticism by pointing to the difficulties of defining its boundaries. There are undoubtedly a number of advantages to forming a separate discipline, which would go some way to helping the field address some of the recurring problems that terrorism research faces. However, this article ultimately argues that scholars are better served by deliberately moving in the other direction and developing the field as a space for interdisciplinary engagement.

Click here to read the article (open access).

New Report On Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters

Despite its early and spectacular successes in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) has, over the last year, suffered repeated setbacks that have weakened its ability to control captured territory and implement its state-building agenda. A key aspect of IS’s strategy has been the mobilisation of supporters across Russia and the former Soviet Union. Other rebel groups in Syria have also attracted support from these areas, illustrating the need for a proper understanding of the Russian-speaking militant milieu, beyond IS’s territorial claims. Continue reading “New Report On Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters”

A Primer on the Caucasus Emirate

The Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz) was the main insurgent group operating in the North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. However, the deaths of key ideologues, intense pressure from the security services, and mass defections to the Islamic State (IS) resulted in the group’s decline. In this guide, Mark Youngman and Dr Cerwyn Moore explain the background and transformation of the Imarat Kavkaz.

Click here to read the rest of the article for Radicalisation Research.

A Primer on the Evolution of Conflict in the North Caucasus

Although violence has declined significantly in recent years, foreign fighters and ideologues continue to reference “jihad” in Chechnya and many Russian-speaking fighters in Syria have previous experience of the North Caucasus conflict. In this article, Dr Cerwyn Moore and Mark Youngman outline the evolution of those conflicts.

Click here to read the rest of the article for Radicalisation Research.

Lessons From The Decline Of The North Caucasus Insurgency

The decision by the Islamic State group to proclaim a ‘caliphate’ in June 2014 was a watershed moment in the history of jihadism, but it was far from the first attempt at jihadist state-building. Examining the reasons for the failure of one such project, the Caucasus Emirate (IK) in Russia’s North Caucasus, and the demise of the regional insurgency under the banners of both IK and IS can help us better understand the relationship between a group’s ideology and its composition and operating environment.

Click here to view the rest of the article for CREST Security Review.

Learning From Ideological Variance And Change

We can learn a great deal from the ideologies of groups engaged in terrorism and other forms of political violence: how they shape perceptions of the problems facing their societies; what solutions and methods for implementing them they advocate; and how they mobilise supporters behind these solutions. However, ideologies do not exist in a vacuum, but instead adapt to specific contexts and cultures. They both influence, and are influenced by, their environment and the composition of the groups themselves. My PhD research seeks to explain ideological variance and change by examining this interactive process in the context of the insurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus. Through this, I aim to develop a richer understanding of what we can learn from the ideological statements of groups, beyond simply taking them at face value.

Click here to view the rest of the article for CREST.

Russia’s domestic terrorism threat is serious, sophisticated and complex

The April 3 bombing on the St Petersburg metro was the highest-profile terror attack on Russian soil since a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011. According to Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee, at least 14 people were killed and 49 injured by an improvised explosive device; further casualties were prevented when a second device was disarmed at another station. Days later, another bomb was found and defused in a residential building.

Click here to view the rest of this article for The Conversation.