Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy Designed to Protect State Not People, Soldatov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 31 – Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin defined terrorism as any action which killed a large number of people, but under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leading independent specialist on its intelligence community says, terrorism has been redefined as “’a policy of intimidation and pressure on the organs of power.’”

That change is something terrorist groups understand and have adapted themselves to, according to Andrey Soldatov, but for a variety of reasons, it has not led to the kind of changes in the intelligence agencies that will allow them to counter the actions of individual terrorists or small terrorist groups (lenta.ru/articles/2013/12/30/soldatov/).

And that in turn opens the door to the possibility of more attacks of the kind seen in Volograd over the last several days, especially if the regime pursues its populist approach in the wake of such attacks, measures that will only flood with security services with phone calls from the population and increase xenophobic attitudes in Russian society.

Such an approach, the editor of the Agentura.ru site which follows the activities of the FSB and other Russian security agencies told Lenta.ru “may pacify those who are dissatisfied with the authorities, but [it] will hardly help in the struggle against suicide terrorists” or protect the population from that kind of violence.

 Approximately a decade ago, the Russian special services were partially reformed, Soldatov says, but at the same time “the radical Islamists in the North Caucasus also re-arranged their structure,” shifting from “’quasi-mlitary formations, regiments and brigades’ to small cells which are distinguished [as Volgograd shows] by high effectiveness.”

The attacks in Volgograd have spread panic in the population very much like what happened in Moscow in 1999, Soldatov says, and led the regime to take measures that give the appearance of fighting terrorism but that in fact are not especially helpful in that regard.

The use of druzhinniki might help against a large group of armed people, but it will do little to stop individual terrorists. Consequently, “today’s panicky calls for vigilance are insufficiently effective” against the current threat. And the only thing they will produce besides a flood of useless calls to the security agencies is “an explosive growth of xenophobia.”

(That xenophobia is high and rising in the Russian Federation is clear not only from anecdotal reporting but also in the documentation provided in a report prepared by the SOVA analytic center in its report released yesterday on such attitudes in recent months (sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/publications/2013/12/d28739/).)

“Eighty percent” of the task of unmasking and stopping a suicide bomber in advance involves the collection of information, Soldatov  says, adding that “unfortunately, now, the main problem [of the FSB] is [the need for and the lack of] rapid and even instantaneous exchange of information between various subdivisions of various agencies across the entire country.” 

Russian special services have a major problem in this regard, one that “has not been resolved up to now.” It is “connected with the absence of trust people don’t trust the information which comes from units o the FSB for Chechnya, Daghestanor Ingushetia.” And “Moscow chekists are unwilling to share the information they have with the North Caucasus units.”

“Russian special services and counter-terrorist units passed through a period of reforms in 2006-2007,” Soldatov says, but these reforms were designed to fight the kind of threats that terrorists had presented earlier – such as the appearance of large groups of terrorists in one place – but no longer were. 

At that time, the security agencies forcused on improving coordination among their number within a particular place, but “in the case of a suicide bomber, this arrangement doesn’t work, and the bitter irony is that while Russianspecial services were conducted their period of reform, the Islamists in the North Caucasus were carrying out their own.”

By fighting the last war, Russian special services were not ready for the smaller and often individual terrorist threats,”and this is a very serious problem.  Moreover, except for Moscow and several units in the North Caucasus, “the Russian FSB up to now lives in the framework of structurues created already in Stalin’s time.”

“The regional services of the FSB are the direct heirs of the NKVD which were created in order to process a largeumber of people for repression.”  That system “wasn’t touched either in the times of Andropov or in the 1990s. Putin has been afraid to touch it because it is unclear what should be done with it.” But one thing is clear: it isn’t designed to deal with the current threat.

That is all the more so given Putin’s redefinition of terrorism as an attack on the state. He is concerned in the first instance about any possibility that “terrorists will dictate to the authorities what the latter are to do.” But suicide bombers do not present that kind of threat: they are directed against the population.

Despite the change in the nature of the terrorist threat, Soldatov says, the FSB continues to do what it had done earlier: round the clock patrols, monitoring of the phones, and a large number of meetings.  All this “creates the appearance of activity but doesn’t give great results becausein this case only a long-term strategy works.”

The current attacks in Volgograd, Soldatov says, are “important not in and of themselves” because there are “no special demands” from those who committed them, and there won’t be. Consequently, “one must consider scenarios in which this series of terrorist actions is a diversionary attack to distract attention” from something that may be done elsewhere.

            But these attacks are psychologically important, he continues, because “the militants show that they can organize terrorist acts beyond the borders of the North Caucasus,” a demonstration that the authorities cannot fail to respond to and thus will be compelled to disperse their forces.

            Asked if the FSB is up to this, Soldatov acknowledges that it is “massive,” but he points out that “not all” of those working there “are involved in the struggle with terrorism” and that it is “impossible” to redirect the organs “in the course of one day.”

            Soldatov concludes by noting tht Doku Umarov, the North Caucasus underground leader, earlier said he would not carry out terrorist actions in Russia because protests were taking place there. But “then he lifted this embargo” in July.  That statement and the ensuing terrorist actions as in Volgograd raise some important questions:

            “Were there no explosions earlier because the special services worked so well or because Umarov declared an embargo? And does he now have the people and opportunititess to commit terrorist acts in central Russia?”

            “Unfortunately,” Soldatov says, the answers to these questions are positive: “Yes, he has the people and the possibilities” to carry out terrorist acts, and unfortunately, the FSB has not come up with a way to stop him or them.

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