Vienna, June 28 – Like its Western counterparts, the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to use Cold War models to develop effective institutions and messages to win the hearts and minds of terrorists remain both disorganized and ineffective, according to Russia’s leading public commentator on that country’s security services.
In an article in the current issue of “Novaya gazeta,” Andrey Soldatov compares recent British and Russian efforts in this area and concludes that neither country has yet found a good way to deal with the ideological challenges presented by terrorism. His comments on the Russian situation are especially intriguing (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/45/19.html).
A year ago, the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) created a special working group to counter “the ideology of terrorism.” Valentin Sobolev, the deputy secretary of the Security Council, said at the time that members of the group were both monitoring regions within Russian where this ideology was most prevalent and working with the mass media.
This group, which Soldatov suggests should have been able to draw on the “enormous experience” of Soviet era structures like the CPSU Central Committee department for work with the intelligentsia and the KGB’s infamous Fifth Chief Directorate, was subordinate to former FSB director Nikolai Patrushev.
But “the key figure” until earlier this month, was Vladimir Bulavin, an FSB deputy director who supervised the NAK apparatus. Beginning in 1992, Soldatov reports, he headed the local FSB administration in Nizhny Novgorod, and when he was transferred to the NAK last year, he brought with him Nikolai Sintsov, who had been head of the Nizhny FSB office.
In December 2007, Soldatov continues, Sintsov told the “Novosti” news agency that the working group was planning “to formulate a “’System of Information Support of State Policy to Oppose the Ideology of Terrorism,’” a program that involved unmasking religious extremism, giving traditional Islam “a positive image,” and propagandizing good relations among religions.
Recently, however, Sintsov confirmed to Soldatov that the working group continues to exist but that the NAK has not even named a leader for it. Moreover, the analyst writes, “there is no evidence that a system of counteracting the ideology of terrorism has yet been developed” by the working group or by any other part of the NAK.
Nonetheless, Soldatov continues, “one must not say that the NAK is entirely uninterested in the struggle with the ideas of terrorism. It is interested but it is not very clever,” an unfortunate reality that was highlighted when NAK officials asked whether a site that had hacked the pro-Chechen Kavkaztsentr site was tied to groups it clearly had nothing to do with.
“Even if one ignores for a moment the doubtful utility of using hacker attacks as a method of struggle with the sites of separatists,” Soldatov says, “the ineffectiveness of this approach is evident.” Kavkaztsentr continues to operate as do the government sites in Estonia that Russian hackers went after in the spring of 2007.
Despite this “scandal,” NAK continues to focus on the Internet, and last year Patrushev even “promised that soon [NAK] would have a special subdivision for the struggle with information terrorism on the net.” That does not appear to have happened, and NAK has not even reached an accord with Yandex like the one the British government has with Google.
And whether by design or default, Soldatov continues, “the center of [the Russian] struggle with the ideology of terrorism is not located in the NAK.” Instead, it has passed into the hands of those in the government who work most closely with organizations like the International Anti-Terrorism Media Forum and the Anti-Terrorist Forum of Journalists, which was put together by the Moscow Institute for the Development of the Press.
The last of these launched a special website, www.terroizmunet.com, which joined a second portal www.antiterror.ru of Gleb Pavlovsky’s Effective Policy Foundation, both of which appear to have been financed by the Federal Agency for the Press and Mass Communications and to have been designed to tell journalists how they should write about terrorism.
Indeed, these various forums and sites frequently pushed the idea, which did not take off, of establishing special courses for journalists covering terrorism and of allowing only the graduates of these courses to visit zones of “counter-terrorist operations” within the Russian Federation.
A year ago, Patrushev announced that the IMA Group had developed a pilot project for an information-propaganda campaign to counter terrorism, and with this announcement, control over www.antiterror.ru passed from Pavlovsky to the IMA Group. At the same time, Soldatov says, there appeared a special children’s site on countering terrorism, www.01-02.ru.
But even these efforts faltered by early 2008, Soldatov suggests, with the government no longer providing funding and Olga Karabanova, the president of the Institute for the Development of the Press, acknowledging that “her anti-terrorist projects” had been left hanging in the air because officials no longer see counter-terrorist ideology as critical.
As these specific programs collapsed, Soldatov says, the more traditional approaches of the security agencies in the area of the media came to the fore. On the one hand, the FSB continued its efforts to direct journalists on key issues. And on the other, the security agencies decided to go over the journalists’ heads by backing movies about the heroic work of the organs.
The impact of such films on Russian viewers may or may not be great, but their ability to deliver messages designed to win “the hearts and minds” of terrorists is certainly small. Consequently, the Agentura.ru analyst suggests, Moscow is going to have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to develop an effective strategy in this area.
But Soldatov concludes by pointing out that Western governments are not doing much better. “The only difference,” he says, “is that the British and American special services are using the ideological front to justify the war in Iraq, while our [Russian] organs are doing so to advance themselves” at home.