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Terrorism continues to be a thorn on Russia’s side

By Thanapathi
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 killed 35.
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 31.
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 independence.

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 subway.
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 tragically common.
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 civilians.
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 has failed.
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 Soviet Union.
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 independence.
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 attack.
These investments are expected to ease the economic deprivation of the region that has fuelled calls for independence.
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.