Staunton, August 12 – The announcement that Russian forces have killed Magomed Suleymanov, who had been head of the Caucasus Emirate since April 2015, has once again led many Russian analysts to suggest that Moscow has effectively decapitated that organization because there are no charismatic candidates to replace him.
But other analysts in Moscow point out that this is not the first time Russian forces have killed one of the leaders of the Islamist group or that Russian analysts have rushed to say that this is the end of the Emirate as a result. Instead, as one of their number points out now, someone no one has ever heard of may emerge and give the group new energy.
Moreover, and this is likely to be even more important in terms of the activities of the group in the field, even the Russian analysts concede that the next emir is more likely to be drawn from someone with combat experience rather than religious training, a change that could link the group more closely with ISIS and make it even more dangerous on the ground.
The Kavkaz-Uzel.ru portal surveys three experts about the situation in the Caucasus Emirate following Suleymanov’s death. Akhmet Yarlykapov of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology says there are ever fewer possible candidates for emir and that the next one is likely to be someone with combat experience (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/267067/).
He suggests that “the most probable scenario” will be the unification of the Caucasus Emirate with ISIS. That means that “Russia will have a branch of ISIS in the south of the country,” although he expresses the view that “ISIS will find it extremely difficult to increase terrorism in the North Caucasus as this is not Iraq and not Syria.”
Moreover, Yarlykapov says, the integration of the Caucasus Emirate into the ranks of ISIS will take a certain amount of time because the latter insists on certain organizational arrangements that will require the Emirate to change its structure and activities. While that is going on, Russian forces will have a certain amount of time to move against it.
Given that it is going to be difficult if not impossible to assemble a shura to select a successor to Suleymanov, the Moscow scholar says, the process is likely to be complicated and possibly last longer than anyone thinks. Thus, it is not clear who will be the next emir and how he will be chosen. “I do not exclude,” he says, that “an emir will not be chosen.”
Aleksey Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center says there are no well-known Muslim theologians among the North Caucasus militants, but “it is not to be excluded that someone may emerge and become a well-known figure” with time. Such leaders “sooner or later will appear. It is a question of time.”
Consequently, “one shouldn’t assume that all will be well after the liquidation of authoritative people” in the Emirate. There always exist “ambitious” figures who speak Arabic and can lead the umma. Consequently, “whether the new emir will be a military figure or a theologian is difficult to say.”
“Earlier, the liquidation of militant leaders as in the case of Basayev was a most serious hit to the militants,” Malashenko say, but “now the situation is different” and it is a mistake to assume that the elimination of one or even a few top leaders effectively decapitates the movement.
Ruslan Martagov, a Chechen historian and former advisor to the Antiterror Foundation, goes even further. He points out that the militants have a clear plan for succession and have enormous resources as far as people are concerned. Indeed, he says, “it is impossible to exclude the appearance of new ‘Said Buryats,’” a reference to militants from outside the region.
In his opinion, it doesn’t matter very much whether the new emir is a combat veteran or a theologian. “That doesn’t change the essence of the matter.” Regardless of who assumes that position, he and his forces will “fight against Russia.” And he points out that this may be “an individual about whom we have never heard.”