Terrorism in Russia on an International Level

Terrorism in Russia on an International Level

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Terrorism in Russia has existed since the Russian Empire. Its long history has brought violence against countless civilians in order to accomplish ideological or political objectives through the generation of fear and panic. Tactics so often seen in terrorism such as hostage taking saw extensive use in Soviet secret agencies. The greatest example of this was during the Great and Red Terror campaigns against their own countrymen as stated by historians like Karl Kautsky. As the end of the 20th century approached, major terrorist activity took place in the capital of Russia, Moscow. These events involved the Moscow theater hostage crisis as well as apartment bombings. Aside from Moscow, Dagestan, Chechnya, and other areas of the nation experienced terrorism. The worst part of it all is that scholars and journalists believe some of these events have been directed and planned by Russian secret services through Chechen agent provocateurs. Aside from domestic terrorism, there is also terrorism from abroad.

Islamic terrorism has become a significant threat all over the world. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France have all witnessed the effect of Islamic terrorism, and continue to with recent shootings and attacks. Russia has also had its fair share of Islamic terrorism with the majority of terrorist activity occurring in Dagestan and Chechnya. Ever since late 2007, Chechnya has abandoned its goals of becoming a sovereign state. Instead it has adopted Salafist-takfiri jihadism, an Islamic fundamentalist ideology, creating enemies for Russia and every other country. Though the Russian government has taken action by banning seventeen terrorist organizations, one of them being Al Qaeda and another, Muslim Brotherhood, there has still been little activity in deterring and preventing insurgency and terrorist activity.

In an article by Sharyl Cross, Cross shares Russia’s terrorist challenge and its responses stating that with terrorists in Chechnya having international support from their Muslim counterparts in the Middle East, Russia must forge a concerted campaign with European and American leaders in order to defeat the terrorist threat. Before the events of 9/11 President Vladimir Putin had tried to place public attention on Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps including the then increasing infiltration of fundamentalist and violent Islamic forces in the Balkans and Eurasia, however, most of the international public did not pay attention. It was not until 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that the world finally realized the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Although Russia has not had a large scale terrorist attack such as the United States experienced on 9/11/2001, Russia has had to deal with several smaller attacks over the past few decades a couple of the more serious ones occurring in 1999 and 2004. ” … apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk 1999, Shamil Basayev’s invasion of Dagestan in 1999 proclaiming

Islamic jihad against Russia, the Dubrovka theater hostage incident in October 2002, a series of subway bombings, downing of two passenger airlines by Chechen women suicide bombers in August 2004″ (Cross, 2006, p. 176). The culmination of such attacks was the Beslan school siege September 2004. Here in this heinous events, hundreds of school children died as a result of the terrorist attacks. Vladimir then fired the Regional Head of the FSB and the Interior Minister of North Ossetia, claiming Russia’s security forces as incompetent.

The Beslan disaster sparked action in Putin to not just fire key people responsible for such incompetency in security, but also to centralize greater control of Russian government, regions in the country, and security structures. He also announced measures to increase his power and influence by transferring the power to appoint regional governor to himself. The Beslan attack served as a wakeup call in realizing Russia’s inability to protect itself from terrorist threat with the government and security structure it had at the time. How did it get like this?

Just like the United States has an origin story for the terrorist activity that transpired in the country, so does Russia. Chechnya’s struggle for independence after the dismantling of the U.S.S.R. led to an unstable relationship with Chechen and Russia. In 1858, the Chechen saw the fall of their legendary leader, Imam Shamil, who were seeking to found an Islamic state. There had long been a defiance within Chechens against the Russians and was glorified through the mountain warrior tradition of honoring the death of a soldier in battle against enemies that possessed an insurmountable advantage. As the Soviet state dismantled in 1991, Chechnya realized its chance to join the other subjugated peoples of Central Asia, the Baltics, and the Caucasus, seeking autonomy and recognition as a nation. After the two wars that were fought in Chechnya in conjunction with other conflicts in Tajikistan and South Caucasus, the events led to a surge of outside funding for military training and weapons. International whabbists and radical jihadists involvement with the country of Russia including the well-known Russian military brutality all combined to generate radicalism among Chechens.

Chechnya then became a great access hub of travel for international terrorist networks through Georgia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan. Several documents exist stating Al-Qaeda trained their member in Chechnya. Chechnya has and will continue to present challenges for the Russian government. This is especially true because of the multiple populations of Chechens in various parts of Russia due to the Russian military incursions of 96 and 99. Some of the immigrated Chechens could and have served as support and a community base for the orchestration of terrorist campaigns. So who should Russia place greater importance on as a threat, Islamic terrorists or Chechens?

