Ramzan Kadyrov posted on his Instagram account last week a photo of Umarov, claiming again that Umarov was dead. The message [http://rkadyrov.tumblr.com/post/92187712754] (which was later taken down) was essentially gloating, saying that he [Kadyrov] had been right, and that Umarov was truly dead. What Kadyrov did not say was that his so-called photo proof was a cleaned-up screenshot of a video posted that same day by Kavkaz Center, the rebel press center’s website [note: the video has since been removed by YouTube, which says that it violates their “policy on violence”]. The video is about 10 minutes long, but approximately half of that is old footage of Umarov, and the burial of his body.
There are about 6 men in the video surrounding Umarov’s dead body. According to the first speaker, Khamzat [Aslan Byutukayev], the video was recorded on the 7th of September 2013. Umarov had died in the night. The entire film has been subtitled into Russian, as the men are speaking Chechen, rather than Russian through much of it.
It is still unclear how exactly Umarov died. His associates, unsurprisingly, do not seem to know. According to Khamzat, Umarov may have been poisoned, but he denies it was deliberate. He notes that they ate with some Ingush the month before, and four men had died afterward, presumably of food poisoning. He implies that Umarov also died from this.
I’m not a medical expert by any means, but it seems unlikely that Umarov got light food poisoning and then lingered on for another month. It seems more likely that he died of some ongoing complaint. I cannot prove this, of course, but there had been rumours about Umarov being in poor health for quite some time. And his system must have been severely weakened… he was out in the forest for 14 years without proper hygiene or regular medical care. Umarov’s reason for his resignation in August 2010 was due to ill health, though he later retracted this [http://www.rferl.org/content/Video_Purports_To_Show_Chechen_Rebel_Reversal/2118458.html].
And the FSB alleged that Umarov had diabetes back in 2011, though Umarov denied it [http://www.rferl.org/content/north_caucasus_insurgent_leader_still_alive/3550388.html].
On the other hand, compare the Umaro)v death video to this one [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXxOi8rfDrA] which was allegedly taken at about the same time (probably within days of Umarov’s passing). He looks healthy enough, though, of course, not all ailments are obvious or clearly visible to the naked eye.
Amir Makhran [Saidov] then corroborates Khamzat’s story, but denies it was a ‘special operation’ by the authorities. ‘It wasn’t Putin, or Kadyrov…’ he says.
The exact circumstances or cause of Umarov’s death will probably never be known. He is buried in the forest of Chechnya in an unmarked grave, and an autopsy is impossible under the circumstances.
Kadyrov will keep claiming responsibility for it, of course. This is understandable. He needs to do so to shore up his legitimacy in the eyes of his people and Moscow. It’s just politics and survival for him.
We’ve already seen what Umarov’s death means for the insurgency to a certain degree. The center of action has now moved east to Daghestan, and will potentially stay there for the near future. This is not to say the Chechen insurgency will be inactive. But perhaps they will be more cautious in the future. Certainly they are being quite cautious in the way they distribute information. It took over 10 months to release this most recent video. That is a really long time by anyone’s standards. Some of that may have been spent cleaning up the video, adding subtitles, and doing the over-the-top special effects. But even granting that… you are still talking 6 months (minimum) to get the footage out of Chechnya and to whoever is running the website. This implies that they’re transporting it via courier and not electronically.
One other bit of news that may be related to all of this. While Kavkaz Center is still operational and accessible, a Chechnya focused website has been put online [http://checheninfo.com/].