Crossing the Rubicon: insurgent violence in Kabardino-Balkaria and its limits

Mark Simon Youngman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the 2000s, relations between an overt Islamic social movement and religious and political authorities in the southern Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria became increasingly antagonistic. Eventually, the movement’s leadership and a significant part of its membership transitioned to full-blown insurgency. Most assessments of these developments focus on the embrace of violence, placing it in the context of the regionalisation and radicalisation of conflict in Chechnya. Equally important, however, are the limits of this violence. For many years, the movement’s leaders publicly opposed the idea of armed struggle and, even when they finally embraced it, violence for several years remained more restrained than seen elsewhere in the region. Drawing on the theoretical work of Busher, Holbrook and Macklin, this article argues that a series of intra-movement factors acted as internal brakes on violent escalation and contributed to this relative restraint and its eventual breakdown. Four closely related brakes are particularly important: the movement’s social origins and ties; attitudes regarding the moral permissibility of violence; views on the strategic benefits of violence; and the personal authority of leaders. This case illustrates how internal dynamics can limit as well as facilitate violence, and how disrupting these dynamics can exacerbate instability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-121
Number of pages16
JournalPerspectives on Terrorism
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Kabardino-Balkaria
  • North Caucasus
  • terrorism
  • insurgency
  • political violence
  • restraint


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