In an article by Michael Radu, he asks that same question as he mentions the destruction of two Russian airliners on August 24, 2004 along with the subway station bombing. With terrorist activity happening in Russia since then and again this year with another bombed Russian airliner, it is more important than ever for Russia to realize who the greater threat is as it relates to terrorism. Chechnya has continued to remain the greatest problem for Russia. As earlier mentioned Chechnya served as a training ground and travel hub for Islamic terrorists. It has also provided motivation for those in Russia to mistreat Chechens leading to Chechen support of Islamic terrorism. What is important to understand is that the terrorist activity happening in Russia has Middle Eastern and Islamic roots and lack any real Chechen involvement other than perhaps providing support and places to train and organize. “The Islambouli brigafes, an Al Qaeda-associated group previously known for attacks in Pakistan, has taken credit for the plane and subway bombings” (Radu, 2004, p. 10).

If Russia is to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism in Russia, it has to gain control of the Chechnya borders through forming a partnership with the Chechens and other adjacent areas. It is because of Russia’s political clumsiness and frequent brutality that Chechens have given up trying to coexist with Russia and instead aimed for radicalization of their people. Failure to acknowledge the supportive role Chechnya plays in Islamic terrorism and not accepting their own role in the radicalization of Chechnya has led Russia into a consistent state of blindness to their actual problems concerning terrorism. This lack of awareness and apparent denial of the Chechnya-Islamic terrorist connection has been reinforced by Russia’s call to examine Islamic forces outside of the country Afghanistan, further hindering their cause. However, what is Russia fighting for? Are they fighting terrorism or Putin’s enemies?

President Putin is known to be a calculating and cold man, taking out anyone he deemed an enemy. When Alexander Valterovich Litivinenko, a former Russian security service agent revealed Putin’s desire to assassinate Boris Berezovky to avoid having a political foe to contend with, Livinenko later died from poisoning in 2006. “Andrei Lugovoi arrived in London on November 1, 2006, to meet with Litvinenko, who had been living in England since 2000 when the country granted him political asylum. 6 Suspiciously, November 1 is the same day Litvinenko fell ill” (Cavaliero, 2011, p. 663). This assassination shows the level of Putin’s fight for power and the focus he has not on protecting Russia and its people, but to maintain power and increase his reach within the Russian government.

As earlier mentioned with some of the terrorist attacks that happened within Russia, Putin instead of assessing the situation in Chechnya and attempting to mend Russia’s relationship with Chechnya, vied to gain more power. His behavior and actions clearly show he is not interested in ending terrorism, especially Islamic terrorism and instead cares about the preservation of his power at any cost, especially the cost of human lives. Putin’s agenda is a major factor in the shaping of Russian terrorism in recent years and the state of Chechnya now. As the current president and former president for several years, he has yet to determine a plan of action against terrorism or with repairing the relationship Russia has with Chechnya. “It is claimed that in post-Soviet Russia there have been over 500 contract murders and terrorist acts. Only a handful of these crimes has been solved since the first hijacking of an aircraft in the Soviet Union (in 1958)” (Zhevlakov, 2004, p. 71). With over one hundred and ten documented hijacking attempts, more than half known to have happened since 1990, Russia has to decide what course of action to take to protect its borders.

Public opinion has not gone unnoticed concerning Putin and terrorist activity in Russia. Putin and the Russian military has behaved brutally with their enemies, citing hatred from peoples and encouraging the expansion of terrorism within the country. The Russian public believes that if Russia attempts to combat terrorism through effective public relations measures and counterpropaganda and not just military action, there could be real solutions to combat terrorism, especially from Islamic terrorists. ” … requires us to concentrate not only on surgical operations by the special services or the elimination of extremist organizations’ social base but also on counterpropaganda and effective public relations measures to neutralize the negative impact of terrorist acts on public opinion” (Polikanov, 2014, p. 48).

A good example of this were the Paris Attacks in the fall of 2015. Instead of isolating and laying blame on the Muslim population for the deaths of Parisians at the hand of terrorists, France remained united, refraining from placing the blame on French Muslims. Military action has proven time and time again to not work when it comes to quelling terrorist threats. In fact, it only exacerbates as Chechnya proves. When the United States had a war on terror and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, they had to deal with the aftermath of a chaotic Iraq that would eventually help to create what is Isis today, an even bigger threat than Al-Qaeda was. This is because insurgency and radicalism occurs regardless of how many leaders of terrorist organizations are killed. If countries want terrorism to end, they must stand united with Muslims and make the world a better place for all who live in it.

