Vladimir Putin has vowed to pursue terrorists to their “total annihilation”, in his first public comments since the Volgograd suicide bombings.
In his traditional New Year’s Eve address, which was broadcast at midnight from the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, (5pm in Moscow), he praised Russia’s unity in the face of both terrorism and natural disasters and promised to continue an unrelenting fight against the bombers.
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Two more victims of Monday’s bus bombing and one victim of Sunday’s suicide attack in the city’s main railway station died overnight, Russian authorities said on Tuesday, bringing the total number of fatalities from the attacks to 34. More than 100 people have been injured.
I note that the Russian authorities are also making connections between the latest attacks and earlier Chechen terrorist atrocities, as I did a few days ago.
The series of attacks is grimly reminiscent of the build-up to terrorist “spectaculars” in the mid-2000s, including the Beslan School siege, in which more than 300 people died, 180 of them children.
Then suicide bombers had blown up two airliners in mid-air a week before they seized the school on Sept 1, 2004, in what security experts now describe as an attempt to divert the security services’ attention ahead of the main attack.
There’s more at the link.
The resentment of Muslims in Russia against Putin’s government is deep and long-running, dating back as far as Tsarist times. As the Telegraph pointed out a couple of days ago, ‘Putin faces a brutal, relentless attacks from rebels with no cause but revenge‘.
To find anything in Russia that is comparable [to the Volgograd bombings], we have to go back to 1999, when a series of bombs – spaced out over a single September week — demolished apartment buildings in Moscow and the town of Volgodonsk, killing hundreds. Officials appeared powerless and ordinary Russians panicked.
The prime minister, a little-known ex-KGB agent called Vladimir Putin, blamed the Chechens – despite their denial of responsibility – and sent in the troops. The army’s crushing of the fragile self-declared Chechen state was the first battle in Putin’s long campaign to reverse Russia’s post-Soviet collapse, which had been symbolised by Boris Yeltsin’s humiliating defeat by the separatists of Muslim Chechnya.
Putin, who was to become president within a year, took no chances. His artillery demolished Grozny to prevent rebels using it as a stronghold. His security services – as we know, thanks to the European Court of Human Rights – murdered rebels they captured without any pretence of a trial. Men were tortured. Women were raped. Artillery shelled the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains.
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But across the mountains from Sochi, all is not well. Putin might have killed the rebels’ leaders, but the rebels remain. An independent state is out of reach, so these young Muslims have ceased fighting for one, or for anything concrete at all. They fight for vengeance, through rage, or to fulfil the tenets of a religion twisted and distorted in the fire of war.
Since Putin “pacified” Chechnya, suicide bombers have struck airports and planes, stations and trains, streets and buses, rock concerts and markets.
The attacks have achieved nothing but misery and death, but they have kept coming.
Putin has tightened regulations, and given more power to his security services. His agents have pursued young Muslims they suspect of being terrorists, but that has angered the young men further. Tens of thousands of Chechens have fled Russia, and taken violence with them. There are Chechens fighting in Syria. This year, two refugees bombed the Boston Marathon.
Fighting spilled over into nearby regions of Russia also, and the bombers now are mainly from neighbouring Dagestan, a bewildering multi-ethnic sinkhole which is never plugged, no matter how much money Moscow pumps into it.
Insurgents there long ago ceased having a cause beyond revenge.
Again, more at the link.
Russia – and the former Soviet Union – have always had a robust response to terrorism. As Strategy Page reminds us:
Back in the 1980s, for example, Islamic terrorists in Lebanon kidnapped a Russian diplomat. The Russians (then the Soviets, a distinction without much difference in these matters) quickly found out which faction had their guy, kidnapped a relative of one of the kidnappers, and had a body part delivered to the Islamic kidnappers. The message was, release the Russian diplomat unharmed, or the KGB (Soviet secret police) would keep sending body parts, and grabbing kinfolk of the kidnappers. The Russian diplomat was released.
I worked on an aircraft project with some Israeli engineers who were familiar with that incident in Lebanon. They described it (with considerable admiration) in rather more graphic detail than the Strategy Page report. They claimed that the kidnappers initially didn’t believe the Soviets were serious: so the latter seized several of the kidnappers’ relatives. Every six hours, on the hour, one of the prisoners was beheaded and castrated. His head and genitals were delivered to the kidnappers, showing the marks of burns and other tortures. Apparently the exchange of hostages took very little time to arrange after that . . .
I fear that Russia will now seek to use similar tactics against the Muslim population of central and southern Asia. I wouldn’t be surprised if the word was already being spread that for every Russian victim of terrorist violence, ten or more Muslims will die. It’s been done before. Unfortunately, it’s also never worked before, because fundamentalist terrorists believe that anyone who dies in that way is automatically classified as a martyr for the faith, and is guaranteed Paradise. They’re unlikely to be swayed by concern for their fellow religionists.
Watch the southern Caucasus and the Winter Olympics closely. This could get very nasty indeed.