U-M experts ready to discuss Russia, Chechnya

December 4, 2014
Contact: umichnews@umich.edu

EXPERTS ADVISORY

ANN ARBOR—Islamist militants fought gun battles with security forces in the Chechen capital on Thursday, just hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his state-of-the-nation speech in Moscow.

Professors at the University of Michigan are available to discuss the attack and Putin’s speech. They include:

Melvyn Levitsky, a retired American ambassador and professor of international policy and practice at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, can discuss Putin’s speech. During his 35-year career as a U.S. diplomat, he served as officer-in-charge of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations. He was also a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Contact: 734-615-4262 or levitsky@umich.edu. Bio: http://bit.ly/12BhKI1

Levitsky says, “Putin has been very successful in maintaining domestic popularity by continually bringing Russia’s wounded pride to center stage, blasting the West for its attempts to subjugate his country. At some point, however, he will have to account for the effect on Russia of sanctions, plummeting oil prices, rising inflation, the loss in value of the ruble, capital flight, decrease in foreign investment and an economy clearly in recession. The question is: How long can he blame this on the West and get away with it?”

Alexander Knysh is a professor of Islamic studies whose research focuses on Islamic movements in the North Caucasus. He’s working on a book about how Islam in the region has been used as an ideology of resistance. He’s on sabbatical in Helsinki and reachable at alkynsh@umich.edu or +358-294-129382 or +358-466-140382.

Knysh says, “It’s hard to know what was on the minds of the attackers. In their short video clip made during the siege of the building in which they made their last stand, they said that they retaliated against the region’s pro-Russian leadership, exemplified by Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov, for allegedly ‘dishonoring’ Chechen Muslim women. They may have referred to the bodily searches of veiled women by the local policemen, but given the fact that Kadyrov himself is an advocate of Islamic morality in the public sphere, this explanation does not sound very convincing.

“The underlying reason for the attack is, in my view, an attempt by the now largely virtual ‘Caucasus Emirate,’ which had been recently active mainly in the neighboring republics of Dagestan and Inghushetia—without much success, though—to remind the world of its existence, perhaps in the hopes of receiving funding and moral support from abroad.

“Launching an attack on Grozny that has been almost quiet or ‘pacified’ under Kadyrov’s severe, but relatively effective rule, may also have been a way to demonstrate that the Chechen section of the insurgency that has nearly disappeared from the headlines is still capable of striking at the very heart of Kadyrov’s ‘realm,’ thereby humiliating or discrediting him. There may be also some factors internal to the Caucasus Emirate about which one can only speculate.”