Saturday, September 25, 2004

Putin and Pre-emption

From Jane's Weekly, perhaps the shrewdest assessment of Moscow's strategy in the aftermath of the Beslan atrocity:

Moscow’s claim that it is fighting the same war on terrorism as the United States is not taken seriously. The people who belong to Al-Qaeda and who struck at the US three years ago, rejected everything America stood for: its economic prowess, its technological advances and its notions of society. For Osama bin Laden, the war is an apocalyptic clash of civilisations, a global confrontation between religions.

The terrorism that faces Russia today is of a different variety. It was born out of a war for the liberation of one ethnic group. The militants who attacked the US were foreign; those who attacked Russia were, nominally, its own nationals. Furthermore, Al-Qaeda rejects the concept of the Western world, whereas the Chechens want to join this world, albeit as a separate nation.

The Chechens are not fighting in the name of Islam, although they happen to be Muslim. They fight for the nationalist aspiration of independence. Al-Qaeda and its allies cannot be negotiated with, even if they were to give up violence. But, at least in theory, there is an answer to the Chechen problem, namely that of granting independence to this Russian province.

And, the article concludes:

Ever since the end of the Soviet Union, the Russians have wanted to maintain control over the oil-rich and strategically important Caucasus region and especially over the neighbouring republic of Georgia... Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Russians now hope to reimpose control over Georgia. It is rather convenient that they can do so by using the same justification that the Americans are using elsewhere in the world.

But, more importantly, Russia’s pre-emption doctrine represents a free-for-all for its secret agents. For years, the Russian government demanded the extradition of Chechen political leaders who sought asylum in other countries, claiming that they were terrorists. Without exception, courts in Western countries rejected these claims as unfounded. Well before the school massacre, however, the Russian security services adopted a new technique — that of simply assassinating such people. The former Chechen president was assassinated in the Gulf state of Qatar in February and further assassinations are sure to follow. Yet again, the Russian authorities will claim that they are doing nothing different from what the US Central Intelligence Agency has done. In practice, however, the Russians are targeting all those Chechens with whom a peaceful deal to the crisis can still be negotiated — far from eliminating terrorism, they are eliminating the chances for any political settlement.

Read the whole thing here.

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