Vienna, June 6 – Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said in Makhachkala yesterday that “Islamist extremist groups are not the only ones operating on the territory of Russia.” Alongside them, he suggested, are “radical Protestant, Buddhist, and other religious groups.”
And these extremists, he said, not only threaten their respective but also the Russian state and Russian society more broadly. To counter them, “all branches of the government and society” -- not just law enforcement bodies -- must struggle against it (http://www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/print.php?act=news&id=18642).
Patrushev and other security officials have warned about religious extremism beyond Islam before, but this is the most sweeping attack yet on that phenomenon by the FSB chief and could, if it comes to inform Moscow’s policies, trigger new witch hunts not only against Islam but against other religions.
Some are certain to downplay his remarks: He was after all speaking to a Muslim audience and his suggestion might be read as playing to his audience. But both the vehemence of his remarks and the rapidity with which Russian websites have picked up on them suggests that his words will have a broader impact.
The remarks of another speaker at that meeting add weight to that interpretation: Rashid Nurgaliyev, Russia’s interior minister, not only suggested that militia forces are the main obstacle blocking the spread of extremism and terrorism in Daghestan but that those phenomena are directed by domestic and “external anti-Russian centers.”
Nurgaliyev noted that over the course of the last 30 months, there were almost 270 terrorist actions in Daghestan along, and that these attacks had as their victims dozens of militia officers, including senior officials in the republic’s interior ministry (http://www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/print.php?act=news&id=18635).
That Russian security officials are concerned about what they see as a rising tide of religiously-inspired extremism at a time when President Vladimir Putin is trying to play down that threat is suggested by two other remarkable but lower profile events this week – in addition, of course, to the ethnic clashes and demonstrations in Stavropol.
On the one hand, Russian analysts have been publishing detailed articles about some predominantly Russian areas adjoining the restive republics of the North Caucasus – including Stavropol (Sergei Markedonov, “The War of ‘the Worlds’ in the South of Russia,” at http://www.apn.ru/publications/print17206.htm) and Rostov (Igor Dobayev and Rinat Pateyev, “After Stavropol,” at http://www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=774).
And on the other, two low print-run books issued in 2006 -- “An Atlas of the Ethnopolitical History of the Caucasus” and “An Atlas of the Social-Political Problems, Threats and Risks of Russia’s South” – are now attracting more attention (http://www.kavkaz.geopolitika.ru/arlas?PHPSESSID=491f8579866e69ae9403da647d342948).
UPDATE ON JUNE 7 – The Moscow media have not given additional coverage to the conference in Makhachkala, but the Caucasus Times had its own correspondent at the meeting (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=12701). He reports today that Daghestani President Mukha Aliyev said that “corruption is a greater misfortune than terrorism” and urged that Moscow devote more resources to overcoming the social problems in the North Caucasus. In addition, he described extremism as a phenomenon that operates “under the cover of Islam” rather than part of Islam itself.