Russia has consistently remained in a global spotlight in regards to the topic of terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and its approaches to conflict. A focus on this subject allows for relation and analyzation of this country as it relates to other nations and how this compares and differs from that of Russia. This comparison to other nations will help to articulate the approaches that Russia takes effectively as well as ineffectively.
The emphasis of this analysis will prioritize discussion on North Caucasus and the threats that have arisen here.
The Caucasus is a region of land between the border of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. The three most prominent countries that make up the Caucasus are Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Each of these three countries has an alliance with one of the larger more powerful nations around them. “Georgia is oriented toward the West, Armenia is aligned with Russia, and Azerbaijan has strong ties with Turkey.” (“Russia’s Evolving Role, 2016)
For the purpose of this paper, however, the focus will prioritize Russia and its attempt to battle Islamic violence in North Caucasus.
This analysis will compare and contrast Russia’s perspectives and approaches with other nations of its similar stature to highlight the priorities of Russia and how they are consistent to some and vary from others. As well as provide insight into potential developments that could take place in addition to the changes that have already been seen.
Many people believe the misconception that the start to modern terrorism began on September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers were attacked by members of the Islamic Terrorist group Al Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center.
Killing both passengers on the flight as well as thousands of people in the buildings. While this attack may have been the catalyst that started the biggest worldwide conversation on terrorism, it was by no means the first. According to David Rapoport, the beginning of modern terrorism actually took place about a century earlier in Russia is 1880. Rapoport states that this “first wave” lasted until 1920.
He defends the idea that this initial terrorism grew from dissatisfaction at how society was failing to break standing conventions and its slow nature in reform. These initial terrorist attacks took the form of dynamite attacks and fall under the category of suicide bombings, as the bombers in these attacks almost always died alongside the victims. While these attacks are devastating in itself, the truly tragic thing about this early terrorism is that it has only mature and intensified since then. “Russia fought two wars against Chechen separatists in the first decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, losing the first and winning the second.”(Laub, 2005) After the second war, the Chechen separatist was replaced by an Islamist nationalist identity and insurgency which plagued North Caucasus with the terror it brought with it.
North Caucasus is home to an established Islamist Extremist group called Caucasus Emirate. The group is led by a Chechen warlord by the name of Doku Umarov. The attention did not predominantly turn to this group in 2014 just prior to the Olympic Games that were held in Sochi, Russia in 2015. However, their first attack took place seven years earlier in 2008, where fourteen civilians were killed and forty-three were wounded. Since then killing almost two hundred people and wounding close to six hundred people in documented major attacks. This does not even account for the attacks that do not qualify for major attack status. The Caucasus Emirate poses a serious threat to not only Russia but the world as a whole and making them an important target in the war on terror.
Russian has thus far employed specific tactics to a combat terrorism in the Caucasus. Tactics that include Zachistkas, “forced disappearances; collective punishment; and the targeting of suspected insurgents’ families, friends, and neighbors” (Clarke, 2017). Zachistkas is a strategy that is otherly known as a “mop-up operation. It is intended as a way to eliminate terrorists either by killing them or capturing them and people that support their ideas. This latter criterion causes many bystanders to become involved despite their innocence.
Clarke’s research also states that Russia’s utilizes forced disappearances, collective punishment, and targeting of the rebels inner circle as techniques for combating terrorism. There has been extensive criticism that Russia’s tactics are counterproductive as solutions to terrorism due to their brutal nature. Critics believe that these operations violate human rights. The government works hard to refute these accusations by portraying themselves “as a protector of the people.” (Clarke, 2017) While Russia is taking the steps to start a war on the terror that presents itself in North Caucasus, the tactics it employs only provide short-term security but does not present a solution that will ensure long-term results.
In comparison to Russia’s counterterrorism efforts, Germany, another powerful and leading country, handles terrorism in a way that strives to find a long-lasting solution terrorism rather than handle an act of terrorism while or after it has already occurred. Within the Council of Europe, there is a Committee of Experts on Terrorism which provides detailed profiles on each European country and their individual approaches to counter terrorism. Germany’s profile argues that “Germany attaches very great importance to the fight against terrorism.” (Burke & Feltes) Which is not unlike Russia or other countries.
