Accessibility links

Russia Report: December 1, 2004

1 December 2004, Volume 4, Number 46
By 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, stressed that the FSB remains vigilant 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.

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 are 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 nationalist 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," by confiscating property belonging to the relatives of terrorists and holding 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 Nurgaliev told the staff and patients of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) main clinical military hospital in Moscow on 4 November that terrorists are "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 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 has 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 to 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 at 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 is being implemented. The number of FSB deputy directors has been 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 or to consider the possibility that its own questionable tactics in Chechnya may be counterproductive.

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.

By Paul Goble

During the first eight months of 2004, Russia's population declined by more than 504,000, an amount equal to two villages every day or a small oblast in the course of the year, according to speakers at a recently concluded Moscow conference on that country's demographic future.

But the situation is even worse than those overall figures suggest, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 November. One-third of the total decline consists of working-age adults, a pattern unprecedented in industrialized countries during peacetime and one that puts enormous pressure on the economy, participants in the all-Russian forum on "The Past and Present of Population in Russia" said.

Moreover, they added, mortality rates among Russian men now exceed those among women by 400 percent in all age groups. And mortality rates among young people between the ages of 15 and 19 have increased by 40 percent over the last decade, a pattern that makes it ever more difficult for the Russian army to find enough draftees.

Because all those who will serve in the army or enter the workforce before 2015 have already been born, economist Leonid Abalkin told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" just before the conference opened, these pressures will continue for some time even if Moscow finally decides to devote more money to improving public health and welfare.

In-migration is no longer hiding this trend as it did in the 1990s. During that decade, immigrants from other post-Soviet states covered most of the decline among indigenous Russians. This year, participants said, in-migration from abroad compensate for only 3.2 percent of the domestic decline, a pattern they said will almost certainly continue.

And unexpectedly, this Russian demographic catastrophe appears to be even worse in some of the country's most developed areas than in some less well-off localities. For example, in Moscow -- the wealthiest place in the country -- the percentage of normal births is now lower than the rate for the Russian Federation as a whole, 29 percent as opposed to 31 percent.

That situation, participants said, reflects increases in the number of children born out of wedlock, increasing consumption of alcohol by expectant mothers, and difficulties even in the capital city of gaining access to good medical care. Indeed, one participant said, neglect or ill treatment by mothers there explained up to 50 percent of infant deaths.

And as a result, infant mortality rates in the Russian capital have risen every year over the past four, "RBC Daily" reported, and now stand at 11.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. (Because Russian officials use different definitions, this figure actually understates the number compared to mortality rates in Western countries.)

That pattern in turn suggests that economic improvements alone might not be enough to turn things around in the short term, as many Russian officials and Western observers now argue. Instead, participants in this latest Russian discussion suggested, potential parents and society as a whole might need to change their values.

That is the message Russia's religious leaders hope will find an audience. In a speech placed on the Orthodox Information Agency website "Russkaya liniya" ( on 26 October, for example, Vladimir Pereslegin argued that only heightened attention to moral values can rescue Russia from what he called a demographic "holocaust."

Obviously, he said, the church welcomes state action, including more severe criminal sentences for drug trafficking. But he argued that the government is inconsistent even in that area: Moscow's decision to remove Russian border guards from the Afghan-Tajik border will allow the influx of still more drugs and increases in the diseases associated with them. Religious leaders thus must take a far more active role if Russia is to be saved, Pereslegin concluded.Leonid Abalkin and other participants agreed, with Abalkin noting that the "main question" today is "whether Russia will exist or not." Obviously, all participants in this discussion expressed the hope that things will turn around. But one of them noted that the demographic future of Russia might turn out to be even worse than most current projections suggest. He pointed out that the demographic realities of the last decade in Russia have been far worse than the worst-case projections Russian scholars made a decade ago. Unless things change, and change quickly, in Russian society, he implied, the future could easily and tragically extend that disturbing trend.

(Paul Goble, a former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

On 19 November, RFE/RL's Russian Service presented a discussion of President Vladimir Putin's 18 November televised defense of his proposed political reforms, including his proposal to end the direct election of regional governors. A complete transcript in Russian of the discussion, which featured independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and "Vremya novostei" Editor in Chief Lev Bruni, can be found at

Ryzhkov argued that Putin's defense of his proposals was unconvincing and that the proposals themselves would lead to a weakening of state power in Russia. "Russia will be weaker after this reform because governors will be significantly less legitimate and much weaker figures than they are at present," he said.

He added that despite much talk about stability under Putin, Russia in 2007 will conduct its fifth consecutive State Duma elections under new rules, even as it debates changing the rules again for the subsequent elections. Moreover, the current system of forming the Federation Council is the fourth in post-Soviet history, and Putin is proposing yet another modification. "In general, I have the impression that we are living some sort of improvisation."

Bruni noted that Putin has considerable public support and a clear mandate, but said that he is concerned about creating a political system that will one day be turned over to a less popular figure. "We need to remember that we are mortal, that we are all in God's hands, and that anything could happen to us and that other people could arrive at that very same place and with those very same rules of the game, and that is what frightens me very much," he said. "We must build a state structure and pass laws that take into consideration the possibility that voters will make a bad choice, or some other unfortunate set of circumstances." (Robert Coalson)

November: Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to visit Egypt

25 November: Russia-EU summit in The Hague, with the participation of President Vladimir Putin

25 November: Completion of work on the federal register of citizens eligible for social benefits

27 November: Regular Congress of the Unified Russia party

28 November: Gubernatorial election in Kurgan Oblast

December: A draft law on toll roads will be submitted to the government, according to the Federal Highways Agency's Construction Department

5 December: By-elections for State Duma seats will be held in two single-mandate districts in Ulyanovsk and Moscow

5 December: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Astrakhan, Bryansk, Volgograd, Kamchatka, and Ulyanovsk oblasts

5 December: Mayoral elections in Astrakhan and Murmansk

12 December: Government deadline for determining the route of a pipeline to transport Siberian oil to the Asia-Pacific region, according to presidential adviser Arkadii Dvorkovich

19 December: Presidential election in the Republic of Marii-El

19 December: Government to auction off Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of oil giant Yukos. Minimum purchase price set at $8.6 billion

19 December: Mayoral elections in Nakhodka, Severodvinsk, and Komsomolsk-na-Amure

20 December: A board meeting of oil giant Yukos expected to vote on the possible initiation of bankruptcy proceedings

22-23 December: Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht to visit Moscow

26 December: Presidential election in the Republic of Khakasia

29 December: State Duma's fall session will come to a close

January 2005: President Putin to visit Poland for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp

1 February 2005: Former President Boris Yeltsin's 74th birthday

March 2005: Gubernatorial election in Saratov Oblast

May 2005: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit