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Analysis & Opinion
09.04.10 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: The Right Response To Terrorism
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Vladimir Belaeff, Stephen Blank, Ethan S. Burger, Sergei Roy

The suicide bombings of Moscow’s metro last week sparked an impassioned public debate about how best to deal with domestic terrorism. While some politicians and commentators called for draconian counter measures, including mass-finger printing and the return of the death penalty, other sections of the press fretted that the government might use the attacks to justify a crack-down on civil liberties. President Dmitry Medvedev himself mixed talk of “destroying” terrorists with an emphasis on the need for economic and social modernization of the North Caucasus. What is the right response to terrorism? Are fears of a political crackdown in Russia misplaced? Will Medvedev continue on the path of modernization, including modernizing the security services? Or will he succumb to the temptation of a political crackdown to bolster his electoral position with a “tough guy” image?

In the immediate aftermath of the double metro bombing rumors began to swirl that the Kremlin would respond to terror by folding up President Dmitry Medvedev’s program of expanding economic and political freedom in Russia.
Indeed, the political incentives to look tough on terror by increasing the role of security services are real.

Parliamentary leaders have already called for tougher action against terrorists and their accomplices, and even for measures to curtail press freedom.

The head of the Federal Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin has called for fingerprinting the entire population of the Caucuses, while others in the security services are grumbling that Medvedev’s policies of expanding civil liberties and curtailing the powers of the police, particularly his tough fight against police corruption, could be inviting terrorists to strike at the heart of Russia.

Some even predicted the return of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the presidency before the presidential election of 2012.

But succumbing to such temptations right now, it may seem, would provide the terrorists with their greatest victory. Their real target is Russia’s modernization and Medvedev’s program to unleash local modernizing forces to drag the North Caucuses out of its primordial state of incompetent government, corruption, nepotism and thuggery.
Making Russia a less modern state and a less free country would be like playing by the terrorists’ book.

Medvedev seems to be going in the opposite direction, as he made clear in his speech in Dagestsan a few hours after another suicide bombing occurred in the Dagestani town of Kyzlyar.

Efforts to improve governance, stimulate economic growth and modernize social infrastructure in the North Caucuses will continue. Better governance with greater public accountability of local officials will be key, as well as efforts to marshal private investment by wealthy Russian businessmen with local Caucasian roots.

Medvedev also let it be understood that greater accountability and efficiency will be demanded of the security services with regard to preventing or preempting further terrorist attacks. These are exactly the goals of his reform of the Interior Ministry, and he made it plain that the reform may not stop there.

Are fears of a political crackdown in Russia misplaced? Will Medvedev’s team veer off the course of modernization under pressure from terrorists and roll back its plans to expand political and economic freedom in Russia? Will Putin replace Medvedev at the helm were terror attacks to continue? How is Medvedev handling his first major terrorist attack in the heart of Moscow? Will he continue on the path of modernization, including modernizing the security services as befits a democratic country? Or will he succumb to the temptation of a political crackdown to bolster his electoral position with a “tough guy” image?

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C.:

The desire for revenge and retribution is an understandable human reaction, but one can never bring the dead back to life. The killing of innocent human civilians by suicide-murderers is never justified irrespective of the political cause they may support. In fact, their actions are usually counterproductive, for each act of terrorism will usually trigger a reaction, which too is likely to harm innocent individuals. In fact, terrorist acts represent links in the cycle of violence which very often set in motion forces than make the situation worse.

Honor killing and revenge motivates many of those in the North Caucasian insurgency involved in killing innocent individuals - who usually have no ability to influence policy anyway. Acts of terrorism usually – though not always - strengthen extremists on the other side, who in their rush to retaliate often adopt misguided policies of increased repression or limitations on civil rights, freedom and human rights in some manner.

With respect to separatists, when the toll of their actions is sufficiently high it can on occasion lead to political compromise. One example is the success of the National Liberation Front (FLN)’s campaign for Algerian independence from France, but at least Algeria was a potentially viable country, unlike Chechnya. In South Africa the fight against minority rule was certainly justified, but when civilians were killed anti-Apartheid activists harmed their cause and lessened the support of persons who otherwise might have been sympathetic to them.

