On July 28, the official Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta published a list of organizations that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation had designated as “terrorist.” The list was drawn up by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and includes 17 terrorist organizations. The roster has raised eyebrows since many of the organizations included either no longer exist or have almost lost all strength and influence.
General Yuri Sapunov, head of the FSB Department for Combating International Terrorism, outlined three criteria for inclusion on the list:
– Activities aimed at changing Russia’s constitutional system through violence, including terrorist methods;
– Links to illegal armed groups and other extremist organizations operating in the North Caucasus; and
– Association with or links to groups regarded as terrorists by the international community.
Yet it is unclear exactly how Jamaa al-Islamiya or the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba, two of the organizations on the list, pose a direct threat to Russia. There are also doubts that organizations like the Islamic Party of Turkestan (which Sapunov claims is the new name of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) or the Egyptian Al-Ghamia-al-Islamia still exist; at least they have not been heard from for quite a long time.
At the same time, Saponov explained that the Shura of Iraqi Mujahideen (the Council of Iraqi insurgent groups) was not put on the list because Russian anti-terrorist agencies doubt that it really exists, although the Council claimed responsibility for the murder of four Russian diplomats in Iraq this year. The Saudi Arabia-based Al-Kharamein foundation, which was banned two years ago, and non-violent entities such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, which took part in Egypt’s last parliamentary elections, or Hizb-ut-Tahrir were put on the list, while powerful, active terrorist organizations such as Hamas or Hezbollah were not.
Recognizing the fact that Hamas and Hezbollah indeed use terrorist methods, Sapunov said that they had not been put on the list because they were neither major threats to Russia nor are they regarded as terrorist groups worldwide. Interestingly, the part of the interview with Sapunov in which he mentioned Hezbollah and Hamas was censored by Rossiiskaya gazeta. In the first version of the interview, provided by Interfax, Sapunov said that Hamas and Hezbollah “use terrorist methods in their national liberation struggle.” This phrase disappeared in the version published by Rossiiskaya gazeta (Ekho Moskvy, July 28).
It is not surprising that Hamas and Hezbollah are excluded from the Russian terror list, as the Kremlin is known to be sympathetic towards these organizations. Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Hamas representatives to Moscow to meet Russian officials, while Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran, two countries that have close ties with Russia. Nevertheless, Sapunov hinted that the Russian government could add the two groups to the list in the future. He said, “We recognize international terror lists, for example, the lists of the United Nations and the lists of such superpowers as the USA and the European Union. We consider them when we communicate with the special services of various countries.”
The Russian authorities do not recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations not only because they believe they pose no threat to Russia, but also because the Kremlin is very angry at Western countries that do not recognize the Chechen rebels as terrorists. During a press conference after the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July, Putin crossly said that if Syria and Iran are branded state sponsors of terrorism, then Great Britain should also earn that designation because London refuses to extradite Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia (Newsru.com, July 16).
The Kremlin’s decision to omit Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi insurgency from the list of terrorist organizations sends a clear message that terrorist threats to the West will be recognized only if Western officials recognize the Chechen insurgents as terrorists.
However, the Kremlin itself does not have a clear understanding of the terrorist forces it faces in the North Caucasus. Russian officials like to harangue about “dark forces of international terrorism” that seek to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus, but they look confused when they try to describe the issue in any detail. For example, the Chechen/North Caucasus insurgency is represented on the Russian terror list by two organizations that have been out of existence for six years. The Supreme Military Council of the Caucasian Mujahideen, ranked number one on the list, and the Congress of the Nations of Ichkeria and Dagestan, in the number-two spot, briefly operated during the rebel invasion of Chechnya from Dagestan in August-September 1999. They have not been heard from since.
At the same time, none of the real rebel groups or organizations that operate now in the North Caucasus is included on the list. The Chechen State Defense Council-Majlis-ul-Shura, the military council of the Chechen field commanders, and newly formed North Caucasian rebel groups like Dagestani Sharia Jamaat or North Ossetian Kataib-al-Khoul do not appear on the list. These omissions may stem from the Russian government’s belief that if it puts the Chechen State Defense Committee on the list it would mean de facto recognition of Chechen independence. The Chechen military committee was established according to the Chechen separatist Constitution of 1992, and if the Kremlin recognizes the group — even as a terrorist organization — the Chechen separatists will immediately use it as proof that Russia does not deal with the terrorist threat in the North Caucasus but tries to suppress the Chechen struggle for independence. As for the rebel groups in other regions, official recognition of their existence would demonstrate the failure of the second Chechen military campaign, which Putin launched in 1999.
In fact, the Russian authorities care little about which organizations they put on the list. Rather, they are seeking a legal basis for extraditing to Russia Chechen rebel envoys like Zakaev. But a close look reveals their arguments to be very weak.