Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 2

The Specter of Terror Begins to Haunt Russia

by Stanislav Lunev

At the beginning of January, the world was shocked by a new act of mass terrorism in the Russian Federation. As foreign and Russian news agencies reported, Chechen fighters seized about a thousand hostages in Kizlyar–a city in Dagestan in the Russian North Caucasus.(1) As in Budennovsk last June, they demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, and called for their own state outside of Russian sovereignty. The question of the independence of Chechnya is a rather complex historical, political, social, and economic problem which can and must find a solution, but it is difficult to condone these methods of achieving the terrorists’ goals.

After the slaughter in Budennovsk, all Russian politicians, beginning with Boris Yeltsin and his closest advisors, spoke of the danger of international and domestic terrorism and the need for a decisive struggle against this evil. The recent events in Kizlyar and the series of terrorist acts in Grozny which preceded it, directed against representatives of the Russian federal authorities, have still further alarmed Russian officials. But slogans are slogans: what is really being done in Russia in the area of the officially-declared "decisive struggle" against terrorism?

To answer this question, it is necessary to state that there are indications that, after the fall of the former USSR, which, for many decades, was a support base for world terrorism, the practice of supporting terrorism was not abolished. According to reports in the Russian press, just as before, there is in the GRU (the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces) a network of special centers and camps for training saboteurs [diversanty].(2) The now internationally-famous Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev received training as a saboteur capable of working behind enemy lines in Abkhazia from the GRU.

Of course, over the last few years, the number of these special training camps and centers has gotten smaller, since those which were located in eastern Germany, the former Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and on the territory of other former Warsaw Pact allies, have been closed. But the methods and ideology of training terrorists, based on the principle that "the end justifies the means," have remained substantially unchanged. And, no fundamental changes have been made in the training of international terrorist groups either, who continue to receive special "education" in Russian training centers not for ideological reasons but "for a fee." In particular, as Mikhail Zadornov, a member of the Russian parliament, has said, quoting "informed sources" in the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, that several members of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo sect, notorious for its chemical attack on the Tokyo subway, had not long before gone through special marksmanship training at a secret GRU base located near the city of Ryazan. (3)

It is worth noting that a significant part, or even the overwhelming majority of, the famous terrorists of the 1970s were trained in the former USSR, and in the countries under Soviet control. And what has happened in this area recently? Have the "repentant" GRU or Federal Security Service (FSB) officers, who are offering their special services to a Russian government which is no longer totalitarian, but "democratic," admitted their responsibility for the crimes committed by the specialists in murder whom they trained?

Nothing like this has happened. Even in the case of Shamil Basayev, who was trained by the Russian special services, the GRU and FSK [Federal Counterintelligence Service] specialists have kept silent. As the Russian press has noted, Shamil Basayev’s detachment went through not only training, but was also "broken in" under fire in Abkhazia under the direction of GRU specialists, whose professionalism and individual courage received the highest marks from the Chechen terrorist himself. (4)

Legends have circulated about the inhuman cruelty of Basayev’s men during the time of the Georgian-Abkhazian war: they purportedly drank their enemies’ blood by the glass, and invented a new form of execution–the "Chechen tongue," in which the victim’s tongue is pulled out through a slit throat. As the Moscow magazine recalled, all of this was shown on television and described in the press numerous times. But the Russian authorities and the special services remained indifferent to the fanaticism of the Chechen terrorists and they went unpunished. For this, the population of the little Russian town of Budennovsk paid with their blood.

Basayev graphically demonstrated how he could turn what he had learned from his teachers against them. In this respect, the stubborn unwillingness of the Russian special services to divulge all the facts about all the real and potential terrorists trained in the former USSR and the Russian Federation by the GRU and FSB, becomes understandable.

Moreover, starting in 1992, the new Russian leadership began to conduct the old Soviet policy of "divide and conquer" in the countries of the so-called "near abroad." Separatist forces in Moldova, Georgia, and other former union republics were supported by the Russian special services, with the blessing, and at the insistence, of the country’s highest military and political leadership. In these republics, detachments, officially called "diversionary groups," were trained and prepared under Russian control. At first, these detachments really served Russia’s interests, creating zones of instability in newly-independent states whose leadership insisted on their countries’ complete independence and refused to follow Moscow’s orders.

For this, the Russian special services "urgently needed" the "Dniester" diversionary battalion in Transdniester [Moldova], with its half-crazy "Transdniester Avenger" Colonel Kostenko, and the "Chechen Battalion" in Abkhazia under the command of "Colonel" Basayev. But, as ought to have been expected, as time went on, local and internal interests began to take precedence over all-Russian interests for these terrorist groups spawned by the Russian special services. And to the great amazement of the Kremlin leaders, in October 1993, the "Dniester" battalion led the storm of the Ostankino television center, and in June 1995, Basayev’s battalion seized hostages in Budennovsk.

It is worth noting that, just as the Soviet government had done, but on a smaller scale, the present "democratic" Russian Federation is supporting and maintaining relations with countries which are recognized by the civilized world as terrorist states. International experts on terrorism rank Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba among such countries. Despite the Russian leaders’ slogans about the need to fight terrorism, Russia’s relations with these countries have not only not been broken off, they are continuing to develop.

