13 Apr 2014

Altyn - the new Eurasian currency

On Thursday, the leaders of the Russian Federation, Belarus and Kazakhstan have agreed on the introduction of a common currency for the Eurasian Union until 2025. However, it was noted that in case of strict economic sanctions against Russia, the countries could swith to the single currency significantly earlier, already in 3-5 years' time. It is possible that Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will also join the common monetary zone. The new currency will be called altyn, after a historical currency originating from the monetary system of the Golden Horde, used in Russia until the 18th century.
The etymology of the word altyn is disputed: according to one theory, it comes from the Tatar word for 'gold' (however, as far as it is known, copper and silver coins were used as altyns, but not golden); according to another, it originates from the Tatar word for '6', as it was worth 6 of 1/2 dengas. It was a convenient currency unit for trade between Russians, who used a decimal currency system and Mongol-Tatars, whose monetary system was duodecimal.

An old Russian altyn. Photo by Wikipedia

In May 2014, presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus will sign a treaty on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015. It should become a united economic space with common currency, customs and tax regulations as well as energy and industry policy, a kind of answer to the European Union. According to the notion of its creators, the Eurasian Union later could become a militay-political bloc, able to compete withe the NATO or China. In this way, the existing organizations CIS, CSTO and the Customs Union would be practically incorporated in the Eurasian Union.

 The process of introduction of the single currency is planned to be the following: at first, a consultative council will be created with the governors of the central banks of the participating states. They will be responsible for the rates of national currencies, regulation of banking and insurance activity and the unification of the markets of securities. It was also intended to organize a Eurasian Central Bank. However, the proposal was blocked by Alexander Lukashenko, who - although in theory supports the project - is said to be cautious about its realization. Nevertheless, corresponding documents, meant to be signed next year, are being prepared. The final deadline for the introduction is 2025. Kazakhstan is hoping that it could happen earlier, in 3-5 years, in case of serious economic sanctions against Russia.

The idea of a single currency for the Eurasian Union was created by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, and subsequenlty supported by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in 2012. (Already in 2009, Nazarbayev has spoken up for a supranational currency for the whole world which he considers an effective mean to fight the global financial crisis.) The Eurasian Central Bank is planned to be situated in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This regulatory board would almost completely take over the role of national banks, although national banks would remain. The current EU-model was clearly taken as role model. But in this case, the Eurasian Central Bank would probably have to strictly obey the presidents and prime ministers of the EAEU. At present, the economy of Kazakhstan represents 10% of the Russian economy, Belarus - 3%.

According to the director of the analytical department of Alpari, Alexander Razuvayev, in the beginning, the new currency will be cashless. Cash will appear in a year or two. At the same time, rouble and tenge will be circulating parallel. The advantages of a common currency are obvious. Businesses and citizens will not lose on exchange and bank charges. It should be also noted that a single economic system cannot be operated without a single currency. Although the Eurasian Central Bank will be located in Kazakhstan, the main capital market, of course, is the Moscow Stock Exchange. The weakness of the new currency will be the dependence on energy prices. The economies of both Russia and Kazakhstan are based on raw materials. 

The name of the new currency is obviously a symbolic gesture towards Kazakhstan, but it is interesting if Russia would be ready to give up roubles, a national symbol.






10 Apr 2014

Brief Summary of the Caucasus Emirate

This summary was originally written for the course Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat organized by the START Center of the University of Maryland, but I decided to post it here because it is an informative material about the Caucasus Emirate.

