Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 134

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has expressed confidence in the growing awareness of the Russian military, not only about the nature of the terrorist threat it faces, but on the need to implement practical security measures to improve the safety of security personnel. That is most notable, according to Ivanov, in the North Caucasus, where Russian authorities continue to assess the terrorist threat at its greatest in the Russian Federation itself. Yet in his rhetoric concerning the preparedness of military units to enact security measures designed to reduce or cope with terrorism, Ivanov has highlighted the role of commanders at all levels in paying more attention to security issues. In fostering more recognition of the threat faced by these forces in the North Caucasus, he has only begun to open the minds of the security elite to the challenges presented by terrorism. It will be an arduous task to convince the Russian security community itself of the need to widen the scope of its counter-terrorism policies.

Ivanov noted the need to create an inclusive counter-terrorist policy that takes account of the local population. “It’s quite natural that terrorists are aiming at army and police facilities and military compounds as well as civilian targets. The terrorist threat cannot be averted by the military alone. Civilian structures also must participate,” he explained. In Ivanov’s view, military units stationed in the North Caucasus “must help the civilian population and effectively curb any terrorist attempts by acting in coordination with other power bodies” (Interfax, July 6).

From the perspective of Russia’s security elite, the core problem relates to the mechanisms through which the public can become engaged in the struggle against terrorism. This presents fundamental problems, not least at a political level about the nature of tactics and the work of the security forces in Chechnya, ranging from strengthening operational professionalism within the various military units and supporting security structures to resolving in-fighting in terms of the struggle to dominate the approach toward countering terrorism: to what extent should the military and the intelligence services cooperate with civilian structures?

Ivanov believes he knows some of the answers, though he is restricting himself to familiar mantras pleasing to the military. One such method is the constant rehearsal of military exercises aimed at enhancing the military’s anti-terrorist capabilities. On July 5 Ivanov observed an anti-terrorist exercise held in Kabardino-Balkaria. The scenario was predictable, involving the sudden appearance of a truck carrying a terrorist group ramming gates and breaching a military facility. Servicemen from the 135th Motor-Rifle Regiment of the 58th Army of the North Caucasus Military District meticulously drilled the counter-terrorist scenario.

Ivanov’s working visit to North Caucasus Military District troops also witnessed a degree of openness about the real nature of the security concerns that justify such exercises: “We need to do this if we want the Russian-Georgian border to be completely sealed off, as we used to say, so that militants no longer appear there. If they appear, they will be destroyed in a quick and efficient manner.” What does appear with increasing frequency in Ivanov’s public comments is the caveat that constructive counter-terrorist policies demand the involvement of civilians and related structures; it cannot be the preserve of the security elite alone (Radio Russia, July 6).

An equally familiar suggestion is the idea of increasing the numbers of contract servicemen in the military units serving in “hot spots.” Ivanov is pushing this strategy with some energy, clearly believing that the fruits of deploying “professional” soldiers will yield stability. While observing the anti-terrorist exercises in the North Caucasus, Ivanov laid much emphasis upon switching the 135th Company Tactical Group of the 19th Motor-Rifle Division to contract service during 2006 (RIA-Novosti, July 5).

Such reforms are part of the wider campaign to improve the Russian army and enable it to become better able to cope with the threats it faces rather than those of the past for which it is presently constituted and geared towards. Army General Nikolai Pankov, head of the Defense Ministry personnel and training department, has declared that from January 1, 2008, 495,000 young men will be called up each year (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 1). Increasing the number of individuals called up to serve in the military, combined with plans to reduce the length of service to one year, may bring long-term progress in the ability of the Russian army to respond to terrorism. However, Ivanov hopes that evidence will emerge within the North Caucasus of the sense and practical application of such ideas.

Ivanov faces stiff resistance from within the senior ranks of the Russian military, as many of his statements could be interpreted as stripping the Russian military of its primacy in countering terrorist activity in the country. Nevertheless, the attention given by Moscow to the public reaction to the July 7 bombings in London suggests a window of opportunity has arisen for Ivanov to widen the involvement of civilian structures in Russia and harness their energy in countering terrorism. It is still too early to find support for the idea of making a distinction within these circles between combating the threat of international terrorism and that phenomenon experienced in Chechnya. Force alone will never resolve Russia’s southern security dilemma.