For example, Russian relations with Iran are proceeding faster than the former Soviet leadership could have dreamed. The sale of submarines and other modern weapons systems, large-scale cooperation in the area of nuclear energy, partnership in smothering the economies of the newly-independent states of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus (rich with natural resources), and other factors force one to assume coinciding long-term strategic interests between the present regimes in Moscow and Tehran. But what can Russia gain from military cooperation with Cuba, and the intention to resume construction of the Russian nuclear reactor in Juragua, which could threaten the lives of almost half of the American people?

All this, at the very least, is evidence of the unscrupulous and egotistical nature of present Russian foreign policy and does substantial damage to its international authority. How can the Russian leadership be outraged at the actions of terrorists in Budennovsk and Kizlyar, while simultaneously expanding cooperation in very explosive areas with Iran, which underwrites the activity of "Hezbollah" and dozens of other terrorist groups all over the world?

But, while noting the hypocrisy of Russia’s ruling regime in the area of fighting international political terrorism, one must admit that the leaders of the opposition to this regime, most of all in the camp of the Russian national-patriots, are trying harder to improve cooperation with terrorist states like Libya, Iraq, or North Korea than the present Kremlin leaders. If they came to power in Russia, these national-patriots and advocates of the restoration of Russian imperialism could make the transition from restrained to direct and open support of world terrorist forces, which would have an extremely negative effect on the world political situation in the future.

In this respect, it is absolutely clear that if Russia’s present government really means what it says about the unacceptability of terrorism in political practice, it ought to propose to the world community a series of measures on a joint and effective fight against political terrorism in all colors and shades. But, most of all, it itself ought to renounce any form of activity which would enable the existence and activity of international terrorist groups.

The recent events in Dagestan should, logically, force Russia’s highest military and political leadership not only to start fighting against international political terrorism, but also to define a system of measures to resist terror, both within the country itself, and within the boundaries of its sphere of influence in the former Soviet empire. In doing so, Russia must immediately, once and for all, break off all ties with separatists in Abkhazia, Transdniester, and the Baltic states, which are a hotbed of potential terrorism. It is also urgently necessary to create in Russia an effective and truly strong anti-terrorist structure, which would incorporate not only well-trained fighters, but also analysts, ethnographers, psychologists, and specialists on religion, who are able to define, with a sufficient degree of reliability, the sources of a possible outbreak of terrorism in the country before it occurs.

In addition, the GRU and the FSB could give the new structure all of its archive and rich experience of contacts with and training of terrorist groups. These could be used in the coming fight against international political terror. In view of the strained social and economic situation in Russia, finding employment for former agents of the Russian special services, and for workers in the military-industrial complex who have experience in making the weapons and explosives used by terrorists, and who, at the present time, are being actively recruited into Russian criminal and terrorist organizations, is especially important.

And finally, it is necessary for Russia to have a well-thought-out plan for the ethnic and political rebuilding of the country, and the pacification of all actual and potential conflicts like the one in Chechnya, which would give equal weight to the interests of the state and those of the numerous ethnic and religious groups and minorities which inhabit it.

As regards the international community, there has long been a need to sign an international declaration of war against political terrorism, which both the Western and the Russian press has called for on numerous occasions. (5) Such a declaration would list the mutual obligations of the signatories, among which would be the refusal to finance, train, or give military, political, or financial support to any terrorist groups or individual terrorists, and the renunciation of all forms of military cooperation–including the sale of arms or spare parts, ammunition, equipment or dual-use technology, and the training of military specialists–with states proven to have contacts with terrorist organizations or who call for the annihilation of any other country or people.

It is also necessary to include in the declaration a provision that the signatories must refuse to countries supporting terrorism economic, scientific, and technical cooperation in the area of nuclear energy, laser technology, precision machine construction, optics, specialized chemistry, and other advanced technology, which would enable these countries to achieve any military-technical results in the future. This document could also include the obligations of the signatories to conduct a policy of isolation of states proven to have contacts with terrorists, expulsion of such countries from the UN and other international and regional organizations, lowering of the diplomatic representation in such countries, refusal to provide such countries credits or extensions of credit, with the exception of those which are for purely humanitarian reasons.

Although this is already an international problem, by its participation, Russia could not only make a considerable contribution to the fight against international political terrorism, but could also solve many of its most painful internal problems by other means than those used in Abkhazia, Tajikistan, Transdniester, and finally, in Chechnya and the Russian regions adjoining it. If only for the sake of making sure that the tragedies of Budennovsk and Kizlyar are not repeated in Moscow and other Russian cities, which, in the near future, will become virtually impossible to defend from the growth of terrorism.


1. CNN and Itar-Tass, January 9, 1996.

2. Literaturnaya gazeta, No. 42, 1995.

3. Moscow Radio, April 30, 1995.

4. Ogonek, No. 28, 1995.

5. Literaturnaya gazeta, No. 42, 1995.

Stanislav Lunev is a former Colonel in Soviet Military Intelligence [GRU].

Translated by Mark Eckert