This is the second part of a short series covering in some detail the proliferation of curious (and non-native) weapons in the North Caucasus. It is strongly recommended that Part 1 is read first: https://www.calibreobscura.com/exotic-species-of-the-north-caucasus-pt-1/
Internal strife between moderate nationalists and more radical Jihadists (with a corresponding international outlook) within Chechen separatist forces had been going on almost from the very beginning of the armed conflict; nevertheless, a certain balance between these practically polar views had been maintained for a long time. Despite the de facto elimination of the CRI as a real state entity by the spring of 2000, the idea of Ichkerian independence itself managed to survive much longer.
On March 8, 2005, during a Russian special forces raid, the successor of the "father of Chechen independence" Dzhokhar Dudayev, the second president of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, was killed. Later, Abdul-Halim Sadulayev, who had fought against the federal forces since 1994, was appointed to his post. It is difficult to call Sadulayev a particularly outstanding leader: before his appointment, he served as chairman of the Supreme Sharia Court and was responsible for the religious side of Ichkeria. In general, the entire period of his "reign" was not distinguished by any seriously dramatic actions, but one of the key decisions by him was the creation of the Кавказский фронт (Caucasian Front) in May 2005. The purpose of this organization was to expand the war against federal forces throughout the entire Caucasus, including adjacent Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and even Stavropol and Ossetia. It was formed by uniting various rebel groups in these separate areas. The combat potential of such an interregional group was shown by the raid on the KBR in October 2005, when the capital of the republic, Nalchik, was attacked by more than 200 well-armed militants. Sadulayev did not manage to rule Ichkeria for a long time, and in 2006, on the outskirts of Argun, he was overtaken by Russian law enforcement forces.
The then Vice President of the unrecognized state, Doku Umarov, was next elected as the head of Ichkeria. This appointment became a turning point for the Chechen war, since Umarov's ideas about how to continue to fight were completely different.
Against the backdrop of abundant partisan actions in neighboring republics, continuing to support the idea of Ichkerian statehood for Umarov seemed to be a senseless undertaking. It seemed logical to unite the new centres of resistance under a single banner, which eventually occurred. The new organization was named "Imarat Kavkaz" (aka "Caucasus Emirate"). Its creation marked the completion of the logical transformation of the nationalist resistance with a claim to statehood into a real Islamist underground. Not all "Ichkerians" supported the idea of the newly made president, but by that time their opinion did not decide anything - most of them had been in exile in Europe and Turkey for a long time. The result of these attempts at reform was that on October 7, 2007, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, as a formation, was transformed into "Wilayah Nokhchiycho" within the "Imarat Kavkaz".
By the time the Emirate was formed, the federal forces already had many years of experience in countering underground terrorists - special forces patrols periodically found and destroyed bases hidden in the forests, sometimes with the use of artillery and aviation; intense counter-terrorism work was also carried out in cities and villages. Nevertheless, there was still a long and arduous process before the establishment of peace - it took more than 10 years for the complete elimination of the underground movement. Militants throughout this time also didn't sit still, periodically organizing raids on populated areas and conducting truly horrific suicide attacks with mass casualties as a goal.
How The Militants Armed Themselves
The origin of the bulk of the weapons in the hands of the militants is quite obvious: there were thousands of units in illegal circulation obtained from the looted warehouses of the Ministry of Defence on the territory of Chechnya even before the start of the first war. We wrote in detail about what fell into the hands of the separatists in the first part of this series. Back in the late 90s, the militants expected a quick loss of their territory, so the surplus of weapons was carefully hidden throughout the republic. Many weapons also ended up in the hands of ordinary people throughout the North Caucasus, who acquired them "just in case."
Realizing the incredible amount of weapons that settled in the North Caucasus, law enforcement agencies began an active fight against illegal arms trafficking: special initiatives were launched during which civilians could surrender any illegally stored weapons and receive tangible monetary rewards. Also, as an example of the high-quality work of law enforcement forces, one can name the fact that in the event of the destruction of another forest base, search measures were carried out using metal detectors within a radius of several kilometres from its location in order to identify possible caches. And such activities were clearly productive considering these successful counter-terrorist operations, during which thousands of militants were killed. By 2012-2013, such "stashes" practically dried up.
It got to the point that the militants lacked even simple machine guns. On the other hand, even though weapon stocks had ran out in Chechnya after such a long war, this had hardly happened in neighbouring Georgia and Azerbaijan. This principle was realised by some of the "Jamaats", and therefore insurgents had to return to old smuggling channels, using cross-border links that existed prior to the war.
The borders with these countries were still not fully protected and, if desired, they can be crossed by mountain paths - ideal for smugglers with weapons. The militants took advantage of this. From Azerbaijan, for example, Chinese Type 56s began to arrive again, as well as a number of Bulgarian assault rifles (AKK and AKKS, which are copies of the Soviet AK-47 and Type 3 AKS-47, as well as Bulgarian AK-74). These assault rifles were used by the Armenian side during the Karabakh war, and during the fighting, a number of them fell into the hands of the Azerbaijanis as trophies.
Georgian sources were also active- from there the militants continued to receive small arms, including Romanian assault rifles.
As evidence of the Georgian origin of these rifles, we present an excerpt from criminal case No. 80537, initiated in Abkhazia:
.... in addition to a half-liter can of marijuana, two Kalashnikovs numbered 5848419 and 5198902, and 90 rounds, an AK-74 with number 2912, atypical for Russia, was confiscated from Givi Nikolaevich
Considering the size of the batch that arrived in Georgia in 1993, and the very close serial numbers, it can be concluded that the origin of these samples is the same.