It is troubling to read that the Russian Ministry for Internal Affairs is preparing to require registration for all photocopiers, ostensibly to hamper communication between potential terrorists. This idea is patently absurd in the age of the Internet.

Politicians may talk tough, but it is impossible to defend every target from all potential threats against persons willing to die for their cause. Unfortunately, moderate political leaders tend to disappear in times of crisis. Neither the Russians nor the Chechens have produced a Nelson Mandela or Anwar Sadat to my knowledge, or if they have, they have probably chosen to live abroad. Perhaps there might be some less capable people on either side ready to work toward a negotiated solution to what is really not an intractable problem. Unfortunately, this is usually possible only when the small number of extremists on both sides can be constrained by those who share their political objectives.
Vladimir Belaeff, President, Global Society Institute, Inc., San Francisoco, CA:

As we can see at present, the response of Russian authorities to the terrorist events of recent days has been swift and adequate. The perpetrators have been identified, their support network has been rolled up and the effect of the criminal acts has been to consolidate society in sincere grief and respect for the victims. Note also the absence of any significant acts of ethnic violence in response to the attacks, which were perpetrated by individuals from the Caucasus region.

Even though the Communist Party is unofficially proposing the restoration of the death penalty, the government’s response to such suggestions has been an immediate and firm “no,” and the idea apparently has no traction in Russian society.

Regarding recommendations for fingerprinting citizens, it should be noted that in the United States (and other leading countries that are models for Russian liberals), fingerprinting of the entire population has been in place for generations and no sane person would suggest that America is reactionary because of this. Therefore, as far as citizens’ freedom from compulsive biometric intrusion is concerned, Russia today is actually more liberal than the United States.

As to “more economic freedom,” Russia still does not have legislation that prevents and criminalizes insider trading - again, something that economically liberal America has had for many decades.

Therefore, the premise that terrorism may cause the abandonment of presumed plans to expand political and economic freedoms as part of Russia’s economic modernization is erroneous; it seems to be rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of modernity and of political and economic freedom. This misunderstanding is not unique to Russian liberalism alone, but it is much more notable in Russian liberal thought, and has been since the late 18th century.

True economic and political progress is achieved in environments that combine law and order with respect for diversity (therefore, totalitarian societies are outside this discussion). Besides, political liberalism can be just as intolerant of diversity as the most extremist dictatorship. When in 1917 Russia’s ultra-democratic and liberal Provisional Government established rules for the election of the Constitutional Assembly, it prohibited candidates from the right wing of the political spectrum in order to guarantee a delegate corps which was at least centre-left or Socialist in its composition.

It has been a fantasy of Russian liberals from the times of Chaadayev onwards to imagine that somewhere “over the hill” there is a “more liberal” society, which Russia must emulate or perish. Ironically, these individuals have no idea that their paradigm “za bugrom” is not at all like what they imagine. It seems that today many advocates of “expanded political and economic freedoms” misinterpret the social and political order in advanced societies and believe that these countries enjoy special liberties not presently available in Russia.

In reality, Russia has already transitioned to a sufficiently modern social and economic architecture, and what it lacks is more law and order, not more “liberty.” Of course, there are radical liberals in Russia who must claim that their lack of political success (i.e., inability to achieve power over society) is due to “repression.” They seem unable to confront the fact that it is their ideology and extravagant political behavior which doom them in the eyes of the electorate.

