Monday, April 5, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russians Wonder about Another Terrorist Attack and Whether the Powers that Be Can Prevent It

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 5 – Now that the initial shock of the March 30th metro attacks has worn off, Russians are beginning to ask where the terrorists are likely to strike next and what measures the powers that be, which have been singularly unsuccessful in preventing attacks in the past, may now put in place in order to prevent them.
Today, offers two articles that address these issues, asking first where future attacks are likely ( and second what the Russian authorities are likely to dry to do to prevent a recurrence of the deadly subway attack of a week ago and how their lives are likely to be affected (
The conclusions of the two articles are not reassuring: On the one hand, the first article concludes that more terrorist attacks are likely to take place in Russia in the coming months. And on the other, the second suggests that Russian siloviki, in large part because of their corrupt nature, are not in a position to defend Russians as well as are police agencies in other countries.
The three “versions” “Versiya” journalist Mikhail Yakovlev offers – the breaking out of a terrorist war “across all of Russia, the continuation of the war at approximately the same level, and the likelihood of “new terrorist attacks” soon – are about equally probable, but all suggest that Russians not just in the North Caucasus will have to deal with more such acts in the future.
Indeed, the most important consequence of the terrorist attack in the Moscow metro is that Russians are facing up to the reality that terrorism is not something far away but close at hand and that no one can provide them with the assurance that all attacks can and will be prevented.
Nonetheless, as Vadim Saranov points out in the second “Versiya” article, the Russian powers that be are committed to trying to do just that. At a meeting in Makhachkala, President Dmitry Medvedev promised to make the struggle with terrorism “more harsh and with even harsh measures.”
But many doubt this will dissuade those who are prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out such attacks and some fear that increasing the use of force in the North Caucasus and killing more potential terrorists may have the unintended consequence of helping those who support the use of terror to recruit people willing to carry out such acts.
That sense that force won’t be enough and that social-economic changes won’t be quick enough to counter terrorism has focused attention on a variety of other suggestions, including fingerprinting the population or collecting DNA for large segments of the population, as possible crime fighting techniques.
While these are technically possible, most experts say, they would be expensive and not necessarily effective. Moreover, as some rights activists have pointed out, they would open the way to abuse, giving the militia and the FSB the kind of data sets that these agencies might use to bring charges against entirely innocent people.
Lev Ponomaryev, a Moscow rights activist, told “Versiya” that he was certain people in the North Caucasus would find ways around any registration system, including fingerprinting and that he fears the powers that be would use them inappropriately. After all, recent research suggests that 30 percent of those now incarcerated were convicted with fraudulent evidence.
Because of those shortcomings, he said, he “does not see any serious arguments in favor of such measures but many arguments against.” And consequently, he said, he is “categorically against” the collection of such data. Others may agree, but that does not mean that the powers that be won’t try to come up with what appear to be a magic bullet against terrorism.
Several officials have proposed banning anonymous SIM cards so that the militia will be able to trace calls. Others have called for requiring anyone getting on an intercity bus to show picture identification, and a few have even suggested requiring identification before getting on the Moscow metro, something that could introduce major delays.
The variety of proposed solutions, Saranov suggests, leads to “the conclusion that today there do not exist any means” of providing a guarantee against future attacks. Still more disturbing, it appears that at least some of the proposals are intended to put more money in the pockets of officials than to provide security for Russians.
Kirill Kabanov, who heads the National Anti-Corruption Committee, notes that “we theoretically have all the means we need for the struggle with terrorism. Work should begin at the level of the individual mitiaman.” He should observe and pass on information to the FSB, “where it can be systematized” and acted upon.
But unfortunately, that is only “in theory.” In Russia now, militiamen are more interested in taking 5,000 rubles (160 US dollars) from illegal immigrants” than in fighting terrorism. And “the special services today are more occupied with controlling businesses and resolving business questions with the procuracy and the militia.”
“Corrupt law enforcement organs cannot struggle with terrorism,” Kabanov says. If other Russians reach that conclusion and if more terrorist attacks follow, that alone may do more to transform Russian social, economic and political arrangements than any demonstrations the systemic or extra-systemic opposition may stage.

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