Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 4

A New Wave of Mafia-Linked Terrorism?

Moscow: New Capital of International Terrorism and Criminality?

by Aleksandr Zhilin

Over the last few years, terrorism has become an integral part of world politics and a significant factor in the internal political life of a number of countries. Specialists link the upsurge in terrorism to reforms in Third World countries, considering it one of the costs of the transition to a new socio-economic system. Terrorism is also a serious threat to the countries of Europe and Asia where economic, political and institutional reforms are being implemented.

Historical Background

The history of terrorism in the twentieth century can be divided into several qualitatively distinct stages. The first stage consisted of guerrilla wars in rural areas of Latin America in the 1960s. The defeat of the "rural guerrilla war" led to terrorist acts in cities–the "urban guerrilla war."

In certain regions the guerrilla wars grew into "low-intensity conflicts." A classic example was the Palestinian movement. From 1965 to 1968, their guerrilla operations were designed not to capture territory but to kill their enemies. They moved from hijacking airplanes and shelling to bombing airplanes and launching rocket attacks on enemy territory. Their tactics were those of "total guerrilla war" in which the entire population and all facilities located on a certain territory are viewed as possible targets.

A New Wave of Terrorism

After the collapse of the USSR, which actively supported the Kurds in Turkey, the IRA, and other terrorist organizations, passing their activities off as part of "the national-liberation struggle," there began to be a shortage of money available to support terrorist activities. Beginning in 1991, the activities of organizations involved in "low-intensity conflicts" have declined. According to rough estimates, the number of operations they carried out has fallen by 60-70 percent.

Nevertheless, at the present time, we can still speak of the beginning of a new wave of terrorism. This is connected to the formation of large mafia clans in Russia, which are waging war to increase their spheres of influence, not only in Russia, but throughout the world. Moreover, in addition to politically and internationally-motivated terrorist activity, committed by large organized groups using technologically-advanced methods on the territories of several states, new acts of terrorism have begun to take place that spring from ethnic, religious, and economic motives. They are committed by poorly-organized groups, with a small number of members, operating on the territory of a single state, using low-tech methods.

The growth of terrorism is often linked to the intensification of Islamic fundamentalism. But upon analysis of the whole "terrorist domain" it becomes clear that a significant number of actions that are seen as part of the beginning of "the new wave of terrorism" are being committed by "non traditional groups" (mafia structures, political groups), which use terror as the most effective available weapon to achieve their goals.

What Makes the Problem of Terrorism So Pressing for the Russian Federation

The growth of terrorism in the Russian Federation might have a serious negative impact on the country’s social, economic and political development. According to FSB specialists, it could lead to Russia’s becoming less attractive to foreign investors (which means, other things being equal, a decline in the potential level of capital investment), and to a reduction in the possibilities of developing such spheres of the economy as tourism and the servicing of transit freight traffic.

One political consequence of the growth of terrorism could be the formation of bases of international terrorism on the territory of the Russian Federation, which could lead to the government’s possible liability for damage inflicted by terrorists on foreign nationals and foreign property.

The growth of terrorism also adds to the probability of social conflicts growing into armed conflicts, and to the sharpening of contradictions between federal and local authorities.

As a whole, these factors could create the preconditions for a severe weakening of Russia’s national security. Actually, the development of terrorism in Russia has already begun. The planting of bombs in cars and buildings, arson, hostage-taking, the assassinations of political leaders, etc., are a reality.

General Assessment of Factors Promoting the Development of Terrorism in Russia The factors promoting the development of terrorism in Russia can tentatively be subdivided into "permanent," "unstable," and "dynamic" factors.

The permanent factors include:

1. The population’s geographical distribution. Seventy-five percent of the Russian population live in cities, and up to 30 percent, in the large urban centers. It can be presumed that precisely these cities will become the main bases for terrorist organizations.

2. The transportation infrastructure. Communication between the various regions of the country is very difficult and, because of its vulnerability, the transportation system could become one of the priority targets for terrorist activity.

3. Public infrastructure facilities. At the present time, even a minor malfunction of the infrastructure in a Russian city could bring about the collapse of basic services with serious social consequences. Public transportation, and the heat and energy supply systems could become priority targets for terrorist organizations.

4. Export communications. Russia’s major export income comes from the sale of energy supplies, mainly from oil and gas. Oil and gas pipelines, port facilities, and highways leading to the major ports specializing in export and import supplies could become priority targets for terrorist acts.

5. Hazardous materials production. There are many enterprises on the territory of the Russian Federation in which any accident would lead quickly to an ecological and social catastrophe. The majority of such facilities are located near major cities and, consequently, are within the bounds of terrorist organizations’ possible zones of operational activity.

"Unstable Factors"

1. The growth in unemployment. As a result of the restructuring of Russia’s economy, a significant group of the population could lose their jobs. Taking into account the underdeveloped nature of the social welfare, job retraining, and recertification systems, and also the absence of a significant amount of savings among the population, it is possible to predict a significant increase in social tension. Depressed regions will inevitably appear. Their populations will be forced to migrate, which, given the underdeveloped housing market, will cause many problems. One may assume that regions with high unemployment will become the main zone of activity for terrorist groups.

