Monday, December 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Volgograd Explosion Highlights Putin’s Failure in Fight against Terrorism, Russian Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Vladimir Putin rose to power “under the slogan of the struggle with terrorism,” and he has routinely invoked that challenge to justify the growth of his security agencies and the harshest measures against society; but as the terrorist incident in Volgograd yesterday shows, the Kremlin leader is failing in that battle, a Russian blogger says.

            The 18 people killed in the act of terror in Volgograd brings to 879 the number of citizens of the Russian Federation who have died in terrorist incidents in that country outside of the borders of the republics of the North Caucasus (where civil wars are raging) since Putin became president 13 years ago, according to an article on the Tolkovatel blog today (

            Any assessment of Putin must begin with the fact that the current Russian leader “came to power” by pointing to the need to “struggle against terrorism” and has used this slogan “to justify the introduction of the harshest [measures].” But despite that, under Putin, “terrorism has not been defeated, [but] cruelty and obscurantism have grown.”

                In the wake of the apartment bombings of 1999, Tolkovatel continues, Russian society gave Putin “carte blanche to impose order in the country and especially in the North Caucasus. By this [grant] was justified the rapid beginning of a [new] war in Chechnya and its return to ‘the bosom of federalism’ and also ‘the struggle for stabilization’ in Daghestan.”

            But despite popular support for tough action, the blog continues, “the number of terrorist acts in Russia did not decrease,” even though Putin’s regime “tightened the screws” by eliminating the election of governors, doubling the size and increasing the budget of the FSB, and adopting laws on extremism that can be used against anyone the Kremlin doesn’t like.

            Moreover, under Putin, few paid much attention to the fact that “’the destruction’ and ‘liquidation’ of so-called ‘militants’ by extra-judicial means became the norm,” even though “in a normal society, only a court can give an individual that status.”  As a result, the blog continues, “government illegality became the norm.”

            During the 13 years of Putin’s rule, the Tolkovatel blogger says, the North Caucasus was not pacified.  In Daghestan, there has been a more or less continuous civil war. In Chechnya, “no one knows the real situation,” and in Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia, “the Wahhabis have great influence.”

            And that has been the case despite “’the destruction’ and ‘liquidation’ of 200 to 500” people identified as “bandits,” not to mention “hundreds of killed, missing or wounded among the civil population and the siloviki.”  But “in fact, there are no reliable statistics on this war, and “it is possible that over these 13 years, several tens of thousands” have become victims.”

            Moreover, during the 13 years of Putin’s stewardship, “not a single high-ranking silovik has been removed from his position” for failures in this area. “On the contrary, the more terrorist acts there are in the country, the higher become the ranks [of such people], the more the military awards and privileges.”

            In short, under Putin, loyalty to the ruler not effectiveness in the struggle against terrorism is the measure of the worth of the siloviki.

            The only thing that has been effective in Russia against terrorism, the blog concludes, is what has been effective elsewhere: the actions of ordinary people as when such people in the fall of 1999 “prevented an explosion” in the Ryazan apartment buildings by exposing the planting of a bomb to the media.

            Since the Volgograd bombing, most Russian media attention has focused on the name and background of the perpetrator rather than on those of the victims, yet another reflection of the nature of Putin’s struggle against terrorism.  And most Western media attention has asked whether this latest horror puts the Sochi Olympiad at risk.

            If Putin continues the approach he has used up to now, he will certainly exploit the Volgograd events to “tighten the screws” in Russia still further, confident that by playing up the issue of Islamist extremism he can not only escape criticism for such actions but any close examination of his anti-terrorism effort and what it says about his rule in Russia.

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