Skip to comments.Russia's Long (and Brutal) War on Terror
Posted on 08/24/2010 7:20:29 AM PDT by cunning_fish
On a Monday morning, March 29, suicide bombers attacked two metro stations in the heart of Moscow. The detonations, timed 40 minutes apart during rush hour for maximum damage, in some ways resembled the 2004 commuter-train attack in Madrid, the July 7 bombings in London a year later and numerous other public acts of terrorism around the globe. These similarities were not lost on world leaders, who were quick to express not just sympathy but also empathy. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, "When Moscow is attacked, we are all attacked." In June, just days before the exposure of a U.S.-based Russian spy network, Barack Obama stressed unity with visiting Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, saying that "terrorists threaten both our people, be it in Times Square or in Moscow."But if Russia faces a similar threat, that does not mean it has the same approach to the war on terrorism.
(Excerpt) Read more at time.com ...
The Fortress City
Moscow was a fortress before it was ever a city. The Kremlin, sited on Borovitskaya Hill in 1156, was its first grand building, made originally from pine, then oak, limestone and finally red brick. As its walls grew thick, Moscow began the "gathering of Russia"--the conquering of principalities around it. It was the beginning of an expansion that, at the zenith of Soviet power, encompassed not just Russians but the world's largest tapestry of subject peoples: more than 100 ethnic groups speaking more than 200 languages, living in 11 time zones. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moscow divested itself of many of those entanglements, but some regions that agitated for more autonomy were located inside the century-old border of Russia and could not be carved out. Chief among these was the North Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim region that includes Chechnya, a tiny republic that fought two failed wars of independence. Since 2007, Chechnya has been ruled by the strong hand of Ramzan Kadyrov, a Kremlin-backed president who at first extinguished all open rebellion. But even Kadyrov's grip is slipping, and the fight against the Kremlin has flared in neighboring republics, which have served as a base for insurgent groups to mount successful attacks from southern Russia all the way to the fortress city on the Moscow river.The March 29 bombers, Dzhennet Abdullayeva, 17, and Maryam Sharipova, 28, were so-called black widows--young women radicalized by the death or disappearance of their husbands--from Dagestan, a tiny, mountainous republic south of Chechnya that, together with the rest of the North Caucasus, serves as a strategically important buffer between Russia proper and its enemies (like Mikheil Saakashvili's Georgia) to the south.
Dagestan's sorry recent history mirrors that of the rest of the region. The post-Soviet era was chaotic and corrupt. Regional governments co-opted Sufism--a variant of Islam popular in Central and South Asia--by building government Islamic schools and mosques, but their own venal appetites tainted the faith by association. So when students and preachers began bringing Wahhabism--the strict Saudi version of Islam--to the North Caucasus, it seemed clean, devout, otherworldly. The ensuing struggle between Kremlin-backed Sufi authorities and the growing tide of Wahhabis has been bloody and clannish, and it has reached far beyond the mountains of the Caucasus. In Dagestan, a Chechen former engineer named Doku Umarov has declared himself the emir of the nonexistent emirate of the Caucasus. Umarov claimed responsibility for the Moscow-metro bombings, telling Russians in a video message, "I promise you that the war will come to your streets and you will feel it in your lives, feel it on your own skin."
It is not surprising to hear a terrorist leader making ghoulish threats, but in Russia, the authorities talk just as tough. Putin, who flew to a Russian base in Chechnya shortly after becoming President in 1999 to hand out daggers to the soldiers, was relatively restrained after the March 29 bombing when he said that those responsible "will be eliminated." President Medvedev flew to Dagestan shortly thereafter and was heard on national TV telling his commanders that although Russia had been able to "take the heads off the most notorious gangsters," they may need to use "harsher" methods. Kadyrov was blunter yet, writing in an editorial for the Russian paper Isvestia that "terrorists must be hunted down and found in their lairs, they must be poisoned like rats, they must be crushed and destroyed."
Boris Dubin, a sociologist and pollster with the Levada Center in Moscow, says that Putin's rhetorical flourishes over the years--he once promised to kill terrorists "in the outhouse," to scrape them from the sewers--are calculated political theater. "There is a Russian code of political language," Dubin says. "From time to time, you should use crude language." This bravura echoes on national television news, which is largely controlled by the Kremlin. A characteristic of the Putin era is that TV news avoids coverage of disaster. (It took several hours for the major networks to acknowledge the Moscow attacks.) And when coverage does begin, it is carefully focused on acts of composure and resolve by the authorities. "The general message of Russian television is that we--Putin and Medvedev--are in charge," says Masha Lipman, a media expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center.Russians seem to take comfort from this paternalistic message. Dubin's polling shows that Putin's approval ratings hovered around 80% before and after the latest attacks, as it had through previous national tragedies. "It's as if we had several Katrinas and the approval rating of the President and Prime Minister remained at 80%," says Lipman.
