June 27, 2016

At the Scopes of Extremism: Kazakhstan


Ivan Sichen, military and political expert

Against the background of the continuing Moscow's attempts to obstruct the independent development of the statehood and European integration of Ukraine by provoking armed conflicts on the Ukrainian territory, the extremely dangerous processes in the spheres of internal security of both the Russian Federation and its satellites in the former Soviet territories go on and get intensified.


Thus, despite the Russian leadership's repeated declarative statements about actual overcoming of manifestations of terrorism and extremism in the North Caucasus — the most dangerous in this context region of the country — there continue the activities of Islamic extremists in all autonomous entities of the North Caucasus Federal District of Russia (by the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation D. Medvedev of January 19, 2010, the North Caucasus Federal District was separated from Russia's Southern Federal District). In particular, in 2015-2016 alone, regimes of counterterrorist operations were repeatedly declared in Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Chechnya.

As is known, the most resonant events were as follows: the attack on Dzhemiken Automobile Inspectorate Post in the Derbent region of Dagestan on February 15, 2016 (four people were killed, including two policemen and 18 people were injured); undermining of the two police cars on the federal highway “Kavkaz” in the region of Dagestani Uytash Airport and the village of New Hushet on the 26th of March, 2016 (one police officer killed and two others injured); attack at a checkpoint near Grozny on 9th May, 2016 (one policeman killed and six others injured); clash between militants and the police in Derbent on 14th May, 2016 (two police officers killed and 13 injured); firing from grenade launchers of the military camp of the Russian Federation Interior Ministry troops in the village Alhasty, Sunzha district of Ingushetia, June 5, 2016.

Besides, almost daily there are attacks in the region against the representatives of state and local authorities of the Russian Federation, as well as law enforcement officers, teachers, religious leaders and other carriers of Russian ideology and their families. Widely spread are crimes against local businessmen, including seizure of their property, racketeering and extortion of funds in support of the Islamists.

In most cases, the responsibility for the incidents referred to is taken over by the North Caucasian branch of the grouping of the terrorist organization “Islamic State” (IS), which has announced plans to build a unified global Islamic state — “Caliphate.” Last year, the IS actually took control of the so-called “Caucasus Emirate” (conditional Islamic public formation /since October 7, 2007/ in the North Caucasus of Russia; the idea of the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Doku Umarov, who proclaimed himself Emir of all the Mujahideens of the North Caucasus) that allowed the two terrorist organizations to join forces to achieve their goals. In principle, it was to be expected, since the “Caucasus Emirate” from the very beginning was planned by ideologists as the first step towards building a global Islamic state — “Caliphate.”

In fact, this is what led to the spread of terrorism in the North Caucasus Federal District of Russia. An additional factor of activation of extremism in the region was also a return to it of former local residents who have undergone religious brainwashing in Muslim countries, and received combat experience in the areas of conflict in North Africa, the Middle East, in the Crimea and in the East of Ukraine.


Extremists' actions are getting activated also in countries — Russia's allies within the controlled by Moscow integration structures in the post-Soviet territories, namely, the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty and the Eurasian Economic Union. The above-mentioned applies to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as to the most stable so far Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

In particular, the manifestation of this trend in Kazakhstan was June 5, 2016's a militant group's attack on two gun shops and a military unit in the city of Aktobe (former Aktyubinsk, about 110 km from the Russian border). June 8, 2016 there was a new terrorist attack — this time on the guards of one of the summer camps near Aktobe (in this case, there were no casualties).

Nearly 2 week-long special anti-terrorist operation of law enforcement agencies and special services of Kazakhstan resulted in finding and neutralizing the terrorists. As a result of the incident, according to various sources, 20 people were killed (including three soldiers, four civilians and 13 terrorists), and 37 people were injured, most of them — the military. Another 9 terrorists were detained.

Taking into consideration peculiarities of these events, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered to introduce in the country a highest level of terrorist threat, and to conduct a special operation to identify and arrest the extremists. Based on the particular danger of their actions, permission was granted to open fire to kill.

The terrorist attacks in the city of Aktobe and counter-terrorism measures of law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan were the bloodiest since the protests and riots in Zhanaozen and at Shetpe railway station in Mangistau region of the country on 16-17th December 2011, when as a result of rioters' clashes with units of law enforcement agencies, 16 people died and over a hundred — were injured.

At this, 46 objects were looted and set on fire, including bank offices, shops, cafes, hotels, buildings of local authorities and the office of “Ozenmunaigas” oil and gas company — a subdivision of the Concern “Kazmunaigas”. The dismissal from the latter of about a thousand workers, most of whom were local residents, was the reason for the above-mentioned unrests.

Protests also took place in several other cities of the country (particularly in Karaganda) and were supported by the opposition forces of Kazakhstan, who tried to use the situation to increase their authority on the basis of criticism of the government, including personally President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In view of the above-mentioned circumstances, a new surge of extremist activity in the country in early June of this year caused an extremely nervous reaction of the leadership of Kazakhstan, which immediately called the events in the city of Aktobe “...one of the manifestations of the ”color revolutions“, which include a variety of methods and begin with contrived rallies, murders and attempts to seize power".

