In October 2007, veteran Chechen field commander Dokka Umarov proclaimed the formation of the Caucasus Emirate (IK), formalising the victory of the North Caucasus insurgency’s Islamist wing over its nationalist-separatists. During Umarov’s time as leader, the North Caucasus experienced sustained violence and the IK claimed responsibility for multiple terrorist attacks in and beyond the region. However, despite the importance of ideology in understanding insurgent behaviour, the IK’s ideology and Umarov’s role in shaping it remain understudied. Using Social Movement Theory’s concept of framing to analyse Umarov’s communiqués throughout his lengthy tenure (June 2006–September 2013), this article identifies three distinct phases in Umarov’s ideological positioning of the insurgency: nationalist-jihadist (June 2006–October 2007); Khattabist (October 2007–late 2010); and partially hybridised (late 2010–September 2013).
The article contributes to debates over typologies of jihadist actors by highlighting the difficulties in applying them to the North Caucasus and provides a clearer understanding of the IK’s ideological transformation and the limits to its engagement with external actors. The article also illustrates that weakness was a key factor in explaining that transformation and identifies several avenues for research that could further enhance our understanding of the IK’s ideology and the role it plays.