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Analysis & Opinion
31.01.11 An Elusive Resilience
Comment by Oksana Antonenko

Last Monday’s bombing at Domodedovo – a major international airport in Moscow – is the latest reminder of Russia’s vulnerability in the face of terrorist threats. Despite recent efforts to target the leaders of militant groups waging terrorist campaigns across Russia and President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative to address the root causes of violence in the North Caucasus, the scale of the terrorist threat has not diminished.

Today the cancer of insecurity has spread from the south to the very heart of Russia, manifesting itself in inter-ethnic violence which takes place daily in Moscow; the rise of extreme nationalist movements as seen on December 11; and terrorist attacks killing innocent people – not only Russians and Caucasians, but also visitors from many countries. The latter represents a threat to Russia’s international ambitions, be it as a new global financial center or the host of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. In that, it threatens Russia’s modernization itself.

Even more damaging than the acts of terrorism themselves is the widespread perception that Russia’s leaders have no clear strategy on dealing with the insurgency. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised that the second war in Chechnya would help restore security, but whatever positive effects came from it were soon superseded by the spread of violence beyond Chechnya. Putin’s response was to remove the new insurgency from the media and to appoint loyal regional leaders to deal with it. This has obviously failed.

President Medvedev was correct to bring the Caucasus problems back onto the federal policy agenda and to openly acknowledge that instability there poses a strategic challenge to Russia’s future development. Yet his measures – the appointment of Alexander Khloponin, replacing some regional leaders and pledging more funds for economic programs – have made little real difference on the ground.

New strategy

The good news is that with all the perceived hopelessness of the current situation, terrorism in Russia will end at some point in history, just as it has ended in hundreds of other historical instances. The important task for any government is to help define the way terrorism ends and to accelerate that process. If such a strategy is not properly understood, policies can in fact help to sustain and expand terrorist campaigns, just as we seem to be witnessing in Russia today.

To those who want to understand how terrorism ends, I recommend the book with that exact title written by Professor Audrey Cronin. She analyses 457 terrorist campaigns, explaining how they can be understood as a “triad” of interaction between three actors: the group, the government, and the audience. With this triad in mind, Cronin then identifies six common patterns that have contributed to the ultimate demise of terrorist campaigns: firstly, with the capture or killing of a group’s leader (decapitation); secondly, with the entry of the group into a legitimate political process (negotiation); thirdly, the achievement of the group’s aims (success); fourthly, the group’s implosion or loss of public support (failure); its defeat and elimination through brute force (repression); and lastly, the transition from terrorism into other forms of violence, such as crime or insurgency (reorientation).

If we apply Cronin’s methodology to analyzing Russia’s policies in the past two decades, we can say that many of these approaches have been tried, but failed. Russia has tried repression and decapitation, which have given some results – the elimination of Shamil Basayev, for example, most certainly helped to stop the number of attacks in the short term, but in the long term these measures led to the mutation of a more consolidated nationalist campaign with clear goals to a more dispersed movement, whose goals are just as dispersed and today even poorly understood. The fact that no one clearly understands the underlying objectives of the Domodedovo bombing – unlike, for example, the Beslan hostage taking – clearly illustrates this trend.

Russia has tried negotiation, although many experts argue that no truly inclusive reconciliation process with the various factions within the Chechen nationalist movement has been tried. But these negotiations have delivered no results. Today the Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov is in charge of a “reconciliation” effort, but with very mixed results. On the one hand his amnesty seems to have helped split the rebels, but the brutality of force used by Kadyrov’s paramilitaries continues to help in recruiting new replacements.

Beyond Chechnya, the Russian government can hardly rely on a negotiation strategy, because the current terrorist campaign has dispersed so much across the North Caucasus and other parts of Russia – through nationalist movements and inter-ethnic violence – that no one negotiating process can be truly inclusive of all the key actors pursuing the campaign. As for negotiations, while one could have imagined a deal negotiated with Dzhokhar Dudayev or even the Aslan Maskhadov group, it is impossible to imagine any deal with the Caucasian Emirate movement, which does not fundamentally undermine Russia’s national interest.

It is equally difficult to imagine how the current representatives of the terrorist campaign could be drawn into a legitimate political process, although this strategy has to be considered despite its complexity.

However, it is key for Russia’s ability to end terrorism on its terms to address the question of audience – a core part of Cronin’s “triad” on which any strategy rests. What constituency supports terrorism? How can their grievances be addressed by the state, civil society and public-private partnerships? What constituencies fuel terrorism? In a situation where press freedoms have declined in the past years, the state’s public information campaign in support of its anti-terrorism policies has been extremely ineffective.

And finally, one strategy which Russia can pursue to end terrorism is to help bring about the internal implosion of groups engaging in terror. This requires a number of tools yet to be developed in Russia. Firstly, it is important to understand the groups, to collect credible intelligence and to analyze their structures, which are much more akin to a mini Al-Qaeda than to the IRA or ETA, or even PKK. Secondly, it is important to analyze their recruitment techniques and find ways to prevent the future expansion of these groupings.

We know that a lot of young people join out of revenge or by succumbing to pressure and blackmail. There should be clear alternatives for these people to protect their dignity and that of their families. Today such services do not exist, and those which try to defend the rights of former or potential terrorists are themselves targeted – like Natalya Estemirova. Similar services for the victims of inter-ethnic violence or pressure should be set up in major Russian cities, including Moscow, and should enjoy protection and support under the law and oversight and cooperation with civil society groups. Russians who become victims of violence or pressure should be able to seek advice and support, rather than turning to nationalist groups for protection.

Next steps

Any strategy to end terrorism will have to be a long one. The results are likely to be seen in one or two generations, not in one or two years. Moreover, the implementation of this strategy is closely connected with other key political and economic reforms in Russia – enhancing the rule of law, fighting corruption and improving regional governance, as well as making the federal system more open and representative. Investment in economic development, improved education and promoting inter-ethnic integration through internal migration programs in the North Caucasus are also important as key enablers of this strategy. Finally, more effective work from law enforcement and security services in preventing actors of terrorism and managing its consequences is required. However, the key factor for enhancing the resilience of the Russian society against terrorism should be its confidence that the government has a clear and credible strategy to bring an end to the violence in their lives and the lives of their children.
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