History, location and main goals

The Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz), created in 2007 by its present leader Doku Umarov, is the successor of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya. It also served as an umbrella organization for various North Caucasian terrorist groups, including the Yarmuk (Kabardino-Balkaria) Jamaat, Shariat (Dagestan) Jamaat, and Ingush Jamaat, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR), and the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade (IIPB), as well as the martyr brigade, Riyadus-Salikhin, known for suicide bombing. These all are now incorporated into the CE. [Stanford]
Its leader Doku Umarov is rather a field commander than an idealogue [Andrew C. Kuchins, Matthew Malarkey, Sergei Markedonov, The North Caucasus: Russia’s Volatile Frontier, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 2011, cited by Stanford]

The CE is located in the North Caucasus. „Its nodes, the so-called vilayats (Arabic for governate or province), are based, for the most part, along the lines of the North Caucasus republics”. [G.H. Hahn, 14] The Emirate has also cells is European countries and the Near East. [UN]

It is a radical Islamist, jihadist organization, part of the global jihadi movement, it has strong ties with organizations such as the Al Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic Jihad.  [http://www.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report]

The predecessor of the CE, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (a self-proclaimed state) was an ethno-nationalistic organization, the main goal of which was to gain independence from Russia. It has transformed into a jihadist organization. Although ethno-nationalism remains an important element of the CE ideology [G.H. Hahn, 15], it describes its main goal as to not only gain independence from Russia, but to liberate Muslims, establish a sovereign Islamist state [G.H. Hahn, 2], based on sharia law” [G.H. Hahn, 7, 16] and even a global Jihadi caliphate [G.H. Hahn, 19]. 

Statistics of attacks

According to the Global Terrorism Database of the START Center of the University of Maryland, the group is perpetrating terrorist attacks since 2007, when it was established. The highest number of attacks (11) was in 2008, since then we can see a sharp decline in the number of incidents. There is a total 31 attacks attributed to CE.

All of their attacks were perpetrated in the Russian Federation, most of them in the North Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkariya, North Ossetia) and 5 of them in Moscow or near Moscow.

The targets of the attacks vary, government (28%) and police (25%) are targeted most frequently, but there were also quite a few attacks against soft targets including private citizens and property (15%) and transportation, airports and utilities (18%). Only 2 attacks were committed against business targets and religious figures and institutions (6% respectively). 

The biggest part of the attacks (45%) were bombings/explosions, but armed assault is also a common attack type of the CE (37%). Sabotage (facilty/infrastructure attacks) represent 8.5% of the incidents, while there were only 2 assasinations (5.7%) and only one hostage taking incident (2.8%).

Most of the attacks (48%) were committed using explosives/bombs/dynamite. Firearms also make up a significant part (42%), while only 3 attacks (9%) were perpetrated using incendiary devices.

The total number of fatalities is 140, the total number of injuries is 441. It means that there were on average 4.51 fatalities and 14.22 injuries per attack. While there were a few attacks that involved a significant number of casualties (these were attacks outside the North Caucasus, mainly in Moscow and on transportation targets) and there were several attacks with no casualties. 

Individual radicalization

Fight and blood revenge has a long tradition in Caucasian culture. It is enough to think about the fight of Caucasians with the Russian Empire in 19th century, led by Imam Shamil. There is also a stereotype that Caucasians have a very strong feeling of justice especially compared with Russians who tend to escape to alcoholism. As Dagestani juornalist Zaur Gaziyev notes: „Our culture is different. If we are slighted or wronged we don’t go and get drunk on vodka. We pick up a gun and go out to murder the one who wronged us” (Tom Parfitt. „The Deadliest Village in Russia – A Journey Through Russia’s Killing Zone, Part 8, ForeignPolicy.com, April 1, 2011, The Deadliest Village in Russia)”.

The root causes of the insurgency in the Caucasus can be traced in the religious and ethnonational revival after the fall of the Soviet Union, separatist tendencies, unresolved territorial conflicts, ethnic clashes and the region’s weak integration into Russia. [ICC 1] The latter means, among others low living standards and unemployment. Another issue is corruption which also makes young people disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Russian state. The fighters reject the Russian world considered illegitimate, unfair and unreformable and aim to replace it with an Islamist state which – they think – would be more just. [G. H. Hahn 21, ICC 18]

The ideological vacuum after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissatisfaction because of the economic situation and corrupt, disfunctional government created a cognitive opening and subsequently, in the case of certain individuals it was filled by Islamist ideology.  As circumstances has not chaged significantly, this process continues.

