Hearts and Minds in Chechnya

There is a very interesting op/ed by three academics in the New York Times, which takes a look at the nature of Chechnya’s black widows, and seeks to explain the three-year pause in attacks between 2004 and 2007.

The trajectory of Chechnya’s suicide campaign reveals a stark pattern: 27 attacks from June 2000 to November 2004, no attacks until October 2007, and 18 since. What explains the three-year pause?

The answer is loss of public support in Chechnya for the rebellion, for two reasons. The first was revulsion against the 2004 Beslan school massacre in which Chechen rebels murdered hundreds of Russian children. “A bigger blow could not have been dealt on us,” one of the separatists’ spokesmen said at the time. “People around the world will think that Chechens are beasts and monsters if they could attack children.” Second, the Russians pursued a robust hearts-and-minds program to win over the war-torn population. Military operations killed significantly fewer civilians. Amnesty was granted to rebel fighters and nearly 600 Chechen separatists surrendered in 2006 alone.

Unfortunately, the Russians then over-reached. Starting in late 2007, Moscow pressured the pro-Russian Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov to stamp out the remaining militants. It complied, pursuing an ambitious counterterrorism offensive with notably harsh measures of its own.