Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 102

This week in Yerevan and a week later in Minsk, CIS summits have witnessed and will witness intensified efforts to create a political-military bloc under Russia’s leadership, ostensibly in order to combat international terrorism. Such sloganeering aside, the national threat assessments by member countries regarding terrorism markedly differ from Moscow’s. By the same token, almost all member countries are reluctant to join Russian-led “antiterrorism” collective forces.

No one has seriously suggested that international terrorism poses an actual threat in the Central-Eastern European area of the CIS. In Belarus, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka uses an entirely different rationale–namely, NATO’s enlargement–to justify his entering into a political-military bloc with Russia. As for “terrorists,” Lukashenka so describes political opposition activists in his flights of rhetoric. The president, now seeking re-election, has taken to accusing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of training “fighters” to topple his regime. By that he means the OSCE’s courses for election observers. Last week the chairman of the Belarusan KGB (still so named), Leonid Yerin, a Russian citizen and career officer of Russia’s security services detailed to Belarus, summoned the OSCE’s Mission chief Hans-Georg Wieck and threatened him with expulsion from Belarus for “interfering” in the country’s affairs.

In Georgia, President Eduard Shevardnadze has narrowly survived two assassination attempts–a car bomb in 1995 that wounded him and a grenade attack in 1998 that killed the bodyguard riding next to him. Western observers, including diplomats in Tbilisi, generally suspect the Russian security agencies to have been involved through proxies. The suspected organizer of the first attempt, Igor Giorgadze, an ex-KGB officer, was spirited within hours away from Tbilisi by Russian military plane. Sought ever since by Georgia for investigation and trial on terrorism charges, Giorgadze has enjoyed a safe haven in Moscow, continuously threatening Georgia in media interviews, even as the Russian government claimed to ignore his whereabouts. Last week in Tbilisi during an international Interpol conference, Georgia cited recent evidence that Giorgadze has been moving amongst Russia, Belarus and Syria. The Russian representatives responded with the usual plea of ignorance.

These days, Chechen commanders such as Shamil Basaev and Ruslan Gelaev top the Russian authorities’ wanted list as the ultimate “international terrorists.” This is one case in which Russian security services lost control over forces they themselves created. In 1992-93, the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Department (GRU) armed and trained Basaev, Gelaev and hundreds of Chechen fighters, throwing them into battle in Abkhazia alongside Russian soldiers and Abkhaz paramilitaries against Georgia. The GRU and its Kremlin backers fanned ethnic and religious conflict–a familiar method of terrorism sponsors–to defeat Georgia in that war. It was only later that these Chechens turned against their original sponsors.

Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan firmly believe that “international terrorism” and the externally supported armed ethnic separatism are indistinguishable, and ought to be resisted by the international community. Within the CIS, Ukraine and Moldova have sympathy for this view because both countries are especially interested in upholding the principle of the territorial integrity of states. Moldova has been splintered by the separation of Transdniester, where Russian army troops prop up the breakaway authorities. A group of former KGB and MVD officers, arrivals from Russia, oversee the Transdniester regime’s security services. These officers–such as Vladimir Antyufeyev, now a general and “security tsar” of Transdniester–had earlier operated in the Baltic states and are wanted for their role in the 1991 murderous crackdown in Latvia and Lithuania. Figures like Giorgadze, Antyufeyev and their supporting networks are emblematic of what may be termed transnational terrorism within the CIS, a tool in the panoply of tools of Russian policy.

Armenia, as a country undermined by homegrown political terrorism, is a unique case in the CIS. During the years of independent statehood, a long row of Armenian officials have been gunned down or blown up as means of account settling among competing groups. Almost all of these cases remain unresolved because the suspects seemed to enjoy the protection of circles in the military, the security services and the shadow economy. The October 1999 assassination of the prime minister, the parliamentary chairman and six other officials in the hall of parliament, followed by the March 2000 attempt which wounded the president of Karabakh, are the more recent and better-known examples. In the latter case, Karabakh’s former defense minister and his associates have recently been found guilty and sentenced. The investigation and trial in the October 1999 case have been dragged out as rival groups seek to use it for political purposes.

In Central Asia, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is an authentic international terrorist movement, classified as such by not only in that region but also by the United States and other Western governments. The Russian government is second to none in denouncing the IMU. Yet IMU’s guerrillas are, for the third consecutive year, crossing Russian-guarded borders in the region and using the territory of Russian-controlled Tajikistan to stage operations against Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. These two countries suspect–and Uzbekistan is strong enough to have said it–that Moscow pumps up the IMU as a means to increase their insecurity, maintain a controlled instability in the region, and draw these countries into a Russian-led bloc under the banner of antiterrorism.