The Russian tinderbox known as Chechnya is smoldering once again, indicating a complete policy breakdown on the part of the Kremlin that has wide and deep repercussions for the outside world — including a greatly increased risk of terrorism at the 2014 Olympic Games. If the Obama administration does not act soon, it may have blood on its hands.
Current events coming out of the region look like a public relations nightmare for the Kremlin. First came the renewed insurrection: on October 19, 2010, Chechen rebels launched a bold direct assault on the Chechen parliament building in the capital city of Grozny, choosing the exact moment when a high-ranking Russian cabinet official was visiting. A few months earlier, the rebels had been even more provocative, attempting to assassinate the Kremlin’s puppet ruler Ramzan Kadyrov while he was watching a theater program. The myth that Kadyrov had decisively cowed the rebels has been, no pun intended, exploded. In fact the rebel groups are operating far and wide with impunity. There was a recent attack on a power station in Kabardino-Balkaria and a devastating explosion at an outdoor market in Vladikavkaz, emphasizing that insurrectionist activity is not limited to Chechnya proper but is spreading throughout the region.
Then came the revelations: in recent weeks, two different Russian military figures have come forward with confessions about brutality in the Kremlin’s earlier military campaigns in Chechnya that can only be called barbarism.
Major Alexei Potyomkin has admitted that a group of Red Cross volunteers slaughtered south of Grozny in 2006 were butchered not by rebels, but by Russian forces — hearkening back to World War II when Russian forces exterminated thousands of Polish officers in the forest of Katyn and blamed it on the Nazis.
Even more chilling, the Times of London has published the diary of an anonymous Russian combatant who reveals a seemingly endless litany of horrific crimes committed during the 1999 crackdown.
Viewed through this prism, an explosion days ago at the rail station in the spa town of Matsesta, just a few miles outside of Sochi where the 2014 Winter Olympics are to be held, takes on a terrifying new level of significance. It is as if the rebels are both probing and taunting the Russian government, preparing the stage for a wave of attacks as the Olympiad unfolds. Indeed, rail attacks are becoming bolder and more commonplace all across Russia, even in areas remote from the region itself. Attacks on law enforcement officers and troops viewed as occupiers continue on a regular basis as well, with no end in sight.
That the Russian government is unable to maintain security in the Caucasus, and that it is unwilling to be honest about that fact with the world — to the contrary, they seem eager to gamble with the lives of the world’s young athletes for propaganda purposes — can surprise nobody who is familiar with the KGB regime in the Kremlin. But the attitude of the Obama government towards these ominous developments is truly shocking and repellent, especially since Russia was not awarded the Olympic Games on Obama’s watch.