By Giorgi Kvelashvili
On March 29, 39 people were killed in twin suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro, for which Russian officials have already blamed terrorist groups operating in the North Caucasus. Two days later, on March 31, in two interconnected attacks, car bombs were detonated outside the headquarters of the local ministry of internal affairs and the federal security service (FSB) in Dagestan, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus, which took lives of eleven people.
After the metro bombings, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on his security forces to “scrape from the sewers” those responsible. Shortly after the attacks, several hypothetical statements were made by high-ranking Russian officials attempting to establish a Caucasus link as well as a possible connection to terrorist networks outside Russian borders.
On March 31, Russia’s Interfax news agency published an interview with Secretary of the National Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev. In the interview entitled “Revenge Awaits Everyone,” Patrushev talked about possible forces behind the terrorist attacks. He said “all leads are being examined,” including those suggesting that blasts had been organized by terrorists from the North Caucasus. Although Patrushev asserted that “some progress has already been made,” apparently more work has to be done before everyone who was implicated in the terrorist acts, including those who “ordered, financed, and trained” the terrorists, are brought to justice. “Retribution awaits everyone,” he concluded.
Talking of the leads, he singled out the North Caucasus and linked “the terrorist groups operating there” to the “international terrorist organizations.” After the Interfax journalist asked Patrushev if he believes that the terrorist blasts in Moscow may have been organized from abroad, the Russian official answered: “For example, there is Georgia and the leader of that state, Saakashvili, whose behavior is unpredictable. Unfortunately a number of countries provide him with assistance, including military assistance. We say that it is unacceptable. He once already started war. It cannot be ruled out that he may start again.”
After making his political argument, Patrushev talked about “the information” that, allegedly, Russia had that “some Georgian intelligence officials maintain contacts with terrorist organizations in the Russian North Caucasus. We should examine this lead as well in connection with the terrorist acts in Moscow.”
Patrushev’s statement is not new. A few months ago, on January 14, 2009, Russian media reported Russia’s deputy minister of internal affairs, Colonel General Arkady Edelev, as saying that “foreign instructors are preparing terrorist groups on Georgian military bases to carry out terrorist acts in the territory of the Russian Federation.” In early January, the Dagestan section of the FSB named Georgia among foreign states “funding guerrilla groups in Dagestan” and in October 2009, Russia’s director of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov himself blamed the Georgian intelligence for “helping Al Qaeda emissaries to transfer terrorists to Chechnya and weapons to Dagestan.” During his illegal visit to the occupied Georgian city of Tskhinvali in September 2009, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Georgia of “preparing terrorist acts and provocations against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
But the Russian accusations transcend the Saakashvili presidency and go back to the period when Eduard Shevardnadze was Georgia’s president. After Putin repeatedly blamed Tbilisi for “harboring Chechen terrorists” in 2001 and 2002 and ordered the bombings of the Pankisi gorge and adjacent areas in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, the Bush Administration launched a multi-million train and equip program to assist Georgia’s security and military forces.
Nonetheless, the situation is different now since Russia is apparently attempting to directly link the Georgian state to instigating trouble in the North Caucasus and elsewhere across Russia. Moscow would probably like to check international reaction before it makes any new moves.
The Georgian government should demand from the Russian Federation to present verifiable evidence and a detailed account of Georgia’s “terrorism activity” that Russia claims it has so that the international community could see where the truth lies. The international community’s closer engagement and more alert attitude toward the deteriorating situation in the Caucasus could positively influence Russia’s behavior and shield Georgia from Moscow’s wrath. And lastly, the United States should consider significant security measures, including a presence on Georgian soil, to avert the situation spiraling out of control into a new conflagration in the Caucasus.