What is the context?

The Russian-Caucasian Wars


Under his religious and military leadership, Imam Shamil quickly formed an alliance of tribes across Dagestan, Chechnya and Lezghian and, later the Circassian peoples as well.  Relying on guerilla warfare he soon provided  formidable opposition to Russian forces in the mountains where the Russians found it difficult to maintain their supply lines for any length of time.


In 1839 Shamil, along with his family and some of his supporters, were besieged by Russian forces at  Akhulgo in Dagestan.  Fierce resistance led to a stalemate and negotiations were opened  between Shamil and the Russian commanders.  He handed over his son as a token of good faith but the son was then sent back to St Petersburg as a hostage and the Russian troops launched another assault. Shamil and his family escaped through Russian lines.   


In 1843 his forces captured all but one Russian outpost in Avaria. The Russian army had over 2000 casualties. Two years later his troops withstood a major Russian offensive and when the Tsar’s army withdrew Shamil‘s forces hurried and ambushed  them  back to their base.


He came to the attention of the international media in 1849 when he and his followers kidnapped Princess Anna of Georgia, a close friend of the Tsarina and offered her in exchange for his son.   The first example of political counter- hostage taking in the modern era.


The Russian campaign in the Caucasus was temporarily suspended in the autumn of 1853 so that the Russian regiments could fight in  the Crimean War (October 1853-February 1856).