Q+A: What does the Chechen parliament attack mean?

MOSCOW Tue Oct 19, 2010 9:33am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Islamist rebels killed at least four people on Tuesday as they tried to seize the parliament of Russia's volatile Chechen republic, in the latest sign Moscow is failing to control an insurgency in its North Caucasus region.

Below are some questions and answers on the issue:

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN RUSSIA'S NORTH CAUCASUS?

An Islamist insurgency is raging across Russia's mainly Muslim North Caucasus region, where rebels angry about poverty and fueled by the global ideology of jihad (holy war) stage near-daily attacks.

Insurgents say they want to create an independent, Muslim state governed by sharia law and separate from Russia.

Their leader, the self-styled Emir of the Caucasus, is Chechen rebel Doku Umarov, although much uncertainty surrounding his authority has arisen in recent months.

Conflict has flared in the North Caucasus for hundreds of years and insurgents -- as well as many ordinary citizens -- consider their land to be occupied by Russia.

Though Tsarist Russia had its eye on the region from the mid-16th century, it was not incorporated into the Russian Empire until it was conquered by Tsarist Imperial troops in the mid-18th century.

Chechnya declared independence from Russia when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Two devastating wars ensued from the mid-1990s. The Kremlin eventually removed separatists from power in Chechnya a decade ago.

Today, the North Caucasus is plagued by attacks, and the epicenter of violence is widely believed to have moved from Chechnya to neighboring Dagestan. Nearby Ingushetia is also extremely volatile, and more recently, Kabardino-Balkaria.

WHAT WERE THE REBELS TRYING TO ACHIEVE BY ATTACKING THE PARLIAMENT?

Though the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, was not in the parliament building at the time of the attack it was most likely an attempt to discredit him.

Analysts say that Kadyrov's firm hand in running Chechnya is key to relative stability in the region, and any loss of power on his part could allow Chechnya to once again descend into chaos, making it easier for rebels to take over.

Rebels have repeatedly declared their desire to eliminate Kadyrov, who they consider a traitor for his allegiance to Moscow.

Kadyrov, like his father and predecessor Akhmad, fought against the Russians in the first Chechen war and then switched sides. Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated by rebels in 2004.

Tuesday's attack on parliament comes almost two months after rebels conducted a well-organized attack on Kadyrov's hometown Tsentoroi, in what they later said was an attempt on the leader's life.

Over the last year there have been several, much-smaller attacks on Kadyrov.

WAS THE ATTACK PART OF AN INTERNAL CONFLICT?

Over recent months much uncertainty has arisen over rebel leader Umarov's authority over the insurgents.

In an internet video in early August, Umarov stepped down citing health reasons and appointed a successor, only for him to reverse the decision two days later.

In early October a small group of Chechen rebels posted a video saying they had appointed Hussein Gakayev to replace Umarov after what they described as their unhappiness at Umarov's rule.

Though Umarov later disputed this had taken place, local media and analysts said the attack on Kadyrov's hometown in late August, as well as on parliament on Tuesday, could have been organized by Gakayev to assert his authority.

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