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May 21, 2005
Russian Oppression Sets Fire To The Caucasus

The London Telegraph has a disturbing report on Russia's increasing police state spinning out of control in the Caucasus, which not only will complicate the war on terror but threatens to create an explosion of terror across the region. Vladimir Putin's security forces have reverted to Soviet-style corruption, brutality, and accountability, leaving little choice for the residents of the southern area of the Russian federation but to fight:

To the West, President Vladimir Putin presents the face of a staunch partner in the war on radical Islam, waging a legitimate fight against extremists in the south of his country.

As evidence of what he is up against he cites the brutal seizure of the school in Beslan last year, the downing of two Russian airliners by Chechen suicide bombers and numerous other attacks that the Kremlin regards as terrorism pure and simple.

But even as he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with western leaders abroad, at home his men are conducting a dirty and brutal war against innocent civilians that, far from combating terrorism, is driving them into the hands of a tiny minority of radicals.

The effect of these policies has been to bring the entire Russian Caucasus to boiling point and create an extremist threat in regions that have no history of militant Islam.

Julian Strauss describes exactly how to turn a counterterrorism effort into a regional disaster. Torture, beatings, and corruption plague the entire area, turning what used to be a mild to moderate problem into a battleground where both sides use terrorism to seize power.

Even more disturbing, and a point which Strauss fails to make, the region in which these forces have been unleashed by Putin border some of the former Soviet states that have tried pulling away from Kremlin influence, especially Georgia. Russian troops have remained in Georgia even after Edvard Scheverdnaze fell in the Rose Revolution, and new President Mikhail Saakashvili wants them removed. Looking at the map, one can see why Putin wants them to remain -- he wants the strategic ability to trap terrorists in the Caucasus, especially to support the Beslan area which sticks out like a salient among the other contested regions along Georgia's border. But the Russian security practices in that area threaten to pull Georgia into the wider conflict that Putin's tactics almost guarantee.

Strauss paints quite a picture of an undisciplined and unaccountable Russian security apparatus in the south:

Nalchik, the capital of the small Muslim-dominated republic of Kabardino-Balkaria and the place where Ruslan was born and raised, was until recently a peaceful provincial backwater.

But now, egged on by a Kremlin that will brook no dissent, local security forces are running amok and terrorising the entire population with impunity. ...

[L]ocal authorities issued a "blacklist" of alleged Islamic militants with nearly 400 names on it. The whole exercise was used as an excuse to settle political scores and extort bribes. One local explained how the list was compiled.

First police were sent to the mosques where they wrote down the names of young men. Then commanders scratched off the names of friends and relatives. Those who had rich parents were approached with a view to extorting bribes to get their names removed.

The remainder were officially proclaimed to be terror suspects.

The Caucasus has transformed into a powder keg, thanks to new neo-Tsarist Russian oppression and police-state tactics. While we've worked to promote moderates in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Russians have, either through incompetence or specific design, driven the moderates from the field in an area just a few hundred miles from our theater of operations. Either Putin and his staff have a poor idea of how to win a terror war, or they have embarked on a deliberate path to destabilize the region as a pretext for reabsorption of former Soviet republics, using Islamofascism as an excuse.

Either explanation should be a warning to the Bush administration, and one I believe they already understand. People wondered why Bush seemed willing to embarass his one-time friend and ally with ostentatious celebrations of freedom in Putin's back yard. The administration wants to send a message to Georgia's neighbors that the US does not support Russian tactics in that region as clearly as possible under the circumstances. We can't afford a complete break with Putin, but we cannot afford for him to set fire to the Caucasus for whatever motivation he has in doing so, either.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 21, 2005 9:42 AM

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