While Russia tends to take an aggressive approach to retaliation, Germany approaches the issue from an entirely different angle. Authors Paul Burke and Jonas Feltes report that, “A core element of the German counter-terrorism strategy is the collection and distribution of relevant information among the security agencies involved in counter-terrorism activities.” (Burke & Feltes) What does differ slightly from Russia’s point of view is that “from the German point of view, it is also indispensable to work together closely at an international level in the fight against terrorism.” ((Burke & Feltes) Until very recently Russia did not prioritize working with other nations to address this issue. Russia primarily focused on the terror experienced within the borders of their own territory or threats that only directly impacted their country. However, progress in Russia’s fight shows that their approaches are growing more and more similar to that of Germany’s.
As of 2018, Russia has become increasingly efficient in combating the terrorism that presents itself in North Caucasus. According to the Russian News Agency, anti-terrorism efforts in 2018 have successfully cut the number of terrorist attacks in North Caucasus in half. Alexander Bortnikov, Russia’s Director of Federal Security Service reported to the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, that there have been “six foiled terrorist attacks,” and that “Sixty-three gunmen and 142 accomplices have been detained. Fifty militants were killed, including chieftains of terrorist groups active in Chechnya and Dagestan.'( Bortnikov, 2018) Russia is using counterterrorism tactics in order to attempt to secure Russia’s region of North Caucasus.
One particular instance outlines how Russia is going about it. In another article on the Russian News Agency, they address the killings of two Islamic State followers. In what the article reports as a counterterrorism operation, Russian authorities responded to a tip that two gunmen were holding a house hostage and that these two men had been involved “in some terrorism-related crimes.” (Two Islamic State Followers Killed, 2018) Fortunately, no civilians were injured and this attack was intercepted before any detrimental actions were taken. This is just one example of how Russia has chosen to in the past and continues to choose to deal with terrorism after the threat has been posed. This was a lucky case, as no civilians were hurt but the same cannot be said about most other counter terrorism raids carried out by Russia. From an international relations lense and long-term goal oriented focus, this may not be the most effective.
While it is unrealistic to expect that no blood will be shed during counter-terrorism approaches irrespective of the country or nation executing the operation, how much blood is shed is something that can be monitored and decreased. Russia’s approaches have a tendency to deal with each attack on its own and use force to combat the threat instead of terrorism as a whole does not provide a solution to the bigger picture. According to Simon Saradzhyan is a testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs “Russian authorities have traditionally focused on using force to degrade various groups based in the North Caucasus and engaged in anti-state violence irrespective of whether these groups employ terrorist or guerilla strategies in their violent campaigns.”(Saradzhyan, 2017) However, it appears that Russian’s has shown progress in their approaches to terrorism that demonstrates an adoption of less forceful counterterrorism approaches.
“For instance, Russian authorities have tried to lower disengagement costs for those engaged in political violence promising amnesty or lesser chargers to those who agree to disengage before a certain deadline.”(Saradzhyan, 2017) This preemptive action exemplifies a more long term solution to terrorism as it gets ahead of the issue before it can become detrimental. Thus showcasing how Russia is progressing in their responses and approached to fighting terrorism and conflict.
In addition to the approach stated previously, a spokesperson for Russia also addressed the world through the United Nations at the Moscow Conference on International Security with their plans to adopt the UN’s four pillars of Counter Terrorism to their future operations. This approach is widespread and relates to terrorism as a whole, not just the dangers present in North Caucasus.
This statement was crafted by Vladimir Voronkov, a Russian foreign service officer. In 2017, Voronkov was appointed as the first Under-Secretary for the newly established Counter-Terrorism office at the United Nations. His points relate to the world as a whole and his insight calls upon alliances among all the nations to work together to battle the threats posed. Voronkov affirms that “No country is immune from this threat, and no one country, no matter how powerful, can solve the problem by itself.” (Voronkov, 2018)
This perspective shows significant progress in Russia’s ideas about the war on terror that has grown from the abrasive nature they have prioritized in the past. Voronkov, a representative of the Russian Federation, claims that “We must confront terrorism on the emotional and ideological level to win hearts and minds, and in the first place – of the youth. This has become an essential component of our fight against terror – perhaps the most difficult yet most important part of our battle for ultimate victory.” (Voronkov, 2018) This approach outlines that the true way to combat this issue is to get ahead of the threat not simply fight the threat once it has already manifested.
Russia like most other nations in the world, has had a long battle with the threats of terrorism and deciphering effective tactics to combat the dangers these issues present. In the past Russia has employed abrasive tactics in order to confront and eliminate terror threats. When comparing Russia to other nations, the analysis highlights that nations such as Germany demonstrate tactics that have a longer lasting impact in regards to eliminating terrorism and conflict as a whole. However, several indicators make it evident that Russia is beginning to recognize the importance of international relations when it comes to the war on terror and are taking steps to work with other nations instead of for solely Russia.