The harsh counterterrorism measures, which are perceived as systematic violence also contribute to the radicalization of certain groups. These include the ban of wahhabbism in some republics, checking believers, shaving Salafis’ beards. These human right violations and humilitations can clearly induce radicalisation, according to the model of Arie Kruglanski. Another factor is, that „Dagestani authorities made no distinction between moderate and radical, violence-oriented Salafis, which contributed to radicalisation of the entire community” [ICC 9].

"(...) what has driven many to join the insurgency was a "trigger exprience" - be it police harrasment, abuse and intimidation or a personal experience of violence at the hands of the security services. This event, or series of events, is thought to play the primary motivating cause behind one's decision to join the insurgency. All the same, it is also important to note that different factors play different roles in the different republics. For example, religious intolerance at the hands of the security services is more likely to driv a young man to flee to the forest of Dagestan, whereas lack of political expression or ethno-nationalist grievances, which would be less salient in Dagestan, might play a more prominent role in Ingushetia or Kabardino-Balkaria." (Andrew C. Kuchins, Matthew Malarkey, Sergei Markedonow, The North Caucasus: Russia's Volatile Frontier, CSIS, March 2011 http://csis.org/files/publication/110321_Kuchins_NorthCaucasus_WEB.pdf)

Main goals of the Caucasus Emirate:

  • to gain independence from Russia and liberate all Muslims [G. H. Hahn 2], which implies driving out of Russian troops based in the North Caucasus
  • to create a sovereign, sharia based Islamist state in the Caucasus in line with radical Salafist ideology [G. H. Hahn 7, 16]
  • to „extend this state to the Volga region and European countries through combat and terror [UN], as Umarov has put it: „once the infidels have been driven out, we must take back all lands that were historically Muslim, and those borders lie beyond the borders of the Caucasus” [UN]
  • to establish a global jihadi caliphate [G. H. Hahn 19] „Both Umarov and Buryatskii [a main idealogue] have stated they are leading a global jihad against the West, even if most of their attacks have been local.” [Stanford]

The tactic applied by CE

The CE has used intimidation tactic in some cases, e. g. at the Domodedovo attack, where there were 38 fatalities and 168 injuries and in a couple of other cases. But this tactic does not prevail. Some of their attacks were considered as spoiling. (e. g. the killing of Sheikh Said Affandi in 2012 which, according to ICC was “aimed to make intra-confessional dialogue impossible and cause Dagestan to explode into conflict” [ICC 12] ) As the International Crisis Groups paper on the North Caucasian insurgency states, „the insurgency itself is not interested in dialogue and seeks to undermine it with new terrorist attacks,[ICC 3]

Given the huge superior force of Russia, there is no way for the CE to attrite Russian political, economic and military might. Therefore the main tactic applied is provocation, which was usually applied by ethno-nationalist organizations in colonial territories. (CE was initially an ethno-nationalist organization and the Caucasus was conquered by Russia as a colony.) “Part of the logic of terrorist attacks is to provoke government reprisals and abusive reactions.[ICC 28] This tactic works, as Russian response is tipically heavy-handed which drives some of the population to radicalization. 

Communication, recrutiment, financing and networking

The organization has several websites where they seek founders and recruit for their goals:

The Kavkazcenter has been proclaimed the official information organ” of the CE. [UN] Each vilaiyat has its own website.

CE spreads “numerous videos (...) featuring terrorist attacks carried out by fighters, and eulogizing fighters “ [G.H. Hahn 5] „compilations and their own ideologists’ writings, video and audio lectures”. “CE sites also post Russian translations of articles from and summaries of, Al-Quaida’s English-language journal Inspire”. [G.H. Hahn 8] Instructions how to make explosive devices also figure on the sites. 

