After Moscow attack, Russians question Putin's war on terror
Russians are asking whether the repeated ability of jihadists from the turbulent northern Caucasus to strike at will in Moscow means that the country is losing its own war on terror.
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In any case, many critics say that Putin is the man who should be held to account for Russia's perennial vulnerability to terrorist attacks against crowded urban targets.Skip to next paragraph
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"Putin came to power under the slogan of struggling against terrorism, and it was he who proclaimed 'mochit v sortire [wipe them out in the outhouse],' " says Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who is now co-leader of the Solidarnost anti-Kremlin opposition coalition.
"That was his key election idea, and over the 11 years that he's been in power one can say that the struggle against terrorism has failed. Terrorist acts – including nearly daily violence in the north Caucasus – have grown in number by six times, to 780 last year," he says.
Trail of terror
Russia's decade-long battle with terrorism opened with a series of still-unexplained 1999 apartment bombing that killed 300 people in Moscow and other cities. Putin, then prime minister and anointed heir to former President Boris Yelsin, responded with a massive military invasion of the rebel republic of Chechnya.
A wave of bloody terrorist attacks followed, including a 2002 theater siege in central Moscow that caused the deaths of more than 120 people and a mass hostage taking at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, where 330 people – more than half children – died amid the mayhem of an assault by Russian security forces.
Though Chechnya has since been largely pacified under the heel of pro-Moscow local strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, terrorists were able to strike the Chechen parliament in Grozy last year during a visit by Russia's Interior Minister.
"The northern Caucasus, especially the republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia, are not stable," says Mr. Korotchenko. "This is where we find the roots of terrorism. Right now, instead of systematic measures, we send the money to prop up the local elites. It's not working. We see mass unemployment and poverty against the backdrop of palaces for local elite. This is a reliable recruiting tool for the terrorists.... [Russian security forces] do not have enough agents down there even to warn of coming terrorist attacks."
Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy chair of the Duma's security commission, agrees.
"Our special services need to stop terrorist attacks at the preparation stage, but they are lagging behind," he says. "Foreign intelligence services seem to have learned these lessons after 9/11. Yet we did not, even though we've given up some of our freedoms to fight terrorism.... We forget these bitter lessons too quickly. I fear we'll talk about this one for a couple of weeks, then forget about it until the next terrorist strike hits."