The Downside of Paternalism
But faith in Medvedev and Putin doesn't extend to the institutions below them, which means few Russians are inclined to play their part in the war on terrorism. New Yorkers are familiar with signs saying "If you see something, say something," and it was a street vendor in Times Square who first alerted the police to the smoldering SUV bomb that failed to detonate in May. Russians have little trust in their police: in one survey, 55% said the government could do nothing to protect Russians from terrorism and 24% said they think the security services themselves may have played a role in the metro attacks.
This mistrust of the authorities is even more acute in Moscow's immigrant communities, where Russian law enforcement--unlike police in, say, New York City or London--has failed to cultivate informants and maintain other useful relationships. Svetlana Gannushkina, a human-rights worker and advocate for Moscow's immigrant communities, says that after earlier attacks, it was "simply a hunt" throughout Moscow for Chechens, even Georgians--anyone from the Caucasus. Security analyst Andrei Soldatov says xenophobia among officials is "the biggest problem" in the war on terrorism. "Law enforcement intimidates the North Caucasians all the time. There's no trust," he says. "But if you want to fight terrorism, you have to work closely with those communities."
A visit to Friday services at the Moscow Central Mosque shows just how marginalized the Muslim diaspora in Moscow is. The barricaded street leading up to the mosque is not supposed to be prayer space, but hundreds of worshippers roll out their prayer rugs on the asphalt. Head imam Ildar Alyautdinov explains that in a city with 2 million Muslims, the authorities have allowed only three mosques. "You can talk about human rights," he says, "but we are not allowed to worship here."
There are more acute injustices--particularly for those immigrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus who fall victim to xenophobic violence. SOVA, a human-rights group, counted 19 murders committed by right-wing extremists in Russia in the first half of 2010, down from 50 during the same period in 2009. The apparent decrease may be due to stepped-up pressure on extreme nationalist groups, but Alyautdinov says the government still doesn't offer enough protection from vigilantes. When I meet with leaders of the ultranationalist group Russky Obraz (Russian Way)--all carrying daggers, one with a swastika tattoo on his calf--they say they don't encourage violence. But Evgeny Valyaev, one of the leaders, says, "It's no secret that the North Caucasians are the foundation and root of terror in Russia." Adds his compatriot Iliya Goryachev: "The [Muslim] community here does serve as an incubator for terrorism ... They have to respect our human rights if they want us to respect theirs."The Kremlin's statements after the March 29 bombings were surprisingly moderate in another respect: no generals went on TV saying that Islam is a religion of violence, as had happened before. Alyautdinov credits this, ironically, to Russia's reliance on Kadyrov: the handpicked Chechen president is a devout Muslim. Moscow has given Kadyrov a free rein that has of late become increasingly unseemly. In an unprecedented March meeting in the Kremlin, human-rights workers complained personally to Medvedev about Kadyrov's threats against them. Medvedev seemed sympathetic, one participant told me, but in July, rights groups again had to evacuate Chechnya after Kadyrov called them "enemies of the people." Kadyrov's henchman have also been accused of assassinating dissidents and political opponents at home and abroad. But Putin needs Kadyrov, and Russia has important trading partners in the Middle East. The Kremlin, it appears, has ordered its generals to stop using terrorism as a pretext for verbal attacks on Islam.
An Unquestioned Strategy
If the generals were muzzled, their guns were not. After the metro bombings, massive ground operations were carried out in select Dagestani villages. Details are sketchy, but the local authorities are said to have used overwhelming force. Journalist Yulia Yuzik was there and said that in one raid, police simply blew up a house with two wanted men inside instead of apprehending them. TIME photographer Yuri Kozyrev met many victims of the authorities in Dagestan, including a mother whose son was killed by police, she said, after he was singled out for having a long beard.
But there was a media blackout on the offensive, and most Russians paid little attention to what was happening in the mountains. "People forget they are living in a country at war," says Andrey Cherkasov, of the human-rights group Memorial. Nor were lawmakers especially keen to know what was going on. Among the "reforms" suggested by the Russian parliament right after the bombings was a proposition to crack down on any media outlet that quoted Umarov or gave him a platform in any way.