They also maintain a “list of e-mail addresses so Muslims interested in jihad can contact each other and exchange information; they distribute “literature and news of the jihad” [G.H. Hahn 10]. Some material is downloaded to mobile phones or to USB sticks to distribute to those who cannot access the internet sites. [ICC 14]

There are also persons responsible for recruiting [G.H. Hahn 11] “The vilaiyats, sectors, and local jamaats independently undertake alms collections, recruitment (...)” [G.H. Hahn 15] Recruiters work actively with youth in and around mosques, on university campuses, in gyms and at the workplace.” [ICC 14]

The target audience is the "young, well-educated urban youth in the Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union”. [Paul Quinn-Judge, “Russia’s Terror Goes Viral”, Foreign Policy (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/03/29/russias_terror_goes_viral), 29 March 2010.]

There is „no lack of replacements, though ever younger and more radical ones”. According to Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential envoy for the North Caucasus, the average age of militants is eighteen. [Хлопонин признал, что число участников подполья не меняется много лет: на Кавказе тысяча боевиков, Gazeta.ru, 09 March 2011, http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2011/09/30/n_2031946.shtml] Recruits are trained in clandestine training camps situated in North Caucasus locations. These camps has also hosted jihadi fighters from other countries (including Al-Qaida members [G.H. Hahn 3,6).  

According to G. H. Hahn [Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right 9, Islam, Islamism and the Politics in Eurasia Report  9], the group receives funding from Chechen government officials and some Al-Qaida-affiliated organizations. Being part of the global Jihadi network significantly increases the group's chances of survival. 

Said Buryatsky in a video from YouTube

Possible counterterrorism strategies

Two main approaches or models of counter-insurgency are competing today in the North Caucasus. One, based on heavy-handed law enforcement and exclusive religious policy, is most thoroughly applied in Chechnya; the other, with greater elements of soft law enforcement and integrative religious policy, is most evident in Dagestan; practices of other republics fall in between.” [ICC 31]

Judging by numbers of incidents and fatalities, the Chechen model looks more successful.” [ICC 32]

However, although soft-power methods usually do not bring quick results, only these methods can be succesful on the long term, as these eliminate the root causes of violence. It is also very important to bear in mind that radicalisation in the region is largely driven by the harsh, heavy-heanded counterterrorism measures, the indiscriminate use of force by law enforcement, when relatives and bystanders also frequently fall to victim. As the main tactic of CE is provocation, enemy-centric counterterrorism strategy, focused on ’neutralising’ = killing (нейтрализировать) fighters instead of bringing their cases to trials can be counterproductive.

There are two aspects of this terrorist group, which, in my opinion, would deserve more attention.
In 2010, when civilians very heavily targeted by the CE, internal divisions came to the surface and this has even led to Umarov’s resignation. However, later he reclaimed his leading position. [Roggio, Bill. “Internal Divisions Dissolved, Claims Caucasus Emirate” 
http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/07/caucasus_emirate_cla_1.php#ixzz1TKEnDQLI]. It would be useful to discover the fractures inside the organization with intelligence methods and try to cooperate with more moderate leaders in order to change the way CE is operating and possibly start negotiating with them.

The other aspect is the source of funding. The summary of Stanford University, citing Gordon H. Hahn (http://www.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report) mentions that „the Caucasus Emirate mujahedin receive funding from ministers and bureaucrats in the Chechen government and members of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s inner circle”. Cutting off this source of funding could contribute to the shrinking of activity of the CE. 


Gordon H. Hahn, Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right, Centre for Stategic and International Studies, 1 September 2011, [G. H. Hahn]

Gordon H. Hahn, "Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report." Monterey Institute of International Studies. N.p., Report 9 24 Feb. 2009. Web. Jan. 2012. <http://www.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report>

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (II), Islam, Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency, International Crisis Group, October, 2012 [ICC]

Andrew C. Kuchins, Matthew Malarkey, Sergei Markedonow, The North Caucasus: Russia's Volatile Frontier, CSIS, March 2011

UN Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities [UN]

Mapping Military Organizations: Caucasus Emirate, Stanford University, [Stanford] http://www.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/255

