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Analysis & Opinion
04.02.11 Can Moscow Prevail In The War On Domestic Terror?
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Vladimir Belaeff, Ethan Burger

Moscow was shocked on January 24 by a suicide bombing at the Domodedovo Airport, the city’s largest and busiest airport and a major hub for international airlines. The blast took 36 lives and sent more than a hundred wounded to Moscow’s emergency rooms. What could be the real political implications of the Domodedovo bombing? Will Medvedev and Putin move to replace the FSB leadership and reorient the agency with the primary task of combating terrorism?

The official investigations pinned the blame for the attack on a terrorist cell from the North Caucasus, operating particularly in Dagestan, raising the fear that the terrorist insurgency, once focused in Chechnya, is now engulfing Russia’s southern belt, reaching deep into the Russian heartland and even becoming a part of the capital’s daily fabric. Last March, two female suicide bombers blue themselves up on the Moscow subways, killing 40 and injuring almost 90.

The terror attack has raised questions about the effectiveness of Russia’s security services, particularly the FSB, which has been charged with combating terrorism. Many observers have called for the resignation of the FSB’s powerful Chief Alexander Bortnikov and Interior Ministry’s Chief Rashid Nurgaliyev.

The attack demonstrated that Russia’s counterterrorism strategy is inadequate for preventing large-scale attacks in Moscow and other Russian regions. Routine security procedures at such attractive terrorist targets like international airports have largely been ignored due to a lack of discipline and professionalism on the part of the security agencies.
The bombing has called into question the effectiveness of the Kremlin’s North Caucasus policy that has combined harsh counter militant operations with lavish expenditure on social programs, and reliance on loyal local warlords.

This has failed to defeat the insurgency and prevent terror attacks against soft targets in Moscow and other parts of Russia. Terror cells seem to be constantly multiplying themselves, particularly in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria.
It is unclear whether Dmitry Medvedev has the option of introducing a new strategy for the North Caucasus. His appointment of former Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Khloponin as the presidential envoy for the new North Caucasus Federal District has so far failed to yield any tangible results.

Overall, many observers in Moscow and abroad have questioned whether the Putin-Medvedev vertical of power is coming up short when it comes to delivering security and stability to Russian citizens. Medvedev is facing the daunting task of having to demonstrate progress in preventing terrorist acts as he contemplates a run for his second presidential term in 2012.

While the reaction abroad has been largely that of support for Russia and condemnation for the perpetrators of terror, Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, told The Independent that attacks like the suicide bombing at Moscow’s airport are “payback” for Russia’s policies in the North Caucasus.

Will the Russian leadership seek to adopt new approaches to combating terror? Will Moscow seek a new approach for the North Caucasus and a strategy in the region that has a reasonable chance of success under the circumstances? What will be the impact of the bombing on Russia’s “vertical of power” and the presidential race of 2012? How should Russia react to Saakashvili’s ceaseless provocations that raise the specter of Georgia’s state support for terror attacks in Russia?

Ethan S. Burger, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, Faculty of Law, Innovation Campus, University of Wollongong, Australia:

The terrorist attack at Domodedovo airport is yet another reminder that absolute security when terrorists are willing to die is unachievable. Firing individuals responsible for airport security will not change the situation. Even if they were "at fault" in failing to take adequate precautions, the blame for the situation rests at the very top of the Russian political establishment. Replacing the FSB's Alexander Bortnikov and Interior Ministry’s Rashid Nurgaliyev might be advisable, since the Russian authorities are desperate for people willing to take new policy approaches.

Conceivably, a combination of political reform, economic development and improved law enforcement might bring the level of violence emanating from the North Caucasus within "acceptable" limits – which presents the question "acceptable to whom?"

Economic development is only part of the solution. The Russian leadership needs to find moderate Caucasian leaders who want to achieve a solution that all parties can live with.

By "decapitating" the leadership of the insurgency, Russian law enforcement only eliminates the possibility of achieving a political solution and reduces the Russian government's ability to infiltrate the most sophisticated insurgent groups that can inflict the greatest damage on the Russian people and the Russian state.

