The Corner

The Return of Chechen Terror to Moscow

The suicide bombings of two Moscow subway stations carry a grim message to  the Russian leadership that the use of repression to contain terror in the volatile North Caucasus cannot work in the long run.

All indications are that the two female suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the two stations, packed with passengers during the morning rush hour, were emissaries of Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader who considers himself emir of the North Caucasus Islamic State. Last month, Umarov warned in an interview on a rebel-affiliated web site that the “zone of military operations will be extended to the territory of Russia.…The war is coming to their cities.”

The location of the explosions was not accidental. The first took place at the Lubyanka metro station next to the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, and there was speculation that the second explosion, at the Park Kultury metro station, was intended to occur at the nearby Oktyabrsky metro station, the location of the central apparatus of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The FSB and MVD were responsible this month for the deaths in the North Caucasus of two terrorist leaders, Said Buryatsky and Anzor Astemirov.

Many Russians hoped that the threat of terrorism, at least as it affected the area outside the North Caucasus, had abated. The last suicide attack on a Moscow subway station occurred in 2004 and claimed ten lives, but there have not been any terrorist attacks in Moscow since then.

One of the reasons for the relative calm has been the success of the Kremlin in placing Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel, in charge in Chechnya. Kadyrov was given carte blanche to rule the country with the help of his own reign of terror, and during his rule there have been thousands of abductions in Chechnya resulting in summary executions. Natalya Estimirova, a human-rights defender who was virtually the only source of information on torture, abductions, and murders carried out by the security forces, was herself abducted and murdered on July 15 of last year. The impact of the terror that was imposed on Chechnya was reflected in the recent parliamentary election results. According to official figures, 99.5 percent of the population voted in the elections and 99.4 percent supported the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. The remaining 0.1 percent was split between ten other parties.

The effect of repression and war weariness, however, was not enough to smother all opposition in the region. Instead, nationalist movements have appeared in all of the North Caucasus republics and the resulting cycle of violence as nationalists, fundamentalists, and, in many cases, ordinary citizens fight corrupt and brutal local governments has provided the terrorists with an increasing flow of recruits.

This has left Russia’s cities horrifyingly vulnerable, as was demonstrated by the two terrorists, reportedly Chechen war “black widows,” who made their way to Moscow this morning.

David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a fellow of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His most recent book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State (Yale University Press, 2004).

David Satter has written four books about Russia, including, most recently, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin, now available in paperback. He is the only American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War.


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