The Caucasus Emirate, Stratfor, Security Weekly, April 15, 2010 [Stratfor]

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (II), Islam, Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency”, International Crisis Group, October, 2012 [ICC]

Roggio, Bill. “Internal Divisions Dissolved, Claims Caucasus Emirate” 

Хлопонин признал, что число участников подполья не меняется много лет: на Кавказе тысяча боевиков, Gazeta.ru, 09 March 2011, http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2011/09/30/n_2031946.shtml

Tom Parfitt. „The Deadliest Village in Russia – A Journey Through Russia’s Killing Zone, Part 8, ForeignPolicy.com, April 1, 2011

Paul Quinn-Judge, “Russia’s Terror Goes Viral”, Foreign Policy, 29 March 2010

2 Apr 2014

Daugavpils - the new Crimea?

Armament in the Baltics

The Baltic states began to arm: Lithuania has decided to increse its defence budget (according to Lithuanian PM Algirdas Butkevičius, the final goal is to reach 2 % of the GDP), while Latvia increases the personnel of the army (from 5000 to 6000) as well as the national guard (from 5000 to 8000). Latvia also disposes a so-called "youth guard" (Jaunsardze, volunteers from the age group 12-18) which has currently 6000 members, but this figure is planned to be doubled. 

The unstable situation in Ukraine has driven attention to the Russian minority in the Baltic countries (especially in Latvia and Estonia). About one third of the population of Latvia are Russians. Around 270 thousand of them do not have Latvian citizenship as the prerequisite of it is the knowledge of Latvian language. In the beginnig of March, Russia's ambassador to Latvia has revealed plans to offer Russian citizenship and pensions to ethnic Russians in Latvia in order  to "save them from poverty". (Although pensions in Latvia are significantly higher than in Russia: 11,400 rubles, and 277 euros.)

Daugavpils in focus

Some weeks ago, an article in the British newspaper The Telegraph called the city of Daugavpils 'Latvia's Crimea'. Daugavpils is the second largest city in Latvia with a population of 100,000. It is one of the 'most Russian' cities of the EU, as Russians make up more than half of the population. Only 20% of the inhabitants are ethnic Latvians. Besides Russians, there are also Poles, Belarussians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians (not mentioning the Latgals, a distinct ethnic group of Latvians). Russian is used as the lingua franca, it is said to be quirte rare to hear Latvian on the streets of Daugavpils.   

SS Boris and Gleb Orthodox Cathedral in Daugavpils (Wikimedia Commons)

In 2012, a referendum on introducing Russian in Latvia as a second language was rejected. However, in Daugavpils, 85% of the population voted for the proposal. Even the idea of autonomy for the East of Latvia was openly discussed in recent years. (Last year, the party of the radical Latvian and Russian politician, non-citizen of Latvia Vladimir Linderman, called Native Language has organized a conference on the independence of Latgale, the eastern region of Latvia which also includes Daugavpils.) Russians in Latvia are said to be heavily influenced by Russian television channels which broadcast a Kremlin-eye view of the world. Therefore there are fears that Russians in Daugavpils could organise a referendum similar to the one that was held in the Crimea, or Putin could decide to test NATO and "protect" ethnic Russians.

However, according to Dmitriy Olechnovich, a historian and politologue at Daugavpils University, Russians do not constitute a homogenous group in terms of ideological preference. The young generation has already integrated into the European Union and makes use of the advantages it offers: the possibility to travel freely, work in other member states and it is very doubtful if now they would like to give up these things. For them, even if they have a Russian identity, Russia is merely a foreign state. But the older generation is still nostalgic about the past, when they were young and everything was great. They remember the Soviet Union as a lost Paradise. And they believe that present-day Russia could offer them the same benefits that the Soviet Union did. What mostly matters for them, is the social factor: higher pensions, guaranteed workplaces (many of them think that it is easier to find work in Russia which is a large country unlike Latvia), lower cost of utilities thanks to cheaper energy. Free market and the possibility to choose in many areas of life (e. g. workplace, travel) are not so enticing for these people, as they do not really understand these things. "They are too old, poor and believe what is shown on Russian television channels" - says Olechnovich.