The Kremlin's brute counterterrorism tactics are rooted largely in the fact that there is little free press or political opposition to hold it accountable for the deaths of civilians. Imagine the clamor in Britain if a police action against a terrorist group in London ended with scores of dead civilians. In Russia, Putin is lauded by many for ordering the violent end to a standoff with hostage-taking terrorists in a Moscow theater in 2002: 130 hostages died. Putin "deserves respect for being man enough to give the order to storm the building," says Aleksey Filatov, a retired special-forces lieutenant colonel who runs an association of veterans of Alfa Group, Russia's elite hostage-rescue unit. Putin likewise shook off criticism two years later when another hostage situation--in an elementary school in Beslan--ended with government forces charging into the premises, guns blazing: 334 hostages died, including 186 children.Each terrorist attack, in fact, has been used as a pretext for even more Kremlin control. The Beslan crisis, for example, was blamed on local authorities, and since then there have been no regional elections; all governors are now loyal Kremlin appointees. Two months after the March 29 attacks, the parliament approved a broad expansion of Russia's counterintelligence services, giving them the right to deliver warnings to people who haven't committed a crime but are viewed as potential criminals or terrorists.
It is left to the country's beleaguered human-rights groups to collect eyewitness accounts in order to find out what's happening in Dagestan. Memorial, which started out cataloging the past abuses of the Soviet system, is now the main voice for victims of Kremlin-sponsored violence in places like Dagestan and Chechnya. The organization's Cherkasov reckons that in all, at least 3,000 civilians have disappeared--largely at the hands of Kremlin-backed security forces--since the end of the second Chechen war in 2000. (One of these was Memorial worker Natalia Estemirova, who was kidnapped and executed last summer.) The crackdowns happening now in the Caucasus are just a continuation of a long and brutal strategy, he says, and even if the Kremlin wins, it would just be "the victory of one type of barbarism over another."
Russia's war on terrorism is essentially a civil war. "Our Afghanistan is inside Russia" is how Lipman puts it. Even so, on most days, the war feels far away. This may well be a credit to the Kremlin's powers of misdirection and distraction. At a huge Moscow rally organized by Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group, 65,000 young Russians were bused in from all over the country to celebrate victory--not in the war on terrorism but in World War II. The string of speakers hardly mentioned terrorism, choosing instead to focus on other bogeymen: opposition leaders, foreign media and foreign leaders who had apparently insulted the memory of Russia's sacrifice in the Great Patriotic War. Teenagers lined up by the dozens to turn in books--ostensibly for return to the publishers--written by Kremlin opponents like the leaders of Georgia and Estonia and opposition politicians like Gary Kasparov.
The authoritarian overtones of the rally, where everyone wore matching faux-military T-shirts and had been issued replica Kalashnikov cartridges, were chilling. But there was an added component, an orderliness that was breathtaking for Russia: 65,000 teenagers and not one of them smoking or drinking. It reminded me of the allure of the Wahhabi extremists who recruit young people in Dagestan: in a chaotic and muddy land, the clean-swept mosques and confident composure of the Wahhabi leaders is a tremendous sales pitch.
The same can be said of the Kremlin. Its pitch is that Russian authorities are strong enough to muscle their way to victory. But explosions continue to hit the North Caucasus on a daily basis, and Moscow remains at risk. In mid-July, another six would-be suicide bombers were arrested before they could be "deployed" to major Russian cities, according to police. This is the real indictment of the Kremlin's strategy: its iron fist keeps striking the Caucasus, and the Caucasus keeps striking back.
This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2010 issue of TIME.
Well, Arabs thinks US supported Israel in deporting them from their land & stealing Arab oil. Does it make excuse for 9/11?
I got your point but you have to learn more about Chechens to have an adequate opinion.
Russians had issues with them before and solved it the way they did for a good reason.
You have to admit, Russia’s terrorists are braver than ours. Russia has a man in the Kremlin, so they know that if they commit some act of terrorism they’re going to have Putin on their tails and it’s going to end badly for them. But we don’t have a man running things; if they commit an act of terror against the United States, Obama is going to furrow his brow and say that it’s unacceptable.
Russians incorporated Caucasus into their empire in 19th century through brutal suppression of locals. Then under commies Stalin went 1 step further. Basically they each deserve the other Russians and Chechens. Russians long killed all of the Chechen leaders that could be reasoned with by now it is a war of long term extermination for all practical purposes.
Arabs might think.. that does not make it true. What happened to Chechens is true. Thats just the chechens, then there are other nationalities in that region that hate Russians almost as much. It won’t end any time soon.
