ZenPundit
Sunday, October 23, 2005
 
RUSSIA UNRAVELLING: TRANSCAUCASIA'S UNPOPULAR BUT ADVANCING ISLAMISM

If you are interested in Russian and Eurasian affairs you can do no better than to check out Peter Lavelle's Untimely Thoughts and in particular, his weekly round-up of expert opinion. Along with Nathan's Registan, Untimely Thoughts is your "must-read" blog.

This week, Peter's experts discuss the disintegrating situation in Southern Russia and Transcaucasia. A worst-case scenario view from one of them, Gordon Hahn:

"Moreover, there are four general and rather profound implications of Russia’s emerging revolutionary jihadist network for U.S. national and international security that policy-makers ought to be considering:

(1) the potential emergence of a Russia-wide terrorist network of various Muslim ethnic groups’ organizations closely tied to international groups leading to a civil war across large swaths of Russian territory. The model of al Qaeda, to which the jihadist ChRI is now more closely allied than ever before, shows that a geographically expansive, ethnically diverse, loosely organized Islamic terrorist network is realizable and viable

(2) with the Russian state’s weakening or disintegration, the increased likelihood of acquisition of MWMDs by Russia’s Islamists who could become intermediaries for their transfer to international terrorists targeting the United States. The main organizer of Russia’s Islamist network, internationally-wanted terrorist Shamil Basayev, has already said he wants nuclear weapons and engaged in nuclear psychological terror, and terrorists have made several attempts to penetrate nuclear facilities.

(3) the secession of one or more of Russia’s Muslim regions and the establishment of one or more Islamist caliphates on their territory offering a potential state base for the al Qaeda movement; an enlarged recruitment base for the international jihadist movement from among Russia’s radical Islamists, who do not appear Muslim (high rates of Muslim-Slavic marriages, increasing number of converts to Islam among ethnic non-Muslims).

(4) a rising tide of Islamist terrorism and the government’s failure to hold onto large areas of Russian territory likely would promote serious instability in Moscow. A regime that “appeased” or lost out to Islamist separatist revolts and terrorism would be more vulnerable to neo-Communist, hardline nationalist forces or be inclined to continue re-centralizing power and rolling back democracy to such an extent that it transforms itself into a dictatorship. Any of these outcomes is likely to produce a powerful government opposed to U.S. policies and interests, perhaps in alliance with a revived nationalist China or other rogue states. This would be catastrophic for security, given the burdens of an on-going war against terrorism (Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere), the danger of crisis and conflict with Iran and North Korea, and other national and international problems."

Fears exist that Chechen rebels have acquired nuclear warheads and/or weapons grade material or are actively seeking to do so. Given their willingness to strike all the local headquarters of Russian security agencies in coordinated head-on attacks, this fear is justified. In the eyes of Shamil Basayev, how many of his men's lives are " worth " a one megaton warhead ?

The odd aspect to this war, as some other experts rightly point out, is the utter alien nature of terrorist Islamism to the Chechens who historically practice a localized brand of loose Islamic faith with social mores dominated by the code of Adat, not the Sharia. Indeed there is considerable evidence that the ultra-violent Shamil Basayev, the ex-communist, ex-nationalist turned Islamist, may exhibit piety more for the financial support of wealthy Gulf extremists than anything else. There is also no evidence that the Chechens, while loathing Putin, evince any desire to give up their clan-based culture for some kind of artificially constructed neo-Taliban puritanism.

Were it not for the inept and brutal policies of the Russians themselves, Basayev's men would probably meet up with a much more hostile climate in the mountain villages.
 
Comments:
As always, an excellent post.

Conditions are grim for Russia. The population decline rate is worrying enough without the vital ideology of Islamism right there. And unlike France, Russia does not have the resources to buy off her enemies.

It's hard to see what the "right" course for Moscow could be. Trying to do a Deng, ending democracy and focusing on economic reforms, may be the best option. Of course, al Qaeda and affiliated groups are very good at disconnecting geographic areas, and may try a Robbist approach to harming Russia's economic growth.

Our best bet may to be encourage the disintegration of Russia. It makes little sense to retard connectivity in places that can be saved if the profit from those areas will just be used to fight counter-productive wars and oppress peoples.

If Kaliningrad (Konigsberg) and Vladivostok (Haishenwai) would fall under European and Chinese influence, for example, if a generation or two there will be ethnic Russians who could spead up the connectivity of the rest of the country (in the same way that Taiwan and the American Eastern Europeans helped China and the states on the Baltic, for example).

Encouraging the unity of Russian Inner Empire may have been as great a mistake as if we had supported Moscow's claims to the Outer and Central Empires, which fell in '89 and '91.

Dan tdaxp
 
It is a pity the underlying post is filled with so much scare mongering as well as simple illiteracies.

Muslim of course is not an ethnicity - and Slavs have been Muslim for, quite literally, centuries. It borders on the droolingly moronic to make a statement about 'looking Muslim.'

