Russia’s counter-terrorism policy

Time Magazine asks a good question:

Whose approach works better? If Western democracies are struggling to reconcile openness with vigilance, does the freer hand of the Kremlin, whose rule is closer to autocracy, give it an advantage in fighting its war on terrorism?

While the magazine doesn’t really answer the question, it gives us somem indications as to what the answer can be. It quotes security analyst Andrei Soldatov who says that xenophobia among officials is “the biggest problem” in the war on terrorism. “Law enforcement intimidates the North Caucasians all the time. There’s no trust,” he says. “But if you want to fight terrorism, you have to work closely with those communities.”

After the metro bombings, massive ground operations were carried out in select Dagestani villages. Details are sketchy, but the local authorities are said to have used overwhelming force. Journalist Yulia Yuzik was there and said that in one raid, police simply blew up a house with two wanted men inside instead of apprehending them.there was a media blackout on the offensive, and most Russians paid little attention to what was happening in the mountains. “People forget they are living in a country at war,” says Andrey Cherkasov, of the human-rights group Memorial. Nor were lawmakers especially keen to know what was going on. Among the “reforms” suggested by the Russian parliament right after the bombings was a proposition to crack down on any media outlet that quoted Umarov or gave him a platform in any way.

The Kremlin’s brute counterterrorism tactics are rooted largely in the fact that there is little free press or political opposition to hold it accountable for the deaths of civilians.

Each terrorist attack, in fact, has been used as a pretext for even more Kremlin control. The Beslan crisis, for example, was blamed on local authorities, and since then there have been no regional elections; all governors are now loyal Kremlin appointees. Two months after the March 29 attacks, the parliament approved a broad expansion of Russia’s counterintelligence services, giving them the right to deliver warnings to people who haven’t committed a crime but are viewed as potential criminals or terrorists.

It is left to the country’s beleaguered human-rights groups to collect eyewitness accounts in order to find out what’s happening in Dagestan. Memorial, which started out cataloging the past abuses of the Soviet system, is now the main voice for victims of Kremlin-sponsored violence in places like Dagestan and Chechnya. The organization’s Cherkasov reckons that in all, at least 3,000 civilians have disappeared–largely at the hands of Kremlin-backed security forces–since the end of the second Chechen war in 2000.

Russia’s war on terrorism is essentially a civil war. “Our Afghanistan is inside Russia” is how Lipman puts it.

The writer makes an interesting observation:

At a huge Moscow rally organized by Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group, 65,000 young Russians were bused in from all over the country to celebrate victory–not in the war on terrorism but in World War II.The authoritarian overtones of the rally, where everyone wore matching faux-military T-shirts and had been issued replica Kalashnikov cartridges, were chilling. But there was an added component, an orderliness that was breathtaking for Russia: 65,000 teenagers and not one of them smoking or drinking. It reminded me of the allure of the Wahhabi extremists who recruit young people in Dagestan: in a chaotic and muddy land, the clean-swept mosques and confident composure of the Wahhabi leaders is a tremendous sales pitch.

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