Saturday, April 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: FSB, MVD, and Procuracy Seek United Front against Religious Extremism

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 4 – In the face of what the leadership of the FSB, the MVD and the Russian Procuracy say is a growing threat from religiously-motivated extremism, the three agencies have agreed to a variety of measures to combat it, according to a December 2008 directive that has been published only now.
The 1300-word directive, signed by Russian Procurator General Yury Chaika, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, and FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov and available at, has attracting the attention of groups ranging from the SOVA religious rights center to the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).
That is at least in part because the order not only provides a remarkable insight into how the Russian government now views extremism but also offers both an explanation for some of the steps Moscow has taken over the last four months and an indication of what the Russian government is likely to do in this area in the future.
The directive, which bears the cumbersome title, “On the Improvement of Work for Preventing and Blocking the Activity of Social and Religious Organizations for Disseminating Ideas of National Separatism,” first describes the nature of the threat, then details shortcomings in the work of officials and finally commits the three structures to adopt a common approach.
According to the directive, “extremist manifestations are becoming one of the basic factors which are creating a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation.” The extremists are “unceasingly increasing the level of [their] organization,” are using the most modern technologies to disseminate their views, and are increasingly “conspiratorial.”
“Extremism under the cover of Islam” is particularly dangerous, the directive says, not only having a major influence on the level of crime in Russia. Moreover, it specifies, “90 percent of those who participate in the preparation and carrying out [of terrorist acts] have a direct relationship to ‘Islamic’ extremist organizations.”
But non-Muslims are also motivated toward terrorism “on a a religious basis,” including the followers of the Union of Slavic Communities of the Slavic Native Faith, the movement of “Live without Fear of Judaism” as well as “a number of other organizations,” among the most violent of which are “informal groups of young people.”
And among the groups operating in many regions of the country that present a threat of extremism under a religious cover are the Avant-garde of Red Youth, the National Bolshevik Party, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), Russian National Unity (RNE), and the National Socialist Society.
In the face of this threat, the joint directive says, the work of government agencies has been “inadequate,” “uncoordinated,” and lacking the sharing of information and techniques that would allow Moscow and regional governments to do a far better job in combating extremism and the terrorism it gives rise to.
Moreover, government agencies, the directive says, have failed to pay attention to the way in which “the high level of illegal migration of foreign citizens or persons without citizenship is influencing the growth of extremist manifestations” and have failed to stop the organization of extremist groups at the very beginning when it should be easier.
In that regard, it says, Russian prosecutors have not used as much as they should existing legislation which allow the procuracy to asks judges to prohibit “organizations that are not registered as the law requires” and which could permit bringing charges against “the leaders and active members of prohibited extremist organizations” that commit crimes.
And the directive specifies that “up to now, a needed system of countering extremism has not been formed in the regions, and specific measures which will guarantee the mutual assistance and coordinated action of all interested agencies have not been developed” either, shortcomings that have allowed the situation to deteriorate outside of Moscow.
The directive then calls for a number of specific steps. Among the most noteworthy are the following. First, it calls for focusing on stopping the flow of money into extremist groups. Second, it calls for gathering more information about Russia’s counterterrorist efforts, systematizing it, and then sending it back to operational level officials.
Third, the directive calls for expanding efforts to ensure that prosecutors have all the information available to other agencies so that they can bring charges in court against leaders and ordinary members of extremist groups, thus using transparently legal means to fight this particular form of illegality.
Fourth, it urges that government agencies “more widely use civil-legal means to block the activity of Internet sites, the content of which is directed at promoting social, national, racial or religious hatred and antagonism.” And fifth, it calls for regular reporting about what each of the organizations whose leaders signed this directive are doing.
It is far from certain whether this directive will improve cooperation among agencies that have often been at odds, but this directive certainly highlights both the level of concern of the Russian government about religiously inspired extremism and the desire of the Kremlin to suggest that it will use legal means in the first instance to fight it.

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