Russian President Dmitry Medvedev convened a session of the Security Council in Stavropol on August 19 to evaluate the security situation in the North Caucasus in light of the suicide bombing in Nazran two days earlier that claimed 25 lives.
Medvedev outlined a series of measures intended to raise the effectiveness of the ongoing struggle against terrorist attacks and to promote closer cooperation between the various federal agencies involved in that struggle.
At the same time, Medvedev implicitly questioned the argument advanced by Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev that Islamic radicalism in the North Caucasus is an artificial phenomenon fuelled by foreign intelligence services and financed from abroad. Other Russian political figures who have argued that line in recent days include Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov
; Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin
; and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky
Medvedev stressed that purely domestic factors -- unemployment, poverty, corrupt clans indifferent to peoples' needs that divert subsidies from the federal budget for their own private purposes -- play a far greater role in engendering armed opposition to the authorities. That diagnosis is not new: then presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak addressed a long and detailed memorandum to Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2005 making precisely those points
Medvedev tasked Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Ustinov with drafting measures for improving the socio-economic situation in the North Caucasus. Those proposals will be discussed in depth at a special forum within the next month.
Medvedev argued on August 19 that it is time for a "fundamental restructuring and improvement" of the approach to neutralizing the "terrorist and extremist threat" in order to guarantee "genuine, not just cosmetic" stabilization of the North Caucasus. There should, Medvedev added, be no more "senseless mantras," a clear allusion to successive vows over the past three years by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov that the handful of remaining resistance fighters on Chechen territory will be rounded up and killed within a few weeks/months.
The measures Medvedev advocated to achieve such "genuine stabilization" include more effective coordination between the various federal agencies engaged in the fight against extremist violence; a more stringent personnel policy that would entail the dismissal of police officials deemed incompetent, compromised, or lacking commitment
; their temporary replacement by personnel brought in from elsewhere in the Russian Federation, but who are familiar with conditions in the North Caucasus
; more attractive financial incentives and bonuses for police and security personnel deployed to high-risk zones; and better security precautions that would preclude a repetition of the August 17 suicide-bombing in Ingushetia.
While Medvedev's proposals were clearly prompted in the first instance by that suicide attack, it is questionable whether simply deploying more police to Ingushetia from elsewhere in Russia -- let alone naming Russians, rather than Ingush, to spearhead the new strategy -- is the most logical approach. True, the Ingush police force has been badly hit over the past year by resignations, and the August 17 attack will undoubtedly have deterred potential recruits, even given the dearth of alternative employment opportunities in Ingushetia.
But the naming of a Russian, Ingushetian First Deputy Interior Minister Viktor Zhirnov, as acting interior minister, and of Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev to oversee and coordinate, albeit only temporarily, the work of the ministry is a slap in the face for President Yevkurov, who is still recuperating from serious injuries sustained in a similar suicide bombing in late June. Yevkurov issued an appeal
on August 18 to all Interior Ministry personnel to "demonstrate their best professional and human qualities" to ensure security and stability in Ingushetia.
Ingushetian human rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov told the Russian daily "Gazeta"
that co-opting Yedelev -- a career KGB officer who has a reputation for condoning gratuitous brutality towards terrorism suspects and is very close to Chechen Republic head Kadyrov -- is "one of the biggest mistakes the Kremlin could have made," and that a qualified Ingush candidate should have been appointed interior minister in place of Zhirnov.
It is not yet clear whether Moscow will go one step further and extend the counter-terror operation currently under way in the districts of Ingushetia bordering on Chechnya to the entire territory of the republic. Doing so would, as the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" pointed out on August 19, frighten off the investment the impoverished republic desperately needs. Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Torshin too admitted that it would preclude any economic development in Ingushetia for as long as the counterterror regime remained in force.
Medvedev also called on August 19 for amending Russian law to deprive persons charged with membership of criminal or terrorist groups from the right to a trial by jury. That right was abolished in December 2008 with respect to persons charged with committing acts of terrorism. He further proposed that persons facing charges connected with terrorist acts in the North Caucasus should be tried in Moscow or St. Petersburg to minimize the chances of "bandits and corrupt individuals" exerting pressure on the court.
But as "Vremya novostei
" pointed out on August 20, revising legal procedures with regard to persons charged with terrorism is hardly likely to deter resistance fighters from committing such acts in the first place.