More foreign fighters are thought to have joined the Islamic State (ISIS) from the former Soviet Union than from any other region of the world. The most prominent and active contingent came from the North Caucasus in southern Russia. Many of the underlying causes of radicalization and recruitment remain unresolved, and violence and instability may grow in the region in the post-ISIS era. The international community and U.S. government should engage constructively with Russian and local authorities in addressing the legacy of over two decades of fighting in the region, ineffective deradicalization programs, and the impunity and corruption seen as inherent in both government and law enforcement.
It is estimated that a quarter of the approximately 30,000 foreign fighters who came to join ISIS were from the former USSR. The largest percentage of those fighters came from Russia, and Russia is considered to be the country from which more recruits travelled to Syria and Iraq than from any other. Within Russia, by far the largest contingent arrived from the North Caucasus region, a patchwork of republics and ethnicities on the northern slopes and approaches of the Caucasus Mountains, stretching between the Black and Caspian seas in the southwest of the country. Others were ethnic Chechens, also known as Kists, from the southern slopes of the Caucasus in Georgia, or Chechen émigrés who had settled mostly in European countries. The largest groups were Chechen or from Dagestan – according to some estimates, up to 5,000 men, women and children.