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Analysis: New Proposals On The Russian Antiterrorism Front

  • Roman Kupchinsky --> After the initial shock and confusion of the Beslan hostage tragedy faded, Russian law enforcement agencies began in mid-October and early November to provide background information to the press about possible new measures to be used in the war on terrorism.

Recent comments by top Russian security officials -- meant to show that the state power ministries are not only vigilant but determined to use any methods at their disposal to ensure the safety of Russian cities -- were widely publicized.

Appearing before the State Duma on 29 October, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolai Patrushev, in response to a question by Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin, demonstrated the vigilance of the FSB and stated that according to his information, more than 80 trained suicide bombers were to be sent to Russia "to carry out terrorist acts." Patrushev did not provide any further details of where these terrorists had undergone training or which group, if any, they belonged to.

"The training of fighters and suicide-bombers is carried out through secret religious and military-religious organizations, located in a number of Eastern states," Patrushev said, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 October.
"In order to confidently say there will be no terrorist acts, a comprehensive system of measures must be in operation and it has to operate precisely. So far such a system has not been created in our country."

The head of the FSB told the Duma that "some of them have been neutralized" but there are difficulties in identifying the majority of them.

Patrushev went on to claim that there were 10 members of Al-Qaeda operating in the North Caucasus and repeated earlier charges that the takeover of the school in Beslan was an act of international terrorism. He also agreed with Duma Deputy Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovskii, of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, that terrorists should be tried in court by professional judges and not by a jury.

In response to a question from Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin about the prevention of possible terrorist acts in Moscow and other cities, Patrushev replied: "In order to confidently say there will be no terrorist acts, a comprehensive system of measures must be in operation and it has to operate precisely. So far such a system has not been created in our country."

Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov was also present at the Duma on 29 October and, according to the 1 November issue of "Novaya Gazeta," told the gathered deputies that the hostage takers in Beslan were drug addicts high on morphine, which they took in lethal doses before killing 11 and wounding 30 members of the Vimpel and Alfa special action units that were sent to free the hostages.

Ustinov also proposed that the state fight terrorism using "the methods of the terrorists" and confiscate property belonging to the relatives of terrorists and to hold these relatives as hostages. According to "Novaya Gazeta," Ustinov said that if "terrorists are shown what can happen to their relatives, this can help us in some degree to save lives."

Commenting on this suggestion, the author of the article in "Novaya Gazeta," Pavel Felgenhauer, wrote that not only is the taking of hostages forbidden by the Geneva Convention of 1949, but that it smacks of tactics used by the German Gestapo during World War II to fight Soviet partisans.

Addressing the ongoing threat, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told the staff and patients of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) main clinical military hospital in Moscow on 4 November that terrorists were "continuing their sallies and cynical crimes" and that major Russian cities remain their prime targets, Interfax reported on 4 November.

However, the minister took a positive view of matters and told his audience that "quite a lot has been done this year to make the system of internal affairs bodies efficient and effective." One implication of that statement could be that up until that point -- for the last five years of Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration and throughout the presidency of Boris Yeltsin -- the MVD had been inefficient and ineffective.

So the question remains, how organized are terrorists and do they have the infrastructure to carry out more suicide-bomb attacks in the Russian capital?

"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 2 November spoke to a former deputy prosecutor for Moscow, Yurii Sinelshchikov, who in the past had been involved in the investigation of terrorist bombing cases. He described for the newspaper the functioning of this support network.

He said that suicide bombers are recruited and trained, as a rule, in the North Caucasus (not in "some eastern country" as the head of the FSB claimed) and are most often women whose relatives, husbands, or sons died in the conflict with Russia. These women arrive in Moscow alone by train one or two days before the planned event where they meet their handler. The handlers usually arrive in Moscow a few months earlier, obtain registration, and after the attack go into hiding in the Caucasus, Sinelshchikov added.

The handlers are responsible for all facets of the operation -- this includes feeding the bombers, finding an apartment where they stay, and preparing the explosive device, he continued. Apartments are not rented through real-estate agencies but through a network of relatives and friends so that the owners will not know who, in fact, lived in their apartment.

Sinelshchikov claimed that explosives are brought to Moscow from the Caucasus by car as it is virtually impossible to check every passenger car entering the city.

According to Sinelshchikov, the cost of preparing a terrorist act "is not all astronomical" and amounts to several thousand dollars on average.

In order for the FSB to respond more efficiently to increased terrorism, a structural reorganization of it was ordered on 11 July when President Putin issued decree 870 on the optimization of the resources of the FSB.

On 5 November, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" provided details on how the decree was being implemented. The number of FSB deputy directors was reduced by two-thirds, the newspaper reported on the basis of an official report issued by the FSB public relations center. That left Director Patrushev with only two first deputies -- Lieutenant General Sergei Smirnov and Colonel General Vladimir Anisimov -- and two deputies.

The most important changes apply to units tasked with combating terrorism. Aleksandr Bragin, the former head of the FSB directorate for the Chelyabinsk Oblast, was made the head of the service for the protection of constitutional order and combating terrorism.

At the same time, a new subdivision was created -- the Directorate for Combating International Terrorism, which will be headed by Major General Yurii Sapunov, formerly chief of the Astrakhan Oblast's FSB. He now becomes, in the words of the newspaper, "the chief Russian fighter against bin Laden."

Lefortovo will remain the main interrogation and holding prison and stay under the direct jurisdiction of the FSB's Investigation Directorate, which will remain an entity unto itself. Yurii Anisimov, its current acting chief, will soon be appointed its head according to "Nezavisimaya Gazeta."

What impact these changes will have on the Russian war on terrorism remains to be seen. Judging by Patrushev's comments in the Duma, the FSB seems content to blame the war in Chechnya on "international terrorism" and is still loath to seek answers within Russia itself and its questionable tactics in Chechnya.

Ustinov's "hostage taking" suggestions will most likely not get international approval and few analysts are convinced that this is the wisest approach to take in combating the Chechen revolt.

It is possible that in the next few months the Russian power ministries will present more realistic approaches to protect the lives of their citizens.