Although these characteristis are true about Russians not only in Latvia but also in other countries (e.g. Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova etc.), as Olechnovich points out, one should bear in mind that Russians in Daugavpils are different from Russians in the Crimea: although both groups share the common history of the Soviet Union, Crimean Russians are proud that their ancestors have defended this land in wars and it belonged to Russia centuries long; while tha majority of Russians in Daugavpils understand that they are immigrants and their immigration did not happen such a long time ago.

Centralisation and development needed for the East

A couple of decades ago, if someone spoke Latvian loudly on the streets of Daugavpils was risking to be beaten up. Today the Latvian and Russian communities are much more integrated than they were in Soviet times.

Despite that, there are now opposite trends among Russian in Latvia. A member of the city council thinks that the self-confidence of local Russians has grown as a result of the military actions in the Crimea. "Earlier a lot of them thought that Russia has forgotten them. Now these people are convinced that Russia is a strong state which is ready to help its compatriots" - said Yevgeniy Zarev. Such assurances are being repeated in Russian television channels. And now the example of the Crimea should show that Moscow keeps its promises to defend Russian speakers. At the same time, they feel that the Latvian state does not care about them: "For Riga, only the western regions of the country matter: new roads, houses and schools are being built there. In Latgale, we cannot see anything like that. Here the houses fall apart - no one repairs anything, people emigrate" - said one ethnic Russian from Daugavpils.

Dmitry Olechnovich has also underlined the importance of regional development. "In Ukraine, the sense of belonging to the centre in the case of people living on the periferies is very questionable. Regional centres have to be developed, not only Riga and the greater Riga region." (Latvia's population is slightly over 2 million, while the capital city has approximately 700 thousand inhabitants, so the population and the economic capacity is highly concentrated in Riga.)

One of the most well known defender of Russian speakers' right, mayor of Riga, ethnic Russian Nils Ušakovs has recently pointed out that the current events in the Crimea remind how important it is to pay attention to national minorities in Latvia. "When 80 per cent of Russians in Daugavpils will declare their wish of joining to Russia, it will be already too late. It should not be allowed to happen." Latvians were somewhat perplexed by his words, as by many he is regarded a "Troyan horse" of Russia.

"I strongly doubt if something similar could unfold here as in the Crimea" - said the chairman of the Daugavpils department of the Latvian Russian Community, Aleksey Vasilyev. In the case of Ukraine, the economic factor also has an important role: life standard, including pensions is higher in Russia than in Ukraine. When comparing Latvia with Russia, this figure is so far in favour of our country."

Origin of the Russian community in Daugavpils

Daugavpils has a strategically important location: oil from Russia to Europe is supplied on the St. Petersburg-Daugavpils railway line. There is also another line which connects Daugavpils to Minsk. 

St. Petersburg-Warsaw railway station in Daugavpils (Wikimedi Commons)

When Daugavpils belonged to the Vitebsk Governorate, the so-called Old Believers (an Orthodox sect) who were persecuted in Russian territories, settled in present-day Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, including Daugavpils. Because of its favourable geographic location, the city was perceived as one of the strategically most important points in Latvia already in the 19th century. After the defeat of the Russian Empire in the Crimean War, the urgent modernisation of the country was started. Russia has understood that in order to keep pace with industrialized European states, the modernisation gap must be eliminated. One of the means to achieve this was the railway which made it possible to rapidly relocate army units and other cargos. The rails connected St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Riga, Oryol and Daugavpils (at that time called Dvinsk) which was turned into a fortress. As a result of modernisation, Daugavpils was flooded by immigrants from various parts of the Russian Empire to work in the newly established factories. Although Russians began to come en masse to Daugavpils already in the middle of the 19th century, at that time, the majority of the local population were Jews. Afther they have been killed during WWII, even more Russians settled here.