The Russian government must learn to “legitimize" separatists who renounce terrorism and who thus may be open to solutions in which regions of the Caucasus are granted political, social and limited economic autonomy in exchange for taking responsibility for preventing attacks against Russian targets.

Russia must take steps to prosecute Russians who have engaged in crimes against civilians under the guise of fighting terrorism. The Russian Investigative Committee should expand the scope of its activities and perhaps even ask for foreign assistance in this area. A large part of the problem is the corruption and the tolerance of petty dictators at low levels of Russian society who deny individuals their civil/political rights.

The failure to take actions along these lines will jeopardize the political and economic future of Russia and could make the forthcoming Winter Olympics and World Cup Games into events that will be a disaster for Russia at home and abroad

Vladimir Belaeff, Global Society Institute, Inc., San Francisco, CA:

The question about “prevailing” in the “war on domestic terror” is commonplace. Regrettably, it is a flawed formulation, not suitable for analytic discourse.

Firstly, what does “prevail” mean? How does one define when “prevailing” over terror has been achieved? Terror is asymmetric: a tiny group of fanatics can strike anywhere at any time and achieve very painful and spectacular (although in most cases strategically insignificant) results. How does one “prevail” over this and how can one empirically prove that a “prevailed” condition exists? Years may elapse between attacks (the New York World Trade Center was initially attacked in 1993, eight years before September 11. Seven people died. Can one claim that the United States “prevailed” over terror in the years from 1993 to 2001?

“War on terror” is a sound bite constructed by the George Bush administration in 2001 to justify the designation of George W. Bush as a “war president.” This designation was in turn necessary for specific domestic purposes, connected with American political dynamics. “War on terror” has a militaristic and “manly” resonance, like a Sylvester Stallone film, but it is not a definition suitable for analysis. War is the unrestrained and indiscriminate application of overwhelming military force – and in Russia (like in other countries), so far the response to terror has been highly restrained and focused – not a war by definition.

Another flaw in the question is that it seems to beg the answer that “Moscow” cannot “prevail” in the “war on terror” because of some deficiencies particular to “Moscow.” Investigation is indeed uncovering egregious irresponsibility and dereliction among Domodedovo law enforcement. Regrettably, much of this irresponsibility seems to be due to the zeitgeist of modern Russian society – there is an opinion that this is the consequence of decades of Soviet nihilism and blatant disregard for the value of human lives.

The problem of terror is not exclusively Russian and it is not limited to the Domodedovo event.

Here is an incomplete list of terrorist events in the United States since 1993: The World Trade Center (WTC) bombing in 1993; the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (168 dead, including 19 children); the Columbine High School (Colorado) shooting of 1999 (13 dead); the WTC destruction in 2001; the Washington Beltway sniper attacks of 2002 (10 dead); bombs in New York City Times Square in 2005, 2008 and 2010; bombs elsewhere in New York City in 2005, 2007 and 2009; the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007 (32 dead); the Fort Hood (Texas) shooting of 2009 (13 dead) and the shooting in Tucson (Arizona) in January 2011 (6 dead).

Add to the above the London bombings of 7/7/2005 and the Madrid railroad bombing on March 2004. Also remember the 2007 car bomb attempts in London and the attempt to detonate a car bomb at the Glasgow airport in 2007, eerily similar to Domodedovo.

To be clear, let us change the initial question somewhat: “Can Washington prevail in the war on domestic terror?” “Can London?” “Can Madrid?”

One deduces that the question is pointless. For the same reason, to pose such a question in the direction of Moscow is to ignore the significance of terror in the contemporary world.

Tragically, contemporary terror has become part of the “normal” (unexceptional) fabric of life. Tiny numbers of fanatical, suicidal sociopaths, armed with modern weapons, make no demands, declare no goals, and aim to cause maximum harm to numerous defenseless and surprised strangers. The fanatics almost never explain their motives.

They just kill.

How does one “prevail” over this? What does “prevail” mean in this case?
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