2. The general decline in the real standard of living, combined with increased social stratification. The current stabilization policy, combined with the restructuring of the economy, will substantially limit the possibility of returning the real standard of living to 1989-1990 levels. In the regions with the greatest income stratification, one may expect terrorist organizations to become increasingly active.

3. The critical situation in certain social and occupational groups. A number of groups that were formerly in a relatively privileged position (the intelligentsia, scientific and technical workers in the military-industrial complex and certain medium-skilled industrial workers, and servicemen) are doomed to lose their previous social status. These are the groups from which terrorist groups can recruit new members.

4. The population’s military training. The majority of the Russian Federation’s male population know how to handle army-issue firearms. Among them, there is a large proportion of people who have taken part in military operations to suppress partisan movements, and have learned skills which are easily adapted to partisan warfare. A large part of the population has experience in dealing with explosives, incendiary devices, chemical warfare, and high-tech communications and surveillance equipment. Moreover, a significant number of groups either have experience in conducting foreign or domestic intelligence and counterintelligence, or are at least well-informed about how to conduct such activity. Soviet militarism created suitable "soil" in which terrorism could grow.

"Dynamic" Factors

This group of factors includes:

· The availability of weapons, material and financial resources in terrorist organizations’ possible zones of activity;

· The political moods of large groups of the population;

· The level and character of activity of the legal political opposition;

· The extent to which the law enforcement agencies are able to resist criminal elements.

In reality, the level of activity of terrorist organizations in Russia will be determined by a combination of the factors indicated above, and will vary in different regions and cities.

The Fight Against Terrorism

On December 12, 1995, a conference of leaders of law-enforcement and foreign policy agencies was held in Ottawa. They exchanged opinions and assessments of the new tendencies in the development of the terrorist threat in the world. Joint actions to restrain, prevent, and investigate terrorist acts were discussed. The conference participants exchanged opinions on recent major terrorist acts, including the incident in the Tokyo metro, the Oklahoma City bombing, the seizure of hostages in Budennovsk, the series of major terrorist acts designed to disrupt the peace process in the Middle East and the recent series of bomb explosions in France. It was noted that these and other events were the result of the "export" of regional conflicts, aggressive nationalism, and xenophobia. These events were accompanied by a wider use, both of conventional weapons, strong explosives in particular, and chemical weapons, specially intended for mass extermination. The conference adopted a political declaration and established a multilateral political framework for international cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

The document declared these to be the highest priorities [in the fight against terrorism]:

· broadening the exchange of information;

· preventing terrorists’ access to nuclear, chemical, and biological materials;

· the fight against hostage-taking;

· defending all means of transportation and government and public buildings against terrorist attacks.

The conference called on political groups to use dialogue, to show patience, and to renounce terrorism. "But we will resist those who try to achieve their goals by violent means with our firm resolution, and they will have to answer for their criminal conduct," the declaration said.

Russia also signed this declaration. But the Kremlin does not want to understand that the brutal slaughter in Chechnya is the most powerful cause of the development of terrorism and political banditism in the country. And it cannot be excluded that Boris Yeltsin, who has "turned red" and moved sharply to the left, will use the weapon of political banditism for his own purposes.

Terrorism in Chechnya as an Objective Factor

In spite of the differing political goals which define the beginning of any military conflict, no army can find itself in a "no war, no peace" situation for long. Otherwise, terrorist acts in the rear of the attacking side are inevitable.

But unfortunately, those who launched the campaign did not take this into account. For some reason, Russian officials are unable to learn from history’s mistakes and each time that crisis situations occur, see them as unprecedented and absolutely unique. And in Chechnya, they are repeating the same blunders that we made in Afghanistan. The federal authorities resorted to military actions with hugely destructive consequences in Chechnya. This, however, exacerbated radical processes without eliminating the strongholds of terrorism. By creating a new administration in the republic and openly protecting political figures, Moscow only serves to provoke new terrorist acts, since it does not even minimally control the situation.

The official power structures in Chechnya are not only not able to prevent, but may have facilitated the transfer of new means of terror–grenade launchers, explosives, and powerful portable weapons–into the hands of radical elements.

The interagency antagonism between the units and commanders of the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry only makes the situation worse, insofar as their military operations are not coordinated at all, and therefore, are both brutal and ineffective.

Local wars have their own long history (it is worth noting that our century began with the local Anglo-Boer War, which is quite instructive) and much about them is already rather obvious. First, responsible political decisions must be made with the support of expert analysis, and not on the basis of emotion or in the career interests of top officials. Second, military operations in local conflicts must satisfy the following minimum requirements:

1) they must be directed towards a clear purpose;

2) they must be intensive, but should never be protracted;

3) the region of military operations must be sealed off.

In the absence of these enumerated conditions, it is better not to start such a war. And, as experience, accumulated both here and around the world, shows, losses among the non-combatant population exceed those among the military by one or even two orders of magnitude, (although, in the final analysis, the army is also part of the "population.") As a result, even correct political decisions are inevitably subject to being discredited. Until all these factors are eliminated, terrorism in Chechnya (from both sides) will continue. There are objective military realities which do not depend on the desires and ambitions of high-ranking government bureaucrats. These are elementary truths, which one must know and take into account, lest we never break out of the vicious circle: we hoped for the best, but it turned out worse than ever before.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky and Mark Eckert

Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor for Moskovskie novosti.