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.