Vienna, August 13 – Russian forces fighting Chechens and other rebels in the North Caucasus today are self-consciously copying the approach their British counterparts used against the Irish Republican Army in Ulster 40 years ago, according to two leading Moscow specialists on intelligence and counter-insurgency issues.
But just as with the IRA at that time, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov argue, militants across the North Caucasus now have quickly adjusted to this new reality guaranteeing that the conflicts in that region will continue and quite possibly become more violent as well (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data.ru/data/2007/60/18.html).
According to Borogan and Soldatov, Russian army, interior ministry, and FSB officials in the North Caucasus began to copy the British approach after senior Russian generals visited Northern Ireland in October 2005 to exchange ideas with their UK opposite numbers on how best to conduct counter-terrorist operations.
For a Russian perspective, the Ulster model had much to recommend it: It called for the development of expanded intelligence networks, the use of carefully targeted raids instead of large-scale operations by government forces, and the use of local people for day-to-day police work.
Not surprisingly, both Russian commanders on the ground and the Kremlin soon signed on, the former because the new strategy promised fewer official casualties and the latter because it allowed President Vladimir Putin to plausibly claim at least before some audience that he had successfully “won” the war in the Caucasus.
But there are three reasons, the two Moscow analysts suggest, that help to explain why the Russian application of this model over the last 18 months has not worked even as well as it did for the British in Ulster, whatever the short-term propagandistic value it may have had.
First, the Russian security agencies have never developed the kind of intelligence gathering and especially sharing that such a strategy requires. Instead, Borogan and Soldatov say, commanders in the various security agencies have been more concerned with avoiding responsibility than prosecuting a common effort.
Second, as the situation in Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov shows, Moscow was far more prepared than London was to turn over a wide variety of police and security functions to local people in order that the Kremlin could proclaim victory even if the loyalty of the locals was far from certain.
And third – and this is far and away the most important factor, Borogan and Soldatov suggest – “the militants in the North Caucasus have also reorganized their structure and changed their goals” so as to be in a position not only to counter the new Russian tactics but also to be able to prosecute what the IRA called “the long war.”
In both regards, the militants in the North Caucasus are consciously or unconsciously copying what the IRA did 40 years ago.
When the British massively intervened in Ulster 40 years ago after “the troubles,” the IRA changed organizationally and ideologically. Organizationally, it shifted from large military-type units to cells. Initially, officials greeted this development as a mark of success, but they were wrong on two fronts.
On the one hand, the IRA recognized that British intelligence could far more easily penetrate large units than small cells. Indeed, Borogan and Soldatov write, up to then, “too many people who was who in the IRA.” With the creation of the cell system, the British were far less successful in working against it.
And on the other, by organizing itself into cells, the IRA set itself up for “the long war” in which the various cells could act and frequently act more violently and with far less concern about the attitudes of the larger community from which they sprang than had been the case in the past.
According to the two Russian analysts, that meant that IRA “actions” tended to become more infrequent – something British officials welcomed – but far more violent – something which ultimately put more pressure on London to settle than had the more numerous violent acts of the earlier time.
Militants in the North Caucasus appear to be taking the same steps, settling in for what is likely to prove a longer and possibly occasionally more violent campaign. And one clear indication of that, the two Moscow analysts say, is that Russian commanders acknowledge that the situation in much of the North Caucasus is now worse than it was.
If the pattern Borogan and Soldatov point to holds, the next 40 years in the North Caucasus could be as difficult for Moscow as the last 40 years in Northern Ireland have been for London – and with no conclusive victory for government forces or final defeat for their opponents in either place.