Vienna, May 4 – While changes in the legal definition of terrorism have allowed the powers that be in Moscow to claim progress against militants in the North Caucasus in recent years, the number of “crimes of a terrorist nature” in that region has risen sharply over the last two years, according to a leading specialist on that region.
In an article entitled “Contemporary Terrorism in the World and in the North Caucasus,” Igor Dobayev, a professor at the Southern Federal University in Rostov-na-Donu, says that the decline in the number of terrorist attacks since 2005 that Moscow officials regularly point to is the result of changes in the Russian criminal code (www.geopolitika.ru/Articles/965/).
The Duma in 2006 sharply narrowed the definition of terrorism, specifying that individuals could be charged with it only if they were seeking to use violence to affect decisions of the organs of power or of international organizations. “Therefore,” he says, “however strange this may seem, terrorist acts [in Russia] in recent years have become extremely rare crimes.”
But if one considers “crimes of a terrorist nature” by illegal armed formations, the Rostov scholar continues, then what one sees is that by 2009, the situation in the North Caucasus represented “a unique ‘return to 2005’” and quite possibly points to even greater deterioration in future years.
While there were only five officially registered terrorist acts in the first nine months of 2009 in the North Caucasus, there were 641 attacks on the lives of law enforcement personnel and soldiers by illegal armed formations, a 30 percent increase over the year before and certainly an indication that terrorism as generally understood is on the rise.
That is all the more so, Dobayev says, because “in the overwhelming majority of cases,” these attacks “were committed by means of the use of self-made explosive devices put under cars” or by direct attacks on the cars or posts of such people with “automatic weapons and grenade launchers.”
According to the Rostov-based expert, there are other reasons for thinking that terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus are increasing rather than declining as some Moscow officials are inclined to suggest. First, there were more suicide bombings in the region than ever before. Second, there were a greater number of crimes connected with the illegal use of arms.
And third, there is evidence that the illegal armed formations are working harder but also more effectively to fill their ranks, not only recruiting members of the local nationalities but5also to draw Slavs, including Russians, into their organizations, a development that will further complicate Moscow’s anti-terrorist effort.
Dobayev’s analysis provides context both for news reports about new terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus and also for statements like those of Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who told Rosbalt.ru on Friday that “the Caucasus has become the target” of terrorists from around the world (www.rosbalt.ru/2010/04/30/733281.html).
Responding to questions from readers, Yevkurov said that in his view, “99 percent of the effort [devoted to counter-terrorism] should go into prevention, and only one percent” into repressive measures, a very different balance than the one Moscow has been pursuing under Vladimir Putin.
At the same time, however, and falling into the definitional trap Dobayev describes, Yevkurov says that “statistics say that in the first months of 2010 the number of crimes of this kind has fallen by a third,” a sleight of hand that may please some in the Russian capital but one that the recent attacks across the North Caucasus suggest is an artifact of statistical categories.