The problem is they are not a nations. They have neither formed any stable form of government nor had a working economy. And they don’t want it as well as to get skills and jobs.
Chechnya has won an independence twice in 1992 and 1996. Both times it turned into a genocide against a non-Chechens just to realise they have no one to work for their food stamps left.
Pretty same as US race riots back when + automatic weapons and airstrikes.
No matter how do they hate Russia. Russia is a single mean for their survival. Just like a US minorities. They may hate white conservatives but they are still living on their tax money.
So maybe Russia should fight the terrorists running amok on their own soil instead of invading Georgia to punish them for being America’s friend.
Georgia is not a friend of America but a mosquito sucking American taxpayers. American aid is about a quarter of their national income (another half is sent there by a million of Georgians working in Russia illegally). And it is a dictatorship using your taxes to pay media and their type of useful idiots here for praising them as a democracy to get more support and money.
At the same time Georgian people are lacking basic freedoms, getting beaten if they are protesting against the government. The government were given shelter to a Chechen terrorists for years.
Their President is a drama queen dictator, a NYC lawyer busy to establish his image here like he is ‘our guy’.
At the same time he is instable. Look at his behaviour during the conflict with Russia. He was chewing his tie on a live tv, running away from his own airforce like a chicken with dozens of reporters filming it. Not to mention his comments on the situation made Rice who was standing near him mad. He was busy to suck the US into war with Russia. I also heard he hired a Brooklin stripper as a minister just recently. It tells a lot about him.
Your pro-Georgian bias here is ridiculous. No offence,but sometimes I think you are Saakashvily himself:)
I do agree with you 100% that Russia is a negative factor for a developing of it’s neighbours in the region. But it still the factor to work with. Some 70 years ago UK was seen as same negative factor in Africa. If one thinks things improved there with British has left he is a crack smoker.
Georgia is more of a democracy than Russia. Russia is the dictatorship. KGB Putin has made Russian “democracy” a tasteless joke. Georgia is free, the opposition even meets and collaborates openly with the Russian aggressor and occupier. It is Russia who beats its own people if they speak against Putin’s neo-Soviet KGB regime. Putin’s father was NKVD and his grandfather was Lenin’s cook! He is a Chekist to the core. Saakashvili is more of a leader than Brokeback Putin and his ridiculous shirtless posturing.
C’mon both Georgia and Russia are not free to about the same degree.
And Russia is still a better place to live, ask a million Georgians who are immigrants there.
Georgia does look like a free heaven just because the media lies it.
As for KGB, remember both Stalin and his security chief Beria are from Georgia.
Saakashvili’s wife Sandra in her interview to a European paper told Stalin is a model leader for Saakashvili. That is something his paid lobbists in US won’t let you hear about.
When Putin met with Saakashvili he said “Thanks for giving us Stalin.”
I wasn’t invited to witness it and I have no idea how does it proves a Georgian democracy.
If Putin has really told it we just have two stalinists in both Russia and Georgia.
At the same time most Russians, except a few senile senior whiskers, dislike Stalin.
In contrast, a lot of Georgians are proud with him, as any tiny nation who has famous person like that.
Didn’t you hear Saakashvili removed the statue of Stalin from Gori? Putin’s neo-Soviet Chekist Russia gets mad when nations destroy such Soviet monuments. They call it blasphemy to destroy Soviet monuments. They don’t consider their own mummified Lenin monument blasphemous though.
Well, playing American friend you have to drop some of your principles.
Russians have started to remove Stalin’s statues in late 50s. They barely had a few by 1989.
It took 21 more years for Saakashvili to get rid of that.
In the USSR all Stalin's statues have been removed in the sixties. (except the one on his grave). The fact that Saakashvili's removing was more recent makes Georgia look more Stalinist than Russia.
Putins neo-Soviet Chekist Russia gets mad when nations destroy such Soviet monuments. They call it blasphemy to destroy Soviet monuments.
This applies solely to the monuments in honour (and often on a grave) of Soviet soldiers deceased during the WWII.
They dont consider their own mummified Lenin monument blasphemous though.
Lenin isn't another name for Stalin.
Perhaps you are unaware that Lenin’s unburied dead body continues to be revered and worshipped in Red Square to this day. While Georgia is removing monuments to Stalin, Russia has turned the whole Moscow metro into a Stalin monument and is busy trying to rehabilitate the communist mass murderer. Only communists who worship the Soviet Union would call the destruction of Soviet monuments “blashemous.”
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