The Russian military is being increasingly tasked with countering terrorism within the Russian Federation, in an attempt to increase security and strengthen the state’s capacity to respond to and effectively combat terrorism. This shift is reflected in many of the security measures announced by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, many of which are designed to place the army in the front line in tackling terrorists. In reality this task will be assigned to the diverse Russian Special Forces, acting in closer liaison with their Special Services colleagues on the Federal Security Service (FSB). President Vladimir Putin has already made clear his commitment to energize the national anti-terrorist efforts and respond to the perceived escalation in terrorist activities on Russian soil against “soft targets” in the wake of the Moscow (2002) and Beslan terrorist attacks.
Current and emerging measures, aimed at both the national level and more specifically targeted upon the North Caucasus, include a number of interlinked defensive mechanisms that, taken together, represent only the earliest glimpse of the post-Beslan security environment in Russia.
At the national level, alongside the politically controversial presidential decision to appoint regional governors and abandon electing these figures, a move reminiscent of late-nineteenth century Tsarist domestic policies, some sensible steps have already been enacted. Spending will be stepped up to enhance the security of the Moscow metro system, for instance, envisaging an additional outlay of 1.4 billion rubles. Igor Ivanov, Secretary of the Russian Security Council has confirmed that Moscow is also planning to introduce a warning system similar to that used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Council itself has received instructions from Putin to revise the national security concept to reflect the current security situation (Channel One TV, September 29). Such policy initiatives, however detailed and well designed to meet the nature of the emerging threat, must take into consideration the fast moving nature of the enemy confronting the Russian state; its tactics are ruthless, diverse, well organized, and capable of executing sophisticated low-cost, media-intensive, and spectacular attacks. All security measures under consideration have implications for the Russian military and security forces, as these will be directly involved in training and executing future rescue, containment, and offensive operations.
Russian TV has broadcast images of Special Forces rehearsing anti-terrorist operations involving troops rappelling down ropes and entering a multi-story building through side windows, in an effort to generate public confidence in the ability of the state structures to cope adequately with future terrorist incidents. Here the thinking is presumably based on the belief that terrorists do not anticipate a mission to storm a building through its side windows. Troops need to ensure that their actions are smooth, decisive, and synchronized, destroying and entering the windows as speedily as possible. This will now become a compulsory element in Special Forces training, utilizing a special harness system to conduct the mission (Channel One TV, September 30).
Of course, the real value of such a public display of Special Forces capabilities serves the dual role of raising public confidence and placing some uncertainty in the minds of the terrorists: they cannot be certain what other surprises the Russian security forces are developing.
However, the Russian military and security forces have long struggled with the issue of reform, setting aside the old priorities of the Cold-War based force structure, doctrine, and equipment for modernized high-readiness formations more adapted to the contemporary security environment. Putin has realistically assessed the timescale as a lengthy one for stabilizing the security situation and adequately restructuring and enhancing Russian anti-terrorist capabilities, and many of the deep-seated challenges posed by the implications of events such as Beslan will take considerable time and political will to address in a coherent and well-planned manner.
At the heart of these challenges, as other states engaged in the war on terror are also discovering, is the task of fundamentally changing even the most elite formations, tasking them with the kind of operational use never before envisaged by planners. Preparing servicemen to rescue, protect, and pay the ultimate price for saving children on the home territory will require considerable skill in redesigning and psychologically equipping such specialist forces. They will have to respond, deploy, execute, and communicate with political structures within a short timeframe, and the risks of breakdown within any point in this chain could play into the complex web of aims and sub-aims of terrorist groups orchestrating the attacks. This complex set of unpredictable factors at play in any terrorist crisis is only the tip of the iceberg, since Russia will also need to develop disruption capabilities, an understanding of the nature of the enemy, and well rehearsed consequence management. The military will have an important, but not necessarily primary, role in this new Russian war of the 21st century.