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Terror Strikes Russia

Filed on December 1, 2009

The latest terror attack in Russia, targeting luxury train Nevsky, has brought back memories of the cycle of violence of a few years back. While no group has as yet claimed responsibility for the incident in which at least two-dozen people were killed and nearly 100 injured, it is clearly 
an act of terror.

Russia has seen its fair share of terror attacks in the early years of the decade. Carried out by Chechen separatists, the attacks had caused havoc across Russia from distant Caucasus to Moscow. The latest attack is bound to bring out memories of horrific incidents such as the Beslan school siege, the Moscow theatre killings and downing of airlines by Chechen female bombers. Prime Minster Vladimir Putin is likely to be even more concerned considering his role at the forefront of crushing the Chechen separatist movement, a task mandated to him by former President Boris Yeltsin in 1999.

Attempts to tie the movement to global Islamic terrorism failed despite the presence of a few hundred Arab fighters who had settled in the troubled region. The fact remains, human and financial support from individual sympathisers among some Arab states notwithstanding, the Chechen movement for independence was predominantly nationalist. An ideological emphasis only emerged as part of the nationalist discourse among the Chechen Muslims after Moscow brought out the religious card to crush the separatist demand. With investigations under way to determine who might be behind the attack, it may be premature to suppose that Muslim separatists may have been responsible. However, it is likely to focus on possible Caucasus involvement.

Despite the Chechen separatist movement being successfully curbed after the assassination of key leaders —Aslam Maskhadov in 2005 and Shamil Basayev in 2006 by the Russian Secret Service—Chechnya remains a trouble zone. Greatly reduced in strength and capability, it is nonetheless active. This is evident from sporadic incidents such as the bombing of the same train service in 2007 and the recent attack on a police station in Ingushetia in August 2009. Putin’s handpicked President of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, may have succeeded in curbing dissent by adopting hardline tactics, but he has also earned the wrath of a large segment of his countrymen. Large-scale disappearances, killings and torture are the hallmarks of his regime that is infamous for zero tolerance for any suspected links to the separatists.

The latest attack is likely to open the pandora’s box. Moscow also needs to distinguish between the types of internal threats it faces. It may be a wise step to address genuine grievances that have been muffled by force to effectively stop the outbreak of such incidents.


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