Staunton, April 12 – Approximately 20,000 foreign militants are currently fighting for ISIS in Syria, Vladimir Putin says, of whom about 5,000 are from the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and some 4,000 are from the Russian Federation (mir24.tv/news/politics/15955489 and www.rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/04/12/1607039.html).
All these figures are higher than those Russian officials have given in the past, an indication that neither Moscow nor the governments in Central Asia have been able to stem the outflow of ISIS recruits in recent months, an outflow that the Russian authorities at least even encouraged prior to the Sochi Olympiad.
At that time, the FSB helped militants in the North Caucasus leave the region so that they would be less of a threat to the games in which Vladimir Putin placed so much importance. The Russian intelligence service appears to have stopped its support of that flow, but it hasn’t been able to stop the flow of Russian citizens into the ranks of ISIS.
That earlier FSB program, however, is only one of the reasons for these flows. More important is the fact that the Soviet destruction of the transmission mechanisms for Islam left those known as “ethnic Muslims” in that region at greater risk of mobilization by radicals. (On this, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/04/central-asian-islamist-terrorism-has.html.)
More seriously, it means that both Russia and the countries of Central Asia are at risk now and in the future when some or all of these people return to their homelands, a prospect that may help to explain why Putin shows little or no interest in a solution to the violence in Syria that might put his own regime at greater risk.