Russia’s ongoing battle with radical Islam

30 November 2014

EFD Fellow Anna Borshchevskaya states that there are a number of reasons to remain sceptical about how successfully Russia is handling its battle with terrorism and radical Islam.

Last month, Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee met in Moscow and announced that terrorist acts in the country have declined more than two-fold in 2014 as compared the same time period of the previous year.

There are many reasons to remain skeptical, however. Russia is hardly winning its broader battle with terrorism and radical Islam.

According to the latest Institute for Economics and Peace Global Terrorism Index report released this month, Russia ranked 11th out of 162 countries, behind only countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Russia’s latest score shows little change since 2003, when the Global Terrorism Index first came out. In fact, since 2003, Russia has steadfastly remained within the top ten to 12 countries in the world most affected by terrorism, according to the index.

The Russian government may hail short-lived victories, such as the one in Moscow last month, but it is refusing to address the core causes behind the rise of radical Islam in the country. The International Crisis Group (ICG), for instance, has noted in January 2014, on the wake of the-then upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi—games marked, among other things, by corruption scandals, terrorism warnings and heightened security— that Russia’s “heavy-handed security policies in the North Caucasus that are more likely to exacerbate the situation in the region than calm it.”

“In Dagestan, for example, attempts to rehabilitate insurgents and engage in dialogue with moderate Salafis have been replaced by a wave of repression against fundamentalist Muslims. Similar policies have been applied in Ingu­shetia, and security has also been tightened elsewhere. These measures may temporarily suppress the symptoms of the North Caucasus insurgency, but they cannot solve the core problems,” added the report.

Most recently, one author writing about Dagestan for Russian-language observed that such measures as toughening criminal punishment for terrorist acts and Dagestani rebels leaving for Syria may explain the recent decline of terrorist activity in Dagestan, but the authorities do not provide explanations for why just as many new fighters come to replace of the newly-departed ones. The most commonly-heard criticism of the government and municipal authorities of Dagestan, according to the author, is the failure to take preventive measures.

Tatarstan, traditionally peaceful, multi-cultural, and prosperous—perhaps one of the most prosperous in Russia— is a prime example of how Russia is losing its battle with radical Islam.

In March 2011, Doku Umarov, a Chechen militant and the self-proclaimed Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, a militant jihadist organization operating in Russia, announced in an online video his intention to expand the Caucasus Emirate’s operations from the North Caucasus deeper into Russia. He specifically called on Muslims in Tatarstan to rise against Moscow.

The next year saw the rise of radical Islamist activity in Tatarstan, which included two attacks on the region’s most prominent Muslim clerics. Last month, Tatarstan’s authorities have reportedly arrested eight Hizb ut-Tahrir members on terrorism charges, including recruitment of Muslims.

Russia’s battle with radical Islam has its roots in the secular separatist Chechen movement of the 1990s which increasingly grew more radical and spread to other regions over the years, in part due to Russia’s own policies. Indeed, in April 2013, the Economist noted, “Over the past decade, the more moderate, secular figures in the original Chechen resistance were purposefully ignored by Moscow and pushed aside by more extremist fighters. Today’s conflict is a grinding civil war fuelled in equal parts by the more violent strains of Salafi Islam and a toxic cycle of never-ending revenge killing.”

Until the Russian government addresses the fundamental causes behind rise of radical Islam in Russia, and adapts its strategies accordingly, there’s little reason to think the situation will show significant improvement.

This article was originally published here.