It was only a few weeks ago that the Russian government was proclaiming its brilliance in killing “notorious gang leader” Said Buryatsky in Ingushetia after allegedly linking him to the November 2009 bombing of the Nevsky Express passenger train between St. Petersburg and Moscow, an incident that left 39 Russians dead.
But if the Kremlin meant to suggest that such incidents were now a thing of the past, it was very much mistaken.
Early Monday morning, just as rush hour was beginning, two Moscow subway stations were bombed, one just steps from the headquarters of the KGB on Lubianka Square. An almost identical number of Russians were killed as in the Nevsky incident, and right in the heart of the capital city. Almost immediately, a lethal team of “black widow” suicide attackers was blamed. It was as if the Caucasus rebels were sending a clear message to Vladimir Putin himself: “You think you’ve won? Think again.”
Last February Doku Umarov, leader of the militant Islamist group Caucasus Emirate, declared: “Russians do not understand that the war today is coming to their streets, the war is coming to their homes, the war is coming to their cities.” At the time, it seemed like bluster. Now, it seems like a declaration of war.
The BBC quoted security expert Victor Mizin, whose wife was on one of the trains attacked: “Russia opposes a very tough enemy and it comes from our North Caucasian region but still it’s an ongoing process and unfortunately the security forces are unable to quell it.”
The Kremlin liquidated Shamil Basayev, the Chechen Osama bin Laden, in July 2006 following the infamous attacks on the Beslan school and the Dubrovka theater in Moscow. But that didn’t stop the violence. It installed a puppet ruler in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, but that didn’t stop the New York Times from reporting just days ago, on the total “breakdown of law and order” in neighboring Dagestan, where the killing of police and government officials has become part of the daily routine.
Instead of quieting the region, Putin’s intense crackdown on Chechnya has only served to spread the fervor of rebellion throughout the Caucasus region, and his decision to support the separatist cause in Georgia has only established a clear precedent by which various Caucasian groups can demand their own freedom.
The Putin regime continues to commit barbarous atrocities in the region against civilians. It continues to rack up a shocking litany of convictions in the European Court of Human Rights for crimes like state-sponsored murder, torture, and kidnapping. Yet despite this brutality, feared militant groups continue to rise from the supposed dead to strike against Russia’s civilian population with impunity, all part of a “hidden war” being waged in Putin’s Russia against “bandits” he supposedly defeated long ago.
Over and over again, journalists who have tried to report on these atrocities (Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Natalia Estemirova) have been brutally murdered, silencing their voices and leaving ordinary Russians very much in the dark about what is being done in their names in Russia’s southern regions. Meanwhile, outrage among the people who are being brutalized by the Kremlin only grows. They only wait for their chance to strike back.
And anyone who thinks that those regions are too remote to affect us in the West should reconsider. The world has decided to stage the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, right in the heart of this seething region, as much as issuing an open invitation to the rebel groups to strike down its athletes and spectators in order to humiliate Russia before the world. This utterly unhinged decision must be reconsidered. Now.
President Barack Obama was quick to issue a denunciation of the Monday terror attack, but he has been shockingly silent on Russian atrocities in the Caucasus, and he has even agreed to let American soldiers march through Red Square to help Russians celebrate victory in World War II. While Obama asks Americans to change their behavior towards the Islamic world, he makes no such demands on Russia, nor does he insist that Russia stop moving down the path to neo-Soviet dictatorship.
Make no mistake about what is coming: further crackdowns on civil society and even more atrocities in the Caucasus, followed by even more bloody violence in retribution. Just as the Kremlin used the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow as an excuse to invade Chechnya (an excuse, many believe, created by the KGB itself), it will use these bombings to convince the Russian people that they should give up all their remaining freedoms and return to a Soviet lifestyle in order to stop the violence.
Violent attacks on unarmed civilians are only to be condemned, but the West does nothing. It is abundantly clear that the Kremlin’s policies in the Caucasus have failed, and that if those polices continue the bloodshed will only escalate until Russia is enmeshed in civil war.