Finally, I would place the chances of a jihadi state among the Caucasuses at near zero, although the Russians are going their level best to improve the chances.

One added thought, this bit about jihadi and puritanism and the like being alien to the region is pure ahistorical bunk and a sorry just so story.

While certainly local custom (Adat is simply the Arabic word for custom, as in local custom (nothing uniquely Caucasian there, respect for local custom is part of orthodox Islamic theology as well)) is getting beaten up in the face of rising orthodoxy, that was going to happen regardless after the secularist suppression of the Communist era.

I am sure that under stress, as we see in many societies in similar situations, there will be a move towards puritianism but with a local idiom. There may be outside Salafist influence but that is not creating whole cloth 'something alien.

Problem with these idiot commentators on Russian Muslims is they know fuck all about Islam.
 
To Dan at Tdaxp,
“Our best bet may to be encourage the disintegration of Russia. It makes little sense to retard connectivity in places that can be saved if the profit from those areas will just be used to fight counter-productive wars and oppress peoples.”
So, Russia has a nuclear missile pointed at every city in the USA over 20,000 people and we decide on encouraging their disintegration. What a bunch of blubber. Whoops, I hope I didn’t sound like Colounsbury. Anyway, we are joined with the Russians to stop our Muslim brothers from destroying all of us. Right or wrong it is in our interest to do so. The Russian people are morally strong not weak. The Germans tried to starve whole cities of Russian people and the people won. It is easy to condemn a whole nation if you are in a dorm somewhere banging Chinese chicks. Upon approaching the real world, watch out!
I have to note that I am nowhere in the real world myself. I am simply in a small city of the USA trying to make my wife happy. To that end, it would be better that I stop wasting my time on the Internet and get a real job. My wife is very tolerant, but I am sure you agree.
 
My, my, my...

hi Col

Hmmmm...well, unless I am mistaken the Chechens, unlike the Bosnian Muslims, are not Slavs. Nor has anything approaching the Wahabbist or Qutbist-Salafi interpretation of the Sharia ever been practiced in Chechnya. Not in the 19th century or back in the days of the Golden Horde. That's sort of like seeing Sicilian rebels suddenly adhering to a rural Afrikaaner brand of the Dutch Reformed Church. It's not entirely alien but it is certainly a cultural import.

Furthermore, I'm highly dubious Basayev is anything but a freebooter who is happy to now wave an Islamist flag if it gets him cash and fighters to sustain his war with Russia. So I agree with you that Chechya won't become a " Jihadi" state per se though it will be a wreck
 
It's easy enough to encourage Russia to fall apart. Quietly supporting Europe's efforts to make Russian-Kaliningrad movement hard, while encouraging Europe to make EU-Kaliningrad movement easy, would be a step in the right direction. Likewise, I understand that illegal Chinese immigration to the Russian Far East is high -- no reason to try to slow that down. If Russia's strong enough to stay together she stays together, but if she ever becomes weak enough to fall apart we'd want other countries "invested" in areas of Russia to make it worth their trouble.

Russia has a low life expectency largely because of gross alcoholism, combined with a negative population growth rate. It's not the 1940s, and the Russians who survived the Nazis are now pensioners being swindled out of their free bus passes. Those that didn't survive tended to be the more valiant of them. There's something symbolic to the fact that the Russian President was a crippled kid who fought off rats during the seige of Leningrad.

Stalin won the East Front of Second World War. The people, of whatever nationality, lost.

Dan tdaxp
 
At a time of great riches and declining wealth, when we are selling our country for beads and trinkets, I think it is appropriate to mention chronic alcoholism. I am not saying that what happened to the Russian people had any connection with what happened to the Native Americans, no, wait a minute, that is what I am saying. Anyway what I mean is let both sides take our missiles off of a hair trigger before we talk about encouraging disintegration of Russia. Maybe these talks are going on, but I haven’t heard of anything happening with our “diplomatic” department.
 
unless I am mistaken the Chechens, unlike the Bosnian Muslims, are not Slavs.

No, they're Chechens.

However, there have been Muslim slavic lang. speakers in Russia for centuries, the Chechens cousin groups are Xian and intermarry with Slavs since the Russian intrusions and in the Crimean the Tatars intermarried (or at least had children) such that the concept of a "Muslim" look suddenly being diluted is pure racism of a particularly stupid kind.

Nor has anything approaching the Wahabbist or Qutbist-Salafi interpretation of the Sharia ever been practiced in Chechnya. Not in the 19th century or back in the days of the Golden Horde. That's sort of like seeing Sicilian rebels suddenly adhering to a rural Afrikaaner brand of the Dutch Reformed Church. It's not entirely alien but it is certainly a cultural import.

No, it's like seein Sicialian rebels who historically have been divergent Catholics suddenly making reference to North Italian practices due to prestige and bec. of financial connexions.

Not alien and not wierd at all. Not likely to be deeply lasting if the situ changes either.
 
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