On Rumours of Umarov’s Death

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Spoke to Foreign Policy about rumors of Umarov's death yesterday, but apparently they decided to hold the story, so here is the gist of what I told them:

Loss of Umarov would be tangible, but not devastating blow to nsurgency and terrorist networks in the region. He is the only of the major field commanders – who joined the cause of Chechen separatism early on and  participated in the first Chechen-Russian war –  left at the helm of insurgency. It would take anyone else years to earn a reputation of that kind, which is needed not only to function as the leader of the networks, but also to secure support for insurgency in the North Caucasus and foreign countries. But while undermining the networks' capabilities to rally support in the short-term, his death would have no impact on planning and execution of attacks,  including in Sochi, if any are planned, for the simple reason that planning and organzing of such attacks would have commenced long ago and I believe Umarov doesn't participate in this.

Umarov has  learned his lesson, which is if you get involved in planning and commanding as most of his predecessors at the helm of Chechnya-based insurgency did, then chances are you will be eventually detected, tracked down and killed. Therefore, he has been refraining from getting involved in running the insurgency. Like Osama Bin Laden in his last days he prefers to inspire and rally supporters through occasional video statement. 

That said, there is no definite proof of whether Umarov is dead or not. If killed in artillery strike, it could take weeks or months to positively ID – recall how long it took to ID remains of Basayev who was torn to pieces in a blast.

Umarov has been pronounced dead many time before and Kadyrov may have a reason to disseminate rumors about his death. For instance he could be doing that in an effort to sow dissent among leaders of insurgency and terrorist networks in the region, to spark struggle for power in these networks ahead of the Sochi Games.

UPD: Here is the FP story http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/19/the_nine_lives_of_russias_bin_laden

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