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Opinion

After Boston bombings: Beware Russia-US cooperation on counter-terrorism

After the Boston bombings, Russian President Putin and US President Obama announced closer cooperation on counter-terrorism. But Americans should have their eyes wide open about any counter-terrorism agreements with Russia.

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Guerrilla terrorism in the North Caucasus has been a direct response to Russian state terrorism following the crushing of Chechen independence in 1999 and the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by the Russian military. Moscow is primarily responsible for fanning religious radicalism and violence through its brutal pacification programs in which entire villages have been targeted for repression and family members of suspected terrorists are kidnapped, tortured, and killed.

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For instance, widespread torture in secret prisons and the murder of civilians who may sympathize with the insurgents has occurred under the watch of the Kremlin-appointed president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, according to human rights, journalist, and victim reports.

Moreover, the entire North Caucasus is characterized by corrupt and abusive governance by Moscow-endorsed officials, high rates of unemployment, widespread poverty, and the breakdown of social infrastructure. All these factors exacerbate opposition both toward Moscow and the republican authorities.

Despite and because of the mass repression, the stability of the entire region remains precarious. Terrorist attacks and guerrilla activities in combination with local conflicts over territory, statehood, political representation, and religious authority, are escalating into regional insurrections.

Russian counter-terrorism has created the very enemy that Moscow was supposedly seeking to eliminate. Chechen nationalism has been transformed into a pan-Caucasian insurgency in which Islamic radicals from various ethnic groups engage in acts of terrorism in all the North Caucasus republics. Violent jihadism provides a mobilizing ideology across ethnic lines, where the systematic brutality of the Russian-backed security forces against civilians has fueled vendettas and recruits for insurgency movements.

In what is fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more brutally the Kremlin tries to stamp out separatism, the more likely that Russia will fracture and lose the North Caucasus.

There are two main reasons for the Kremlin’s current outreach to the American government. First, it wants to depict anti-American terrorism as equivalent to anti-Russian terrorism and thereby avoid US criticism of its brutal anti-terrorist operations.

Second, it is signaling that any planned disruption of the February 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in the North Caucasus, in which Putin has staked so much of his personal prestige, will be ruthlessly suppressed. As the Olympics approach, the zeal of the security services is likely to increase and may provoke the very response that counter-terrorism is supposed to prevent.
 
Janusz Bugajski is a foreign policy analyst, author, lecturer, columnist, and television host based in the United States, and has published 18 books on Europe, Russia, and trans-Atlantic relations.

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