Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 12

Senior officials within the Russian Navy confirmed that Russia would participate in the NATO-led Active Endeavor anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea in 2005, though it has not committed as yet to permanent participation. In December 2004 NATO and Russian officials signed an agreement in Brussels that provides a legal basis for Russian involvement. The Russian Navy is also equally keen to become involved in more bilateral operations with Turkey and through the BlackSeaFor international program in order to strengthen its anti-terrorist options in the Black Sea region.

Nevertheless, the top brass within the Navy have laid down certain rules, ranging from denying that the Navy will play a subordinate role to NATO’s Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe (NAVSOUTH), but will instead work jointly with NATO forces, to insisting on limiting the use of force to self defense only. In the case of encountering vessels carrying banned materials, Russia perhaps anxious to minimize the sense of joint action with NATO in the area of an armed operation, insists that stopping them in international waters cannot include the use of force (Interfax, January 5; Itar-Tass, January 11).

These carefully crafted conditions not only confirm the reluctance of Russian military personnel to act jointly with NATO, but also hint at Russia’s discomfort with the whole issue of “jointness” as a mechanism for combating international terrorism. Quite the opposite has, in fact, dictated Russian security policy since the September 2004 tragedy in Beslan. Moscow is desperate to portray an image of self-sufficiency and internal strength when dealing with the question of countering terrorism.

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told an extraordinary meeting of the CIS Council of Ministers of Internal Affairs on December 25 that CIS members must work together against the phenomenon of terrorism, since it transcended national boundaries. In his view, the top security priority should be to consolidate joint coordinated efforts concluded by law-enforcement bodies throughout the CIS. In this spirit the meeting witnessed the adoption of a whole set of measures aimed at deepening coordinated activity, and an agreement to implement a “plan on counteracting terrorism for 2005.” The plan itself envisages enacting joint operations, taking preventative measures, newsgathering and analysis, expanding current databases on terrorists and criminal networks, and exchanging experts and personnel among the Interior Ministries of CIS countries (Itar-Tass, RIA-Novosti, December 25). The trouble, of course, is that paper agreements within the CIS have been plentiful, while concrete joint measures have proven more elusive. In this instance, Russia is the driving force behind efforts to achieve a show of CIS unity on the issue of counter-terrorism.

In this context, given the heightened tension in North Caucasus since the Beslan tragedy, it is hardly surprising to find Alexander Dzasokhov, the North Ossetian leader, looking toward Moscow for the creation of a strong anti-terrorist front in 2005. The linchpin of that front lies in greater analytical work and coordinated activities ensuring a rapid response to any particular threat or crisis. He believes that security will be increased by the formation of an additional Interior Ministry regiment, funded at the federal level, and that Moscow is serious in its intent to promote security: “All issues of extra technical equipment for law-enforcement employees have been solved, the administrative border has been strengthened along the whole perimeter, and support is being given to voluntary organizations that take part in the safeguarding of public order,” said Dzasokhov (Itar-Tass, December 29).

One critical apparatus that may stimulate coordinated anti-terrorist actions within the CIS is the CIS Anti-Terrorist Center. It heralded such aspirations in December 2004 when it successfully conducted an anti-terrorist exercise unique in its use of an Alfa unit from the Belarus intelligence services. The scenario involved FSB oversight of an operation in Moldova, responding to the highjacking of a passenger aircraft in Russian airspace, which landed at Chisinau with demands for continued flight to the Middle East. Underlying the positive publicity that such exercises generate, in 2004 the CIS Anti-Terrorist Center succeeded in training more than 60 foreign personnel from CIS countries (Channel One TV, January 7). In real terms, Moscow considers the center to be a valuable asset, and points to an undisclosed number of attacks prevented simply on the basis of exchanging information on terrorists through the center’s database. However, some officers within Central Asia express frustration that the information contained in the database is under tight FSB control, limiting its utility to other countries.

Thus, in a general sense, many senior figures within the Russian security structures recognize the intrinsic need to expand international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Yet, many officers and government officials have only limited options when it comes to cooperating with the West; the United States and NATO must be handled carefully in order to assuage the fears and concerns of the apparatchiks. Cooperation within the CIS is a definite Kremlin priority, encouraging neighbors to regard Moscow as a safer bet in this sphere than the unknown risks of cooperating with Western institutions. The reality of limited options for developing “jointness” between NATO and Russia in the field of anti-terrorism lies in the chasm that exists in defining terrorism. Chechnya is a focal point in this equation, which both sides are reluctant to face. For the time being Russia will explore opportunities for closer interaction with the Alliance, drawn together by shared interests in combating terrorism, but the top brass in the Russian Navy will also prefer to muddy the waters.