Russia/ St. Petersburg Metro Blasts and the Caucasus

Reuters: Russian minister: 10 dead in St. Petersburg metro blast – Interfax. A sequence of questions results:

  • Is this terrorism? The probability is high, but the question is necessary.  No decent government wants to exacerbate tensions because of the actions of the purely deranged.
  • Is it related to the Caucasus? If it is terrorism, the probability is high.
  • Are some of the actors Chechen? It gets interesting. As a whole the southern Caucasus contains elements that can be radicalized, but Chechnya is the radical state.
  • If they are Chechen, are they disloyal to Ramzan Kadyrov, the personal dictator of Chechnya?

These are obvious questions. A more interesting one looms. In 2005, it became obvious that Putin had neutralized the threat of Chechnya by giving it a special deal. To do this, he had to find someone to deal with who could reciprocate in these ways:

  • Personally guarantee that there would not be a Third Chechen War.
  • Offer services to aid in control of the radical potential of the Caucasus as a whole. Co-opting of radical elements, and counterintelligence.

The extreme of this is that Kadyrov’s Chechnya is allowed strict Sharia law, and (Atlantic) personal dictatorship with impunity. Perhaps this would not have been required simply to end the Chechen wars. But it serves another function; it is an attractant to individuals who would otherwise fall into the jihadist orbit. That it has not been completely successful shows in the large numbers of Chechen members of ISIS. But it could have been worse. The more orthodox Chechnya is, the more resources are available to counterintelligence: informants, operatives, sympathies.

If the above questions are affirmed, Kadyrov’s co-opting has failed Putin twice: in the death of Boris Nemtsov, where close associates of Kadyrov were implicated, and in these metro bombings. The successes, prevention of repetitions of the 1999 apartment bombings, are of course not known. The Russians do not feel quite the obligation of due process for terrorists as in the West.

To neutralize at least some of the perpetrators of the Nemtsov assassination, Russia mounted a police/paramilitary raid into Chechnya with assets from neighboring oblasts. Kadyrov made a statement  that sounded like (WSJ) an open rebellion against the Kremlin, which (RFE)  publicly rebuked him. An RFE article,  The Warlord Checkmates The Tsar, offers a variety of opinions  on the degree to which Putin uses Kadyrov and in turn is manipulated by him.

Some of the ideas tend towards conspiracy, failing Occam’s Razor. The current relationship can be most easily explained as toleration of an ethnic attractant to co-opt Islamic extremism, blunt, and absorb it. It hasn’t been absorbed at all, but perhaps Putin’s solution should be measured by how much worse things could be.

The Chechnya bargain cannot be undone without a third war. Instead, Russia’s response is to strengthen her internal defenses. The merger of the SVR and the FSB security services into a Ministry of State Security will enable a complete internal judicial process, including liquidation, hidden from the public.

This new Russian police-state will facilitate the take-down of widespread terrorist networks, because the target networks will not realize what is happening to them. It’s a terrible thing, to abolish civil liberties, to bring back the troika, because Russia contains a hostile, literally murderous enclave.

But Putin would ask, and this deserves to be part of his Apology: Would you rather have a Third Chechen War?

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