Monday, 5 April 2010

Metro bombs signal a bloody reminder that terrorists reach extends into European Russia

Fountains at the Park Kultury, close to the scene of the second explosion.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I provide analysis of the week's events in Russia.

Last Tuesday, just 24 hours after suicide bombers killed 39 people on the Moscow metro, a pair of explosions claimed 12 more lives in Dagestan, a republic near Chechnya, in Russia's troubled south. Wednesday saw two further fatalities, as another bomb went off in the same region.

It was a bloody week in Russia and there is apprehension that terrorist violence, linked to Islamist separatists in the Caucasus, could escalate yet further.

Life has remained cheap in Chechnya and Dagestan, but the carnage on Moscow's metro demonstrated that insurgents are willing and able to wreak havoc right at the centre of Russian power.

I highlight the role of 'The Black Widows' and the leader who recruited them.

Under the tutelage of Chechen terror chief Doku Umarov, it is feared that 30 new members have been trained to commit further atrocities.

Although the title suggests that this suicide squadron comprises women whose husbands have been killed by Russian authorities in Chechnya, often they are simply teenage girls, who have been sold by their families, kidnapped or drugged. It is a tragic indictment of the region's lawlessness.

The Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus is exacerbated by Moscow's policy of using tribal hardmen, like Ramzan Kadyrov, to maintain order in the region.

Umarov, whose group claimed responsibility for the Moscow attacks, professes to be fighting for an independent, Islamic 'Caucasian Emirate' which would span the entire region. Militant Islam contributes to a volatile mix of separatism and tribal rivalries in the Caucasus.

Chechnya itself is experiencing relative stability under Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel, whom former Russian president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, tasked with maintaining order. Kadyrov's methods have proved brutally effective.

The republic's capital, Grozny, which was left a charred ruin after the second Chechen War, has been rebuilt with Russian money, and a degree of normality has returned to its streets. Part of the legacy which Putin passed on to his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, was supposed to be a pacified Caucasus. Many Russians are prepared to tolerate low level insurgency in the country's remote south, as long as it is contained, but a bloody reminder that the terrorists' reach extends deep into European Russia puts pressure on the Kremlin.

The reaction from Putin and his government was swift and predictable. The Prime Minister, who once threatened to "waste" terrorists "in the outdoor toilet", has vowed to "scrape them out of the sewers". His Interior Minister, Nikolai Patrushev, alluded to possible involvement by Georgia, which has, in the past, provided shelter for Chechen rebels. The truth is that Russia and the west face a common enemy. However, for Russia, it is an enemy within, and the threat it poses is complicated by a history of misgovernment and nationalist separatism.

While the Kremlin relies on a policy of divide and rule among tribes and criminal gangs, the region will remain volatile and a terrorist threat will persist.


alan said...

Somehow Russia and the West must get together with "Islam" and talk this whole thing through.Lets talk and talk..its best way

Phil said...

I am only getting around now to commenting on this dreadful happening. It was a terrible and wanton action, from which no good can possibly ever come.

However, my understanding of the Chechnya situation was that it did not begin as a religious conflict, but rather a nationalist/territorial one. It appears only now to becoming "Islamized." Russia was warned of this possible development by amongst others, Margaret Thatcher in her book "Statecraft." Perhaps by looking at ways to disengage from Chechnya for reasons of "damage limitiation", before it turns into a full blown religious conflict. I understand that Russia does not wish to have a haven for Islamist terrorism on its doorstep, but perhaps its current actions are making this possibility more, rather than less, likely.

In reponse to Owen's earlier post about Mikhail Gorbachev, I do not agree with him that the West was mistaken in rejoicing in the fall of Soviet communism. Gorbachev, it should be remembered, wished to preserve a sweeter, more humane form of communist system, and was (and is) himself a decent, humane, and principled person. Where the West DID make the mistake was by completely leaving Russia to its own devices under Yeltsin and the early days of market economics, when more guidance, support, and empathy should have been forthcoming, particularly from the US. This I regard as one of the failures of both the Bush and Clinton presidencies.

On a much happier note, today the Times carries the story that Putin has denounced the lie that covered up the Kaytn Forest Massacre, calling it a crime which could not be justified in any way and blaming it, rightly, on "inhuman totalitarianism". This is a step in the right direction if ever I heard one.

Phil Larkin

Chekov said...


It's rather like asking 'which came first, the chicken or the egg?'. No-one would deny that Russia has badly mismanaged aspects of the Chechnya crisis, or that the first Chechen war was more about secular nationalism than Islam. But 'jihad' has been a rallying cry in the north Caucasus since 'Imam' Shamil in the 19th century.

Yes, the Chechen revolution in 1991 was surprisingly similar, in personnel, as well as motivation, to other events in eastern Europe. The difference is that Chechnya is part of Russia and that, even should Russia have repudiated its claim, tribal rivalries would still have delivered crime and terror which could not be tolerated at any major power's borders.

It's worth remembering that the modern serious Islamist challenge began during a period when Chechnya enjoyed relative autonomy. It might have been little to do with religion, but that's a pattern repeated in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Due to its proximity to Dagestan, Ingushetia and even certain tribal areas of Georgia, Chechnya's internecine warfare, and the forces of Islamism, were always destined to spill over into surrounding regions.

Russia could have played its cards better, there is no doubt. It has also damaged its moral authority in the area, through the conduct of its armed forces, and its prosecution of a botched war. However the option of pulling out was never seriously a solution. Firstly, because secessionism would have spread across its southern reaches and possibly even to Siberia. Secondly, because it would have encouraged separatism and terror. Thirdly, because the region would have remained incredibly unstable and a criminal state, over which Russia has no jurisdiction, would have existed at its borders.