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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: May 10, 2010 NO. 19 MAY 13, 2010
Homegrown Hostilities
Terrorism will remain a threat to Russia's security for a long time to come



In recent months, the number of terrorist attacks in Russia has soared. Moscow and the North Caucasus republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia have all been targets of terrorist violence, which has led to a wave of deaths, injuries and property losses. These events have demonstrated the severity of the situation Russia faces, while exposing the flaws that exist in its present security climate.

The resurgence of terrorism in Russia stems from separatist activity from Chechnya, where Moscow fought two wars in the 1990s. This will remain the dominant threat to Russia's security for some time to come.

Motivating factors


SUBTERRANEAN SUICIDE: A policeman and two medical workers await victims at a Moscow subway station hit by a suicide attack on March 29 (WEI DAFANG)

The roots of the recent terrorist attacks are grounded in ethnic conflicts. As Vladimir Putin took power as Russian president in 2000, he continued to suppress Chechen rebels with an iron fist. But he was unable to fully rout the illegal armed forces there. In addition, economic difficulties, rampant corruption, clan violence and substandard living standards in the North Caucasus region all allowed terrorists the ability to survive.

Although Moscow spent the better part of a decade destroying the main force of the separatist militants in Chechnya and, afterwards, pushing for post-war reconstruction, Chechens never outgrew their hatred against the Russians. Owing to historical conflicts and local animosities, anti-Russian fervor, in fact, remained deeply rooted in the hearts of many Chechens. Indeed, these emotions were only strengthened by the incredible devastation of the Chechen wars.

Armed suppression is an important means of combating terrorism, but it is not the only means. Nor can it be the sole means by which to address politically motivated ethnic conflicts. North Caucasus is a region where ethnic and religious conflicts are the most complex in all of Russia.

People there share similar appearances, cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as close social relations. And although they long for stability and peace, many of them also possess sympathy for separatists.

To resolve regional ethnic conflicts, the Russian Government must work harder to eliminate the psychological barriers that exist between peoples in the region while striking an effective balance by simultaneously improving the living standards of local people.

When Putin was president, he smashed Chechen separatist forces ruthlessly head-on, depriving them of their ability to directly confront Russian armed forces. But remnants of the separatist forces managed to survive the initial attacks and moved their operational bases to the sanctuary of the Caucasus Mountains and Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to avoid frontal attacks by the Russian military.

After a period of rehabilitation, they then re-emerged as a force to be reckoned with. In January, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev said that the terrorist groups had even begun to receive military training from foreign instructors with the aim of carrying out terrorist activities within Russian territory.

The forceful crackdown by the Russian authorities, in ways, led to a strong comeback by the terrorists. In 2009, for example, Russian forces killed more than 500 militants in North Caucasus. After a November bomb attack on a Russian express train en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, the Russians were forced to embark on yet another round of counterinsurgency operations.

A number of armed militant leaders and planners of the bomb attack were killed in that operation. Then in January this year, the Russian Government established the North Caucasus Federal District in a bid to eliminate the roots of terrorism through the implementation of a regional legal and economic framework.

Against this backdrop, Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov and other determined separatists claimed that they would launch a series of attacks on Russia to avenge the counterinsurgency operations. Terrorist activities in North Caucasus and even in some central cities of Russia returned dramatically.

It is worth noting that the economic stagnation and the rampant government corruption in North Caucasus have planted the seeds for the re-emergence of terrorism. The North Caucasus region—where Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan are located—have long been home to wars and economic stagnation.

The current world economic crisis, of course, has only made things worse. The estimated unemployment rates in Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, for instance, have hit 50 percent, 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Beyond that, corruption among government officials has ensured that the capital distributed by the Russian Federal Government for local development cannot be effectively utilized. Instead, some of the money has even gone into the hands of the militants.

In 2009, the Russian Federal Government gave more than 26 billion rubles ($8.98 billion) for development to the region, but much of the money went instead directly into the pockets of local government officials. Thus the local economy worsened—along with people's living conditions. This high level of discontent, in turn, also contributed to terrorist activity.

Reductions in the ranks of counterterrorism forces in the region, too, have worsened things. On April 16, 2009, in order to create a more favorable environment for social and economic development for the Chechen people, Russia's National Counterterrorism Committee declared a formal end to the 10-year-long operational activities in Chechnya.

Consequently, some 20,000 Russian soldiers withdrew—leaving only 7,000 behind. The removal of such a large number of troops created a significant power vacuum. Not surprisingly, the security situation deteriorated soon thereafter.

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