Georgia's Foreign Ministry on Aug. 20 protested a violation of the country's airspace by a Russian military helicopter near the border with the contested South Ossetia enclave. The incursion came as Russia is carrying out military exercises in the border zone, and is accused by Georgia of having unilaterally moved border markers last month. On July 10, Russian troops reportedly placed new demarcation signposts along the de facto boundary between Russian-controlled South Ossetia, which was separated from Georgia in the 2008 war, and Tbilisi-controlled territory. Critically, the newly seized territory includes a kilometer-long section of the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which brings oil from Azerbaijan to BP's Supsa terminal in Georgia. Russia is among a handful of countries that have recognized the "independence" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both of the breakaway regions rely heavily on military and financial aid from Russia, which does not allow European Union monitors to access either enclave. (InterFax, Aug. 20; RFE/RL, Aug. 19; BBC News, Aug. 10)
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)
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)
A boycott of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics has been called by leaders of the Circassians, who are demanding that the 19th-century Czarist military campaign against their people in the region be officially recognized as a genocide. A delegation of Circassians from the diaspora—including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Germany and the US—has travelled to the North Caucasus to visit the historic sites of their ancestors' homeland before the Games and raise awareness of their campaign.
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.
At least 34 people were killed in apparent suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd—the first at the central commuter station Dec. 29, the next the following day on a trolley-bus in a market district. Moscow is stepping up security throughout the country, fearing an effort to disrupt the 2014 winter Olympic Games slated for the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi in February. Police have detained dozens in a sweep of terror suspects in Volgograd, with hundreds more searched or questioned. Reports did not make clear if the detained are Chechens, but did note a threat in a video statement released by Chechen resistance leader Doku Umarov earlier in the year to use "maximum force" to stop the Sochi Olympics. On the day of the first Volgograd blast, Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee boasted that FSB troops had killed a close aide to Umarov in a raid on a safe house in Dagestan. (CNN, Dec. 31; BBC News, The Guardian, Dec. 30; RT, Dec. 29)
Commentary on the Boston attacks is making for some strange permutations. Voices on the left are seeking to play down jihadist involvement in the Chechen struggle—or to portray it as the result of US intrigues, with the obvious analogy to Afghanistan and al-Qaeda itself. Michael Moore's website sports a piece by FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley entitled "Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons," calling out figures such as Richard Perle for backing an "American Committee for Peace in Chechnya" as a lobby for the armed struggle against Russia—the name later "sanitized" to the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus.
At least seven police officers were killed Aug. 19 in a suicide bomb blast in the Russian Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. The blast occurred in Sagopshi village of Malgobek district in northwest Ingushetia, at the funeral of a police officer who was killed in a shootout with militants the day before. According to Ingush Security Council, all the dead except the bomber were police officers. The attack came hours after gunmen in Dagestan, another Russian republic of the North Caucasus, opened fire in a mosque, injuring several people who had gathered to celebrate Eid, the holy day marking the end of Ramadan. A bomb discovered at the site was deactivated. (Voice of Russia, RIA-Novosti, BBC News, Aug. 19) (See map.)