Staunton, October 10 – Aleksandr Bastrykin, the acting head of the newly-independent Russian investigative service, says that militants in the North Caucasus at the present time are inflicting up to “five to six” losses among MVD troops every day, a situation that is “almost a war” and that requires military and ideological responses more than economic ones.
On Ekho Moskvy’s “Dura Lex” program Friday night, Bastrykin said that “the organs of internal affairs in the North Caucasus republics … are daily bearing losses of up to five to six people,” “big losses” which alongside the special operations of other Russian forces merit calling the conflict there “almost a war” (echo.msk.ru/programs/lex/716493-echo/).
He added that in his view, the causes of the conflict remain “the same” as they were; and while he said that Moscow’s new “strategy of social-economic development” is “correct,” Bastrykin said his own experience in the Caucasus and that of his agency “demonstrates” that economic measures are insufficient.
What is critical, he suggested, is that Moscow must “think up a system of ideological (and I am expressing this in a soft way [he added]) influence on this problem,” given that Russian forces are now dealing with people who on the basis of their own beliefs are prepared to sacrifice their lives to kill ordinary people and the forces sent against them.
Some of these young militants, he pointed out, make videos for their relatives and friends and tell them that “’I am going to commit a heroic act in the name of Allah, and I will end in paradise, but my sacrifice is not meaningless, and I will carry off with me dozens of the bodies and souls of my enemies in the name of Allah’ and so on.”
Unfortunately, at the present time, Bastrykin continued, “no one is working on this theme” in order to come up with ways to counter it.
His Ekho Moskvy interviewer recalled that on September 12, 2001, in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States, he had remarked that “the Third World War had begun” and that it was “an ideological war,” views which Bastrykin’s comments this week suggest he shares.
At the present time, Bastrykin said, his agency is working together with the interior ministry and FSB “in the framework of the joint operational group which was created by the decree of the president of the Russian Federation,” even though this group is not involved in the investigation of crimes but in preventing terrorist acts.
Bastrykin’s comments are important for at least two reasons. On the one hand, his view that Moscow should develop an ideological message to counter the militants rather than relying on economic development represents at least in part a dissent from the position now being pushed by President Dmitry Medvedev and his representative Aleksandr Khloponin.
And on the other, his suggestion that Russian forces are currently losing five or six soldiers a day in this campaign underscores that the conflict – in Bastrykin’s words, “the war” – continues at a higher level of violence than Russian officials and the Moscow media currently tend to acknowledge.
Consequently, while colder weather and the loss of vegetation in the mountains that follows will almost certainly reduce the intensity of the conflicts in that region in the coming weeks, the war in the North Caucasus, even if it is more often labeled “the counter-terrorist struggle,” is likely to remain at the center of Russian concerns for a long time to come.
And that in turn means, as the Russian Federation heads into the parliamentary and presidential elections, ever more Russian politicians and commentators are going to be forced to take a position on it and on the ways Moscow has so far unsuccessfully prosecuted its effort in the North Caucasus.