The huge gathering of world leaders under the UN flag last week was generally disappointing, but for Russian President Vladimir Putin it worked out just fine. Moscow is quite content with the unreformed format of the Security Council, where it has one of the five permanent seats, so Putin spared no compliments for the work of the organization, which has grown used to undiplomatic criticism (Izvestiya, September 16).
Russia also finds no reasons to feel upset about the lack of agreement on non-proliferation. Putin received his greatest international media attention when he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. An awkward overlap in Putin’s schedule caused the postponement of that meeting from Wednesday to Thursday, but his counter-part appeared quite satisfied with the outcome (Kommersant, September 16). Discussing the Iranian nuclear program with U.S. President George W. Bush the next day, Putin insisted, “The potential of diplomatic solutions to all these issues is far from exhausted,” effectively blocking the prospect of increasing international pressure on Iran (Lenta.ru, September 17).
The embarrassing inability of the UN to agree on a definition of terrorism is also a non-issue from Moscow’s point of view, since it makes it perfectly possible for the Kremlin to stick to its own interpretation (Gazeta.ru, September 16). In his genuinely forgettable speech before the General Assembly, Putin even offered a new take on this phenomenon, calling it the “ideological successor of Nazism” (Kommersant, September 17). It is not entirely clear what he implied with this parallel – but it is rather clear that it is hardly applicable to the kind of terrorism that is a daily reality in the North Caucasus.
During Putin’s visit to New York and Washington, tensions increased in the North Caucasus. Ingushetia experienced a series of explosions targeting railways, military convoys, court buildings, and police stations (Lenta.ru, September 16). Those were low-yield “improvised explosive devices” and, miraculously, there were no fatalities. It is well known that such attacks are performed neither by trained professionals nor by ideological extremists but by locals, often teenagers or even kids, for whom it is just a way to earn little money for their families (Ekho Moskvy, September 10). In Dagestan, meanwhile, police cars and patrols come under fire every week, but this deadly hunt is just a form of competition for power between local clans (Newsru.com, September 15). Dmitry Kozak, Putin’s special envoy in the Southern Federal District, warned that this republic was teetering on the brink of explosion, but Putin, when paying a surprise visit to Makhachkala in July, confirmed his full confidence in its leadership (Ezhednevny zhurnal, July 18).
On September 2, the first anniversary of the massacre in Beslan, Putin invited to the Kremlin a group of mothers whose children were murdered in the school. Under a barrage of their angry questions, he admitted that he was not fully informed about the circumstances of that mismanaged operation (Polit.ru, September 15; see EDM, September 9, 16). This forced confession explains many deficiencies in Russia’s domestic war on terror: the Commander-in-Chief prefers not to know about the real scale of the problem and the true causes of terrorism. Policymakers in Moscow are convinced that any problem could be solved by money, which – thanks to the exorbitant oil prices – they have aplenty. The republics of the North Caucuses have received massive subsidies and direct budget transfers – but stability has been eroded rather then enhanced. The ruling elites have become entirely dependent on Moscow, and the “angry young men,” for whom there are no prospect of meaningful employment, blame them for the neglected social problems (Polit.ru, September 8). All normal channels of protest are carefully blocked, so anger brews in the tightly knit communities – and extremism finds an expanding pool of recruits.
By comparing terrorism to Nazism, Putin pretends not to know that it is his own carefully built system of power that generates the social tension and anger against rampant corruption that shape the environment in which terrorism flourishes. Moscow is always eager to score some cheap points by condemning – but when it comes to practical cooperation in counter-terrorist operations, the drive dissipates. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, meeting with NATO counterparts last week, accused them of giving too much attention to the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan and neglecting the drug problem (Vremya novostei, September 15). He established the link between the narco-business and terrorism, asserting that the violent May uprising in Andijan, Uzbekistan, was in fact a terrorist attack organized from bases in Afghanistan that NATO had failed to eradicate. What he did not mention was the transformation of Tajikistan, Russia’s closest ally in Central Asia, into a drug-trafficking state where the 1300-km long border along the Panj River has become a profitable gateway, rather then a barrier, for delivering heroin to European markets (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 15).
Talking about terrorism has become Moscow’s topic of choice when it discovers the need to hide its lack of a relevant and constructive agenda. Many in Putin’s inner circle would probably agree with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka who lashed bombastically against U.S. unilateralism and “aggressiveness” while speaking at the UN (Vedomosti, September 16). It is much wiser, however, to take a cooperative attitude – and duly receive praise from President Bush as a “strong ally in the war on terror.” As for those angry teenagers in Ingushetia and heartbroken mothers in Beslan, they do not quite fit into the acceptable counter-terrorist discourse and only distort the cozy mutual understanding. The problem is that they know the brutal and bloody truth about terrorism, about which Putin does not want to be informed, but that truth can break through all protective layers of hypocrisy.