Tuesday, May 23, 2017


After the Soviet implosion in 1991, Chechnya, then part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, declared its independence from Russia and split from what would become Ingushetia.

Russia launched the First Chechen War in 1994, lasting until 1996, in an effort to regain sovereignty over the area. But it was not until the Second Chechen War, which began in 1999 and lasted for the better part of the 2000s, that the Kremlin retook control. It was then that Moscow gained the loyalty of Akhmad Kadyrov, the former mufti of the short-lived independent Chechnya. He became president of the Russian-controlled Chechen Republic in 2003.

Yet Russia is in a state of decline. One of the immediate implications of this trend is a diminished ability by the Kremlin to manage its territories and influence countries in its periphery. Chechnya, which is already a major challenge for the Russians, is the most significant area poised to descend into chaos. From the capital of Grozny, Kadyrov’s clan has been the tool through which Russia has held Chechnya – and the broader North Caucasus – together. This region is highly susceptible to jihadists, who would be the first to try to take advantage of any opening in the system.

 As Russia’s ability to help manage the area wanes, jihadist forces and other rivals of Kadyrov will try to exploit it. Just as the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s could no longer project power into its peripheral regions, leading to the secession of its republics in the Baltics, Caucasus and Central Asia, a weakened Russia will not be able to keep its grip on Chechnya and the wider North Caucasus.

Left to its own devices, Chechnya is bound to devolve into factional warfare. And this is where jihadists, with their propensity to rally people around religion, are likely to benefit the most.