Thursday, November 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russians Fear ‘Fifth Column’ of Jihadi Terrorists among Gastarbeiters

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 4 – Moscow is seeking to impose tighter control over labor migration from CIS countries in general and Tajikistan in particular not only to ensure that Russian laws are obeyed but also to prevent the arrival of Jihadi terrorists within that flow who could form “a fifth column” inside the Russian Federation.
Such an approach, commentator Dmitry Pankratov argues, is “more than justified since under the mask of labor migrants an enormous number of people have come to Russia who are not involved with construction … but with the creation on the territory of another state of individual cells of Islamic groups of an extremist type.”
Moreover, he continues, international experience shows that in an increasing number of cases around the world, those who commit terrorist acts of various kinds in one country received training in another state and then arrived in their target country under the cover of migrants or other “legitimate” activities (
In his article, Pankratov describes the activities on one Tajik Jihadist who moved to Tyumen, recruited other Tajiks there to his ideas and financed his activities with the sale of illegal drugs. But he implies that the case he describes is typical rather than exceptional and that Jihadist elements can be found elsewhere among Gastarbeiter in other Russian cities.
How widespread this phenomenon has become is impossible to know, but this report and others like it – including one on the recruitment of suicide bombers by Islamist radicals in Tajikistan ( -- will further exacerbate Russian suspicions about and xenophobic attitudes toward the growing migrant population.
That presents the Russian powers that be with a serious problem. On the one hand, the Russian economy needs immigrant labor given the country’s declining population. Moreover, Moscow wants to maintain good relations with and hence influence in Muslim countries, both those from which the migrants come and others further afield.
And on the other, there appear to be some in the Russian capital who are prepared to play up such ethnic tensions not only to distract attention of social class problems but also out of the belief that the anti-immigrant sentiment now sweeping through Western Europe provides Russia with the perfect occasion to crack down on immigrants itself.
In recent weeks, Russian courts have ordered the disbanding of the organization of Tajik immigrant workers in the Russian Federation, the number of clashes between migrants and Russians appear to have increased, and anti-immigrant groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigraiton (DPNI) have stepped up their activities.
The onset of colder weather across Russia will likely limit the growth of such phenomena in the next few months, with many migrants returning home or staying out of sight and with Russians in turn focusing on coping with the weather rather than with whatever threats they believe immigrant workers from Muslim countries pose.
But Pankratov’s article and the many others like it in the Russian media suggest that Russian society may be moving toward an explosion early next spring, an explosion in which the powers that be will either have to enforce the Constitution and laws against their own citizens or side with the anger and fears of the latter against the migrant workers.
Beyond any doubt, Moscow as have governments elsewhere will try to find a middle course, cracking down on illegal immigrants and saying that it will defend legal ones. But that position is likely to prove increasingly difficult to sustain given generalized fears among Russians that Gastarbeiters as a group are the sources of terrorism and drugs.

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