Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Failure to Understand Terrorism Weakens Russia’s Efforts to Combat It, Analyst Says

Paul Goble
Baku, February 5 – President Vladimir Putin continues to equate terrorism with banditry, a definition that not only fails to capture the ideological dimension of those who use violence to advance their agendas but also means that Moscow will find it difficult if not impossible to defeat terrorism by the use of coercive powers alone.
And however great its resources of that kind are, Sergei Markedonov argues in a commentary on Putin’s January 30th meeting with the FSB collegium, reliance on them means that Moscow is not using the full range of resources that it could command (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=13654).
Putin’s comment to that meeting that “not all” of the leaders of the “band formations” in the North Caucasus have been captured or killed attracted the most media interest, but Markedonov, one of the most thoughtful Moscow commentators on the North Caucasus, suggests that his other remarks were more significant.
Like other Russian siloviki have done in the past, Putin explicitly equated terrorists with banditry, and consequently, “one can say with a high degree of confidence that from now on Russian policy in the North Caucasus will be presented exclusively s a struggle with criminal activities.”
That equation plays well both domestically and abroad, Markedonov continues, with the former viewing bandit as simply an epithet and the latter seeing this use of words as a reflection of Putin’s own past in the security services and his commitment to do whatever it takes to wipe out terrorism.
But in fact, the Moscow analyst says, talking about terrorism in this way makes this phenomenon more difficult to combat because this vocabulary blinds the authorities to the fact that terrorists are much more dangerous than ordinary criminals because they are driven not just by self-interest but by ideology..
Consequently, while it may be good propaganda “in the spirit of Soviet agitprop” to describe terrorists as “bandits,” alcoholics, drug users, “morally unstable,” and either sexual predators or homosexuals,” this approach does not touch on their ideological commitments or the social conditions out of which they spring.
Terrorism is a social and ideological activity, Markedonov stresses, and he cites with approval the argument of American expert Richard Falk that it consists of “any type of political force which does not have an adequate moral or legal justification independent of who applies it, a revolutionary group or a government.”
Thus, Markedonov continues, terrorists are not interested in “explosions, theft or destruction” for their own sake but because they hope to achieve some political end. And “consequently, the struggle with them ” if that struggle is to be effective, must be designed on the basis of that reality.
First of all, he says, the struggle against terrorism must itself be “politically motivated and grounded.” Second, it must be presented as “a political course and not as a police raid.” And third, it must focus on “the causes and not the consequences” that lie behind the actions of the terrorists.
“Unfortunately,” the Moscow analyst continues, Puitn and his regime “not understanding the political nature of terrorism are adopting counter-terrorist measures on the basis of ‘police determinism,’” the same mistake the tsarist authorities made 150 years ago and that led to the collapse of the Russian Empire.
No struggle against terrorism limited to “police measures” will be successful, Markedonov concludes, and he urges the authorities to try to understand “the political preconditions of terrorism, its social base,” and the ideology of its operatives in order to be in a better position to combat it.
That will require them, he says, to develop better expertise on terrorism, improve the government operations, and put an end to “propagandistic clichés and slogans.” But sadly, he says, Putin and those around him do no understand any of this and thus are unprepared to do so, failings that give the terrorists greater opportunities to act.

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