It is noteworthy that at a certain stage Hungarian AMD-65s, which are shortened copies of a Kalashnikov assault rifle with a folding stock, began to appear in the hands of Imarat Kavkaz and IS militants. Apart from Georgia, no country neighbouring the North Caucasus uses this AK variant. The first batch of AMD-65 (1186 units) arrived in Georgia in 2008.
There is a certain anomaly in the distribution of specifically Hungarian assault rifles in the North Caucasus - since 2015, all of them have been seized exclusively in Kabardino-Balkaria. This republic directly borders on Georgia, and the border runs along the mountainous region. The most logical scenario here seems to be the direct smuggling of these machines from a neighboring country.
Their immediate source is a matter of separate discussion; Hungarian AMD-65s most likely fell into the hands of arms dealers or militants' accomplices after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, however, given the experience of past years, help directly from the Georgian side has been alleged by the Russian side.
The smuggling from Georgia was not limited to Hungarian rifles. For example, Israeli Jericho 941Fs were also spotted among the militants in small numbers. Such pistols were issued to Georgian officers, including those involved in the operation in Afghanistan. As before, the use of an Israeli weapon by hardline militants was no issue.
By far one of the most unusual example of exotic materiel in the hands of Chechen terrorists is the "American M4". Previously, no information about their use by militants simply did not exist, and in this material this rifle will be shown for the first time.
Naturally, this M4 is not the result of some kind of help from what the Russian state would name as "American special services." The reality is much more trivial, but no less interesting. To be precise, the photo above shows a Bushmaster XM15-E2S carbine, which is functionally identical to the orginal M4 Carbine. These rifles, as part of NATO assistance, were supplied for the needs of the Georgian army. During the so-called "five-day war" many "Bushmasters" were captured by all parties involved in the conflict, including the Russian army, Ossetians and Abkhazians. Moreover, in the case of the latter two, these weapons were not seized as trophies, but freely circulated between the population. According to our sources, Umarov's men bought this rifle in Abkhazia for only $1000 and brought it to Chechnya through established smuggling channels. Naturally, given the M4's status as a prized capture in Iraq and Afghanistan, this platform is a rational choice for any self-respecting leader.
Thailand, Call Girls, and the Caucasus
Although this title may sound absurd, but there is nothing strange here: this is just one of the existed channels for smuggling "status" pistols to the North Caucasus.
According to Russian state investigations, in 2010, residents of Ingushetia, associated with criminal clans, organized a large smuggling route from Thailand. There, the criminals contacted prostitutes who operated in nightclubs and offered them a way to earn extra money. According to the idea, the girls were supposed to "acquire" legal weapons from their clients (Some of whom confirmed in a later statement about the theft of their pistols). Disassembled pistols handed over to the Ingush inside various electrical appliances were sent in parcels to Russia, where they were received by the waiting party. The scheme lasted for about 5 years: in total hundreds of Glock, Sig Sauer, Ceska Zbrojovka and Walther pistols (which had been stolen from individuals in Thailand) were illegally imported. It should be understood that the pistols were not originally intended exclusively for militants, but fell into their hands as they fell into general black market circulation in the North Caucasus.
Glock pistols (Usually G17 or G19) are also used by the Russian Police and Military forces, but at present none are known to have been lost to insurgents. However, it remains possible that a small number of Glock handguns used by insurgents were originally used by the authorities.
Nevertheless, although the "Thai channel" was a major source of "status" weapons, it was not the only one. The first Glocks, which were seen with the militants back in 2007, most likely arrived via smuggling from European countries.
The most notable example of these was this particular Glock pistol, seized from IS terrorists as a result of a special operation in Ingushetia in August 2020.
If you look closely, you can see the inscription "Salve Blank 14" on the slide, as well as the coat of arms of Slovakia. Thanks to the markings, it's possible to establish the origin of this pistol. Initially, this Glock was assembled in Slovakia from assembly kits, then in 2014 deactivated for blank fire for the country's domestic market. After that in a completely inoperative state it was sent to Russia from Slovakia, where the pistol was reactivated with the aim of selling on the black market. And from there, it fell into the hands of IS terrorists: a really curious route.
Slovakia is well known as a former source of "reactivations", not limited to pistols; for example, Amedy Coulibaly used a Slovak Vz. 58 V carbine in the Hypercacher terrorist attack. These weapons have made their way all across Europe (even to the United Kingdom) and though the simple deactivation standards that marked Slovak-sourced weapons have now been dramatically improved, they still are in circulation today, probably even in Chechnya.
This two-part series has been intended to illustrate to the reader that the procurement of weapons for armed groups is not (and has never been) limited to guns that are obtained from local state stocks. Whilst local stocks are usually by far the most significant source, especially in locales with "porous" armouries and weak state control, Neighbouring states can also be a fascinating source of weapons. This is enabled by pre-existing criminal or family links.
These examples from the North Caucasus are an excellent example of trans-national smuggling enabling armed activity when groups with a need for small arms find themselves unable to procure weapons as easily as before, or merely feel the need to obtain status weapons for the sake of ego or rank.
Calibre Obscura Note: This article was written by @ArmoryBazaar with considerable assistance and editing from myself. Please follow him and his work, there is more to come. In this piece we tried to show that new light can be thrown on even non-current conflicts with a detailed approach.