This conclusion was added to by Aktobe-like incident in Tajikistan September 4, 2015, when several groups of militants attacked the military unit on the outskirts of Dushanbe and the police station in the city of Vahdat. As a result, they killed 33 military servicemen and police officers and seized a large quantity of weapons. At the same time most of the attackers, led by former Deputy Minister of Defence of Tajikistan A. Nazarzoda (representative of the “United Tajik Opposition” — the main enemy of the current leadership of the country during the civil war in the early 1990s) managed to break away from persecution and move into remote mountain areas on the border with Afghanistan.

At the same time, in contrast to the events in Kazakhstan in December 2011, the incident in the city of Aktobe in June of 2016 did not have large-scale consequences in the form of riots and unrest and did not create clear preconditions for destabilization of the situation in the country, which could be used by the opposition against the Kazakhstan's authorities. Besides, opposition leaders and controlled by them armed forces of security agencies did not participate in the incident, contrary to how it was in Tajikistan last year.

Taking into consideration all this, “the attempt to seize power in Kazakhstan” has been reclassified by the government into “...the actions of supporters of radical non-traditional religious movements”. This assumption is based on real facts of intensification of Islamic extremism's streaming from Afghanistan to Central Asia, which takes place from the middle of last year. The reason for this is the Afghani branch of the grouping of the terrorist organization IS's resorting to more focused policy to build up its presence and influence in the Central Asian region as a result of redistribution of spheres of influence with the Taliban movement, as well as the so-called “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” and the most radical wing of the United Tajik Opposition's joining the IS.

A consequence of this trend has been an increase in the number of attempts of the IS armed units to break from northern Afghanistan into Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even Turkmenistan, who until recently maintained neutral relations with the Taliban movement and other Islamist groups in the Afghanistan's territory. According to the management of power structures of the above- mentioned Central Asian countries, the daily armed clashes on their borders with Afghanistan are actually taking the form of the border conflict.

At the same time, experts are considering other causes of extremism in Kazakhstan. In particular, among them they mention the following: aggravation of the struggle between different criminal (clan) and business groups over access to land and natural resources, mineral deposits, as well as objects of economic, trade, transport and other profitable infrastructure. In turn, this increases the demand of the criminal business in Kazakhstan for arms, ammunition and trained fighters.

The catalyst for these processes is worsening of the socio-economic situation in the country as a result of the fall in world oil prices (oil is the main product of Kazakhstan's exports (1/3 of exports) and the devaluation of the national currency by 86 %, as well as the negative impact on Kazakhstan of Russia's economic problems, which are becoming deeper as a result of the West's sanctions. Thus, since 2014 the production of all sectors of Kazakhstan's economy has fallen by almost two times, affecting the living standards of the population and has led to the growth of radical sentiments in Kazakhstan's society. So, in fact, interests of Islamic extremist organizations and criminal groups in Kazakhstan have coincided, and this expanded the social basis for recruitment of militants for illegal armed formations.

We should not exclude the possibility of the tension in Kazakhstan being specially provoked by special services of the Russian Federation.

According to independent experts, the aim of this can be organization of pressure on Astana, because of its policy towards Ukraine, the West and China. In this context, among the direct challenges to V. Putin's regime's interests, are as follows: Kazakhstan's consistent continuation of trade and economic cooperation with Ukraine; refusal to support Moscow's counter-sanctions against the USA and the European Union; as well as the gradual deepening of relations with China, which today are already much greater than Astana's cooperation with partners within the Eurasian Economic Union, including with the Russian Federation.

Besides, the extremely negative consequences for V. Putin's regime has implementation by Kazakhstan of a number of oil and gas pipeline construction projects in China, which create direct competition to Russia and hinder its plans to reorient the main Russian energy exports from the West to the East (first of all to China). As a result, Russia has not been able to get rid of “depending on the predominant orientation to the European energy market,” and will not be able to do this either in a short or medium term.

That is, the recent events in Kazakhstan (including the mass strike of oil workers December 16, 2011 in the city of Zhanaozen, Mangistau region; unauthorized mass protests against the new amendments to the Land Code in April and May this year, and so on) may be nothing more than Russia's clumsy attempts to undermine the domestic political and socio-economic situation in Kazakhstan, according to the “Donetsk” or, most likely, “Syrian” scenario.

Moscow's organizing and carrying out this kind of provocations in Kazakhstan to achieve its goals, despite the alliance relations of the parties, seem quite possible taking into account the experience of Russia's treacherous occupation and cynical annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea, as well as its continuation of the armed aggression in the Donbas despite the Minsk Agreements.

In this regard, very characteristic is the fact that the unrest and intensifying of extremism take place in those regions of Kazakhstan, where the vast majority of the Russian-speaking population of the country lives, and where major amounts of oil and gas are produced, and where there are the pipelines to China.


In a word, all the above-mentioned reasons have a quite objective and long-term nature, and this creates real prerequisites for further preparing and carrying out acts of terrorism, large-scale provocations and various riots in Kazakhstan. Given the commonality of the problems, similar trends can be expected in other countries of Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Some independent experts and analysts reasonably ask the question: why can't we consider the intensification of Islamic extremism as a new reality (new form) of the Russian Federation's “hybrid” war against former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus? Then — for what purpose, when, and most importantly: who will be the next at the scopes of extremism?