Why Is Russia Unhappy with the U.S. Terrorism Report?

By David Iberi

On August 5, 2010 the U.S. State Department published its annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009. Eight days later, on August 13, the foreign ministry of the Russian Federation issued a statement regarding the U.S terrorism document, with the purpose of showing how wrong and biased the United States’ position is on Georgia.

The State Department praised Tbilisi for its efforts to fight against terrorism, for deploying nearly 1,000 Georgian soldiers as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and for granting “blanket flight clearance” for all U.S. military aircrafts engaged in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To Moscow’s displeasure, the report said that “Russian claims of Georgian support for Chechen terrorists and harboring of such individuals in the Pankisi Gorge were unsubstantiated, and the Georgian government has made transparent efforts to prove this to the international community.”

The State Department also noted that because of Georgia’s lack of ability to control the Georgian-Russian border across its Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia segments, there was “unrestricted and unidentified flow of people, goods, and other potentially dangerous items from Russia into Abkhazia and South Ossetia…[and] the administrative boundary lines between Georgia and the conflict zones were further militarized in 2009 when Russia tasked its Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards to take over control from de facto authorities in both territories.”

The Russia-related section of the report reflects on the worsening situation in Russia’s North Caucasus region, just across the Georgian border, both in terms of an increase in the numbers of rebel attacks and a dangerous twist in their nature. “Almost 800 terrorist acts occurred in the North Caucasus in 2009, an increase of 30 percent compared to 2008. The Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed to have prevented 80 terrorist attacks and killed more than 500 militants in 2009. As for a new trend, the report claims that, “Throughout the North Caucasus, groups have, for the most part, moved away from mass attacks on civilians in favor of targeted attacks on police, local interior ministry officials, and departments responsible for combating the insurgency.”

The Russian foreign ministry in its statement disputed both Georgia’s reputable anti-terrorism record and the security problems stemming from Tbilisi’s inability to exercise control over the Russian-occupied Georgian regions. “Tbilisi is conducting a double game toward the terrorist underground in the North Caucasus,” the Russian statement alleged. “The Russian intelligence agencies have repeatedly presented convincing evidence in that regard, and objective observers have long noted this.” On the issue of the two occupied Georgian provinces, the Russian foreign ministry advised the Americans to take into account “the new geopolitical realities in the Caucasus,” which is Moscow’s euphemism for a sphere of influence.

As if to prove the Kremlin’s line, the Russian-appointed leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov said on August 15 that “a militant liquidated in Chechnya” on Sunday was a “Georgian citizen.” “We are concerned by the fact that a citizen from the neighboring country was in the ranks of the militants,” said Kadyrov.

High-ranking Russian officials would rarely pass up the opportunity to accuse Georgia of being in one way or another connected to the unceasing warfare in the North Caucasus. After the devastating metro blasts in Moscow in March, Secretary of the National Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev unsuccessfully attempted to link the attacks in some way to Georgia. Among the Russian officials accusing Tbilisi of stoking terrorism in the North Caucasus were the deputy minister of internal affairs, Colonel General Arkady Edelev, the director of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, and even Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Through its terrorism accusations against Tbilisi, Moscow seeks to blacken Georgia’s international image, which Russia hopes will help it win the ideological war on world stage and leave Georgia isolated and without friends. Since the ideological front is so important to Russia, attempts to come up with new terrorist allegations against Tbilisi will continue. Georgia, for its part, could successfully argue that one of the reasons why extremist forces have intensified their struggle against the Russian rule in the North Caucasus is because Russia declared Georgia’s two provinces independent. If South Ossetia or Abkhazia can be independent, then why cannot Dagestan, Circassia or Chechnya? Do not those lands have more convincing history and tradition of fighting for their independence?