Terrorism continues to be a thorn on Russia’s side
Last week Russia faced yet another deadly terrorist
assault when a suicide bomber carried out a deadly
attack at Moscow’s main airport killing dozens.
This was the deadliest attack in Russia far nearly a
year but is not by far the worst violence seen in
the capital in the last decade.
No group or individual has claimed responsibility
for the latest attacks, but the assumption is that
it is the work of Islamist fundamentalists, related
to Russia’s troubled north Caucasus — though Dmitry
Medvedev, Russia’s president, and Vladimir Putin,
its prime minister were careful not to say so
publicly. Police claimed that the attack was carried
out by an Islamic group from the troubled region. An
ethnic Russian member of a militant group has
emerged as the first suspect in the bombing that
Days after the attack unofficial reports have
pointed to a link with a North Caucasus militant
group which is thought to have been responsible for
another mysterious explosion in Moscow on December
The Kommersant daily said the investigation was
focussing on a man named Razdobudko from the
Stavropol region just north of the Caucasus
Mountains who is suspected of belonging to militant
group Nogaisky Dzhamaat.
Russia’s fight with religious extremists is now
nearly two decades old.
What used to be a war with breakaway Chechnyan
rebels have morphed into a multi-pronged battle with
numerous groups that have sprouted out in the many
Muslim Republics in Russia’s southern border.
In the 1990s, Russian troops were facing near defeat
in Chechnya when current Prime Minister, Valdamir
Putin took over the presidency.
The former KGB agent, unleashed an unapologetic and
brutal crack-down on insurgents in Chechnya and
surrounding republics that were clamouring for
The rebels in turn resorted to take the battle to
the Russian capital unleashing an orgy of violence
that has seen hundreds of civilians killed.
During the early stages of the Chechnyan War
terrorist carried out a deadly attack on a Moscow
theatre which left nearly 600 people dead, most from
a failed rescue attempt by Special Forces.
Last week’s attack brought back more recent memories
of an equally successful attack carried out by
terrorists in March 2010.
That carried out by two women, later dubbed as
‘Black Widows’ killed 40 civilians in the Moscow
This week’s air port attack was condemned around the
world yet greeted with an air of resignation in
Moscow, partly because suicide bombings have become
Chechens, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims,
regard the region as their ancient homeland, while
Moscow fears the creation of an independent
Muslim-majority state within its current borders and
has refused to grant any real autonomy.
Soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union Chechen
managed to force the withdrawal of tens of thousands
of Russian troops who had been sent to the region to
prevent Chechnya declaring its independence.
Then in 1999, the Russians came back with more than
90,000 troops and carried out a scorched-earth
campaign that killed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000
Ordinary guerrilla tactics and hostage-taking, key
to ousting the Russians the first time, now took the
rebels nowhere and so the insurgents sought out new
tactics, such as a suicide bomb campaign, with those
women in black as a crucial part of the effort.
Both President Dimitri Medvedev and premier Putin
have insisted that taking a hard line against
insurgents is essential.
Medvedev has described extremism in the North
Caucasus as a cancerous tumour that simply must not
spread. However Medvedev has been an advocate of
addressing what he has termed ‘the root causes’ of
terrorism in the Caucasus, including poverty and
corruption, in contrast to the tougher tone of his
mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Critics, though, say Russia’s hard-line policy
They point to two Russian wars in Chechnya which
were not able to prevent consistent attacks by
insurgent groups. Some argue that Russian government
has only stoked more anger and that, in turn, has
helped insurgent groups to recruit. Many minority
groups in Russia, especially Muslim communities now
fear retribution for the attacks.
Russians have been fighting Islamist terrorist and
insurgents long before such groups became a problem
to the West.
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan since
1979 till the end of the next decade the US armed
and trained the numerous Mujahideen fighters that
fought against the Soviet forces.
It is these same Mujahideen who would later fan out
and flare up insurgent movements in the
predominantly Islamic Russian provinces.
After nearly two decades of fighting several groups
the Russians do not seem any closer to defeating the
insurgents and terrorists.
The reality has been that these troubled regions
have been laid to waste by the Russians without any
development while the rest of the country has seen
considerable progress since the breakup of the
President Medvedev, despite his harsh rhetoric seems
to have grasped that there will be no end to
terrorism of the nature seen in Moscow this week
unless the root causes of the problem are addressed.
Yet continuing attacks will undermine his ability to
convince more hard line elements within the
government, including Prime Minister Putin that a
more conciliatory policy towards the troubled North
Caucasus region will yield less violence.
The military backed up Putin would prefer the
continuation of the uncompromising crushing of all
rebel or terrorist movements.
They would point to the success of impairing the
Chechnyan rebellion even though that may have
resulted in many other groups sprouting.
For decades Russians have refused to grant any
degree of autonomy to the North Caucasus region
while they have not delivered on the promise of
development that was hoped to reduce calls for
Russian leaders did however use an international
gathering of the world business elite last week to
pitch an ambitious $15 billion plan to open the
Caucasus to ski tourism, despite this week’s bomb
These investments are expected to ease the economic
deprivation of the region that has fuelled calls for
Whether economic incentives alone, in the absence of
political dialogue, reforms and a reasonable degree
of autonomy will be enough to silence the many rebel
groups is a point of contention.