Following Russia’s peculiar behavior in regard to sharing information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev with the United States (http://polit.ru/news/2013/04/22/tamerlan/), Moscow decided to pursue the same policies toward Chechens living in Europe. The exact figure or number of Chechens residing in Europe is unknown. According to some unconfirmed reports, the figure is so high (http://ruskline.ru/analitika/2011/12/25/norvegiya_chechenskaya_velikij_ishod/) that Moscow has good reason to fear the Chechen influence in this part of the world. All available estimates—120,000, 130,000 and even 150,000—put the number of Chechens in Europe alone at more than 100,000 people.

Last year, in the run-up to the Olympics in Sochi, the Russian security services mailed multiple warnings to various European governments, cautioning them that Chechens were preparing terrorist attacks against Russian targets in the countries of their residence. The potentially targeted countries included France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and others where Chechens live in large numbers.

Last December, the French security services launched a large-scale operation against individuals that the Russians had identified as potential terrorists. The operation resulted in the arrest of two Chechen women—one 23 years old, the other 31 years old—in Strasbourg and in western France on February 4 (http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/justice/terrorisme-une-tchetchene-presentee-a-un-juge-parisien_1321525.html).

The information about the arrest of Chechen women suspected of ties to the militants in the North Caucasus might have been sensational were it not for the effect that such an event has become quite routine in France. The suspects naturally had ties to the insurgents in the North Caucasus since they had asked and received refugee status in France precisely because of those ties. Moreover, one of those arrested, 31-year-old Sapiyat Shemileva, is the sister of the former rebel emir of Grozny, Khamzat Shemilev, who was killed in the Chechen capital in 2010 (http://chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/173215/). It is unlikely that this information contained anything new for the French authorities, especially as Sapiyat Shemileva had by the time of her arrest graduated from the Sorbonne and received French citizenship. Shemileva is employed, lives with her mother and is still under arrest. The French security services displayed dubious professionalism when they swooped down on the home of Shemileva and her elderly mother early in the morning, using stun grenades and entering the home with service dogs. The police later reported that they found no arms, drugs or anything of the kind. The second Chechen accused of ties to the rebels, a 23-year-old widow of a militant from the North Caucasus, was released soon after her arrest because the police could not find any evidence against her. The behavior of the French authorities must have been motivated by reading semi-fictional stories about the infamous black widow suicide bombers in the North Caucasus. Since the start of the second Russian-Chechen war and the emergence of a large Chechen diaspora in France, none of the Chechens that Russia has fingered has been found guilty of terrorism, although some Chechens have faced criminal charges unconnected to terrorism.

Similar actions against Chechens took place in Austria, where police decided to trust information supplied by the Russian security services and conducted several searches in Vienna. Information about preparations for terrorist attacks has not been confirmed, but some of those who were the targets of the searches are still under suspicion of having ties to the Chechen underground (http://diepresse.com/home/politik/aussenpolitik/1560204/Terror-in-Sotschi_Razzia-in-Osterreich?from=suche.intern.portal).

According to the newspaper Die Presse, searches were simultaneously carried out in six apartments in Vienna early in the morning on January 23, and other searches may have been carried out at the same time. These six searches became known only because the individuals whose homes were searched filed complaints claiming their constitutional rights had been violated by the police. The Kobra special police unit used stun grenades and tear gas to storm homes of a 31-year-old man, Islam N., his sister Birlant D. and brother Aslan N., as well as three friends—Alikhan M., Apti D. and Adzhub M. The search order that Die Presse cited said that the suspects had exhibited “highly secretive behavior.” According to the newspaper, the information that came from Russia suggested that these individuals were preparing a terrorist attack on the eve of the Sochi Olympics. However, just as in France, all those detained were released the same day they were arrested and all charges against them were dropped. None of the facts generously supplied by their colleagues from Russia was confirmed (http://diepresse.com/home/politik/aussenpolitik/1560204/Terror-in-Sotschi_Razzia-in-Osterreich?from=suche.intern.portal).

Similar actions against Chechens also took place in Germany and Belgium. It is not difficult to deduct from these news reports that Russia alerted all European countries, some of which did not have enough professionalism or intelligence to check this information first and only then talk to the suspects. In France and Austria, the authorities decided to carry out flashy arrests and only then discovered that the suspects were clean.

The information that Russia shares does not help prevent anything. Instead, just as in the case with Boston marathon attacker Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Russian authorities share information that would allow them later to accuse their foreign colleagues of appeasing the Chechens. It should be remembered that every Russian foreign passport for travel abroad is issued only with the permission of the Federal Security Service, which decides whether a person can leave the country. After sending its citizens abroad, Russia then demands that Western countries follow them, relieving itself of all the responsibility.

The Russian authorities intentionally take steps designed to result in a confrontation with the Chechen diaspora abroad. This strategy is unlikely to result in greater mutual understanding, but promises new arrests and groundless accusations against Chechens who reside in Western countries.

Mairbek Vatchagaev
North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 15 Issue: 3
February 14, 2014 — The Jamestown Foundation