April 1, 2010

The Caucasus: 9/11 Hall of Mirrors

The explosions and death tolls are incomparable, but there’s no doubt that the coordinated attacks on Russian infrastructure have a 9/11 feel. Maybe because every major terror attack - the UK, Spain, Pakistan, India, and now Russia - is styled in the 9/11 mold by the government and media for maximum effect.

9/11 analogies can be found in any US or international newspaper, but a multitude of similarities trump the “terrorist” link.

For starters Moscow’s response couldn’t be more American. First Prime Minister Vladimir Putin superfluously threatened, “We know that they are lying low. But it is a matter of honor for the security services to drag them out of the bottom of the sewers into the light of God.”

President Dmitry Medvedev was right behind him: "This job is even harder than looking for and destroying terrorists. But we will do it anyway, as well as establish order by using forcible methods."

Certainly there’s a high degree of political posturing going on here, especially since Putin’s image is sliding in the wake of a surging Chechen insurgency, but what could be more 9/11? How about missed warnings, Osama bin Laden, and Afghanistan?

Andrei Soldatov, an investigative reporter who covers Russian security agencies, claims the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) ignored early signs the rebels were shifting tactics and preparing to resume attacks in Moscow. How that’s possible seems impossible, very 9/11-ish. Last month Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, aka Dokka Abu Usman, threatened to target Russian population centers.

Following Osama bin Laden’s blueprint, the “Emir of the Caucasus Emirate” warned in February, “If Russians think that the war is happening only on television, somewhere far off in the Caucasus, and it will not touch them, then we are going to show them that this war will return to their homes.”

Like bin Laden, Umarov’s threats went unheeded.

"You Russians only see the war on television and hear about it on the radio, and this is why you are quiet and do not react to the atrocities that your bandit groups under Putin's command carry out in the Caucasus," Umarov says in a 4.5-minute video released yesterday. "I promise you that the war will come to your streets, and you will feel it in your lives and under your skin."

Shamsuddin Botokayov, a representative of the "Caucasus Emirate,” told Al Jazeera, "Our emir says he wants the Russian people to wake up and to tell Putin and his government to leave the Caucasus and go back home. The emir says that this attack will not be the last, the coming will even be bigger.”

Yes, bigger. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said foreign involvement in the attacks had not been ruled out.

"We all know very well that clandestine terrorists are very active on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. "We know that several attacks have been prepared there, to be carried out not only in Afghanistan, but also in other countries. Sometimes, these journeys go as far as the Caucasus.”

But the ultimate question is how far Russia will go in mirroring 9/11. Will it follow the usual script and further inflame the situation in the Caucasus through force and oppression? Or will it learn from America’s mistakes and apply counterinsurgency to an insurgency instead of predictable counter-terrorism?

Russian leaders are sending mixed signals.

"We destroy terrorists and will continue to destroy them," Medvedev said, who also boasted of “annihilating” previous insurgents. "But it is much more difficult to create correct, modern conditions for education, for conducting business, for overcoming the clan system."

The latter rhetoric would be flowing if a radical shift in Russian strategy had materialized, not thrown in at the end. Medvedev had been doing well to succumb to the reality of poverty in the Caucasus region, but not slipping back into iron fist mode has proven challenging. He must hold strong if he sincerely understands the roots of conflict.

The wiser approach to the Caucasus, no matter how deadly the insurgent network grows, is what Medvedev described back in June 2009 - a politico-economic solution.

“It is no secret to anyone here that these problems in the North Caucasus, and in the south of our country in general, are systemic,” he said in Daghestan. “By saying that, I am referring to the low living standards, high unemployment and massive, horrifyingly widespread corruption.”

Gennady Gudkov, the deputy chair of the security committee of the State Duma, recently acknowledged, "It's not tough actions against terrorism that fuel tensions, but the violations of human rights that happen because of the incorrect actions of law enforcement organs and power structures. The population today often suffers from lawlessness coming from the law enforcement organs."

Originally we were going to advise, in the chaotic aftermath of the bombings, not to rush back into old habits. Now is the best time to demonstrate new learning, keep anger in check, and patiently hold the course towards social development. But those US newspapers that aren’t calling for Umarov’s head already have this basic truth covered.

Many Russians know it well.

So instead we’re looking towards will happen, not what should happen, and judging by Russia’s behavior the forecast is more gun showers and bomb blasts. Accordingly this is exactly what Umarov and most Chechen insurgents desire, for Russia to swallow the bait of their attacks - an 9/11 type response.

"The FSB is still inclined toward a shoot-to-kill policy in the North Caucasus," Soldatov said. "This approach works against large groups of militants in the forests but not against would-be suicide bombers. They simply love their brutal tactics.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, human rights worker Magomed Mutsolgov, a human rights worker in said in Ingushetia, "There will be some tighter security here, more police checks, even rough violent checks, not just because of what happened in Dagestan but also in Moscow. And across all the north Caucusus there will be more raids, and lots of checks of suspicious people.

"There will be various lists – relatives of people who died, relatives of militia, relatives of victims,” says Mutsologv. “I'm sure there will be more violations, persecutions and discomfort for people. To put it mildly. I don't doubt this will happen.”

Which in turn will coincide with and spawn more insurgent attacks; reports indicate the female suicide bombers were part of a team of 30 Black Widows. It will be a shame if Russia misses the opportunity to blaze its own counterinsurgency and instead justifies another gamble on roulette-style counter-terrorism.

But, like 9/11, we expect the war to detonate again afterward.


  1. This should not have surprised any one.
    There is now a global enemy. [real or fabricated]. This is now a new colonial era. At this time it is Central/South Asia that is up for grabs. Russia will deal with this in their own way. They might have Western rhetoric, but the actions will be Russian.

    Mother Russia are more than just words in Russia. It is a war cry.

  2. It did not take long.
    "Brutal response"


  3. Cruel response too... Doesn't look like any counterinsurgency will be coming to The Caucasus. Also waiting for a joint US/Russian strike on Pakistan border.

  4. RE " joint US/Russian strike on Pakistan border." WOW ! ! !
    Now that would be something, but it would not shock me.
    I keep thinking about a "nuke umbrella" for the region. To ensure that the lesser players do not use the technology for weaponry. Only peace time energy.
    Could that be it?
    A U.S. Russo/Sino umbrella? Or is that too many hands holding the umbrella?
    All in the name of fighting "terrorism".