Terrorism is a challenge to all modern societies. Its roots are often not in political or religious beliefs, but in pre-modern cultural values (for example, the tradition of “blood vengeance” in the Caucasus, abandoned by other European societies as far back as 3000 years ago). Russia is determined to fight terrorism within the framework of modern legal and social values. This is a rightful response and one must wish Russia success in this endeavor.
Sergei Roy, journalist, writer, Moscow:

The immediate responses to the Metro bombings in Moscow were on the whole predictable and predictably varied.
The population at large, particularly in Moscow and especially on the Internet, gave vent to anger against the authorities, particularly the FSB and the police, for their failure to protect them against the murderous attacks. The reaction was all the more acute as the people of Moscow had not known such tragedies for six years and now realized, without saying so aloud, that they themselves had grown complacent, happy-go-lucky, and irresponsible in matters of public safety and vigilance, especially in such “soft” targets as the Metro.

In the heat of the moment some members of the public expressed the desire to drive all the natives of the Caucasus now living in or coming to Moscow and elsewhere in Russia back to the North Caucasus republics and fence them off with razor wire, etc. Of course, there was an immediate response to these angry outbursts from the more sober-minded element: such measures were clearly impracticable and in fact plain stupid, amounting as they did to creating a mini-Afghanistan on Russia’s borders. A leaf we’ve turned over.

The official reaction from the two agencies most concerned, the FSB and Interior Ministry, was one of admitting abject failure. The suicidal “black widows” were known to these agencies; their disappearance, after the death of their bandit husbands, to some training camp or base for suicide bombers should have been acted upon; they could have been stopped as they traveled to Moscow by coach if the checks en route had been less perfunctory or carried out at all; their appearance at a rented flat in Moscow could have been noticed if the police officers responsible for the area had been more diligent. And so on. The public has maliciously commented that all this could have been done if the police had not been too busy pursuing more lucrative activities like pestering petty tradesmen.

On the political scene, inside and outside of Parliament there was a natural tendency to keep in tune with the public mood. Hence the calls for tougher legislative and executive measures to combat extremism, including some exotic ones, like the fingerprinting of everyone from the North Caucasus, lifting the moratorium on capital punishment, and the like. This sort of talk can be safely predicted to gradually fizzle out and bear no practical result except perhaps for president Medvedev’s proposal to pass legislation providing for stiffer sentences for complicity in terrorist acts.

On the right-hand side of the political spectrum (which is here entirely extra-parliamentary) and in the media so inclined, there was a reflex fear expressed that the powers-that-be will immediately “tighten the screws,” curtail democratic freedoms, especially the freedom of the press. All of this was not just predictable but outright boring, as these fringe elements trundle out the same hate-ridden nonsense each time something tragic happens in this land. No wonder their electoral support is in the statistical error category. How else is the public to react, say, to the argument that the poor terrorists were blowing up innocent people merely in an attempt to draw attention to the unbearable situation in the Caucasus? And that’s just a sample of this kind of lunacy.

President Medvedev, after some forceful expressions in the immediate aftermath of the blasts (like “We will destroy them all”), came up with a sensible five-point program involving the state’s political and economic structures, the public, religious and culture figures and educationalists, intended to deal with the social and ideological roots of terrorism.

In this spirit, my understanding is that the fight against the world-wide jihadist scourge will be with us for decades to come. It calls for unity, vigilance, and even sacrifices, both within the nation and internationally. Just how attainable these desiderata are is another matter.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

Fears of a crackdown are not misplaced, as similar incidents in the past have served as pretexts for commensurate crackdowns and the unjustified augmentation of central power.

But crackdowns will not solve the problems of the north Caucasus. The inhabitants of the region are protesting decades - if not centuries - of Russian misrule, and lately the pervasive corruption and brutality of Moscow's satraps in the region.

It is not a coincidence that this is quite possibly the poorest region of the Russian Federation. Thus, Moscow must blend repression with attraction. Perhaps Alexander Kholopnin, Medvedev's new envoy to the region, can do this?
But in fact major reforms of relations between the center and the regions, and of the structure of power that allows the security services to act without accountability, are necessary. Otherwise Russia can neither win this war nor offer the peoples who make up the North Caucasus anything more compelling than radical Islamism.

Will Medvedev have the vision to devise a program of the needed political and economic reforms? And can it be implemented? Those are the real questions raised by the tragedy in Moscow on March 29.
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