This seems like a daunting task, but to at least improve relations with Islamic countries like Iran and Afghanistan can help provide the entrance into a more peaceful world. Russia for example, needs to improve its relations with Chechnya to remove the Islamic terrorist organizations that work and train there. By bombing them and treating them like criminals, they are alienating the people there and forcing them to seek refuge in these terrorist organizations out of desperation. The scope of Russia’s counterterrorism measures traditionally remained limited to security services’ efforts and military operations following Russia’s comprehension of terrorism as an attack on the state instead of what is actually is, an assault on individual rights. Russia has always allowed human rights to be at the back end of priorities when it came to military and diplomatic action. “Subsequently, in Russia, concerns over human rights have always receded to the background of counterterrorism planning and operations. The very first counterterrorist campaign launched by the Tsarist regime was exemplar in this regard” (Omelicheva, 2010, p. 3). The degree of cruelties and destructions of individual freedoms seen during this campaign was incommensurable to the attacks of the rebels the Tsarist government wanted to prevent and fight. “Hundreds of “politically untrustworthy” people were sent to exile, placed under strict surveillance, or kept in the long-term pre-trial detention for having “intent” to commit terrorist crimes. The secret police monitored societal “moods,” and exercised control over the theater, literature, and print media” (Omelicheva, 2010, p. 3). What it led to was distrust of Russia and increasing negative attitudes towards Russian government.

Russia has had its fair share of conflict with Muslims and Islamists. A larger radical Islamic movement, called the Army of Liberation or Hizb-ut-Tahrir that was established in 1952 in Jordan by a Palestinian Arab can be the biggest threat the world may see of Islamic terrorism. It calls for the founding and formation of an Islamic Shari’a state within the region called Fergana valley, a key location that borders Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. “It also stands for the establishment of a united and absolutist Islamic state, a califate, throughout Central Asia. Such an entity, if established, would command vast natural resources and technical expertise and might have access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD)” (Cohen, 2002, p. 556). If more people are persuaded to engage and join the terrorist organizations through desperation and isolation from other countries and peoples, this potential future could happen, leading perhaps to another world war and the apocalypse everyone fears.

While this is not a reality yet, it can be and is one of the main reasons why the world and especially Russia needs to confront the problem of terrorist activity not from the perspective of military action, but from the perspective foreign diplomacy. More organization and alliances are forming.

Shamil Basayev had been operating a loosely knit fundamentalist Islamic alliance across the North Caucasus against Russian federal forces since the invasion of Dagestan in August 1999. His reputation and network of links built up when leading the North Caucasian forces (fighting on the Russian side) in the war against Georgia in Abkhazia had provided him with comrades, refuge, and respect throughout the region (Russell, 2009, p. 192).

If Putin tries to care more about helping the country he serves versus protecting his power, perhaps Russia and the world will have a brighter future in relation to terrorist activity. Because Russia does play an important in the proliferation of terrorist groups. They trained terrorists in Chechnya and many terrorists cross Russia to infiltrate other countries.

In conclusion, terrorism especially Islamic terrorism is a growing threat. Although terrorist acts have taken few lives compared to war, it creates situations for wars to happen. It plants seeds of distrust and anger between nations and states. Thanks to Russia’s lack of concern for human rights during their bouts of military action, they lost Chechnya to the Islamic fundamentalist groups, providing the training ground for future Islamic terrorist organization. While Putin says he cares for the security of Russia, he has shown that he cares more for the preservation of his seat in power. Several instances of politically motivated assassinations have become a part of Putin’s political career. If he dedicates that much energy to mending fences with Chechnya and Russia’s neighbors, perhaps they will gain ground with removing the threat of terrorism.


Cavaliero,, C. (2011). PROTECTING ITS OWN: SUPPORT FOR RUSSIA’S FEDERAL LAW ON THE COUNTERACTION OF TERRORISM. George Washington International Law Review, 43(4), 663. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/77480580/protecting-own-support-russias-federal-law-counteraction-terrorism

Cohen, A. (2002). Russia, Islam, and the War on Terrorism: An Uneasy Future.Demokratizatsiya, 10(4), 556.

Cross, S. (2006). Russia’s Relationship with the United States/NATO in the U.S.-led Global War on Terrorism. The Journal Of Slavic Military Studies, 19(2), 175-192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13518040600697738

Omelicheva, M. (2010). Russia’s Counterterrorism Policy: Variations on an Imperial Theme. Perspectives On Terrorism, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/61/html

Polikanov, D. (2014). Russian Public Opinion on Terrorism. Russian Social Science Review, 47(6), 46-56. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10611428.2006.11065231?journalCode=mrss20

Radu, M. (2004). Russia’s problem: The Chechens or islamic terrorists?. Soc,42(1), 10-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/bf02687293

Russell, J. (2009). The Geopolitics of Terrorism: Russia’s Conflict with Islamic Extremism. Eurasian Geography And Economics, 50(2), 184-196. http://dx.doi.org/10.2747/1539-7216.50.2.184

Zhevlakov, E. (2004). Improvement of Legislation on the Struggle Against Terrorism. Statutes And Decisions: The Laws Of The U.S.S.R. And Its Successor States, 40(5), 71.

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