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#13 - JRL 2006-146 - JRL Home
Russia Profile
June 27, 2006
Terrorism Takes a Back Seat
The G8 Summit Passes on Discussion of Bin Laden and Basayev

By Dmitry Babich

As Russia prepared for the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, some experts were surprised by the conspicuous absence of the subject of world terrorism from the meetings agenda. The fact is that, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Vladimir Putin made the global war on terror one of the main vehicles of Russias rapprochement with the United States and the other G8 countries.

Russia participated in the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 by supplying arms and munitions to the anti-Taliban alliance. In 2005, the international convention on fighting nuclear terrorism, initiated by Russia, was signed by all G8 members. At the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Great Britain, Putin reiterated Russias willingness to exchange information on terrorist groups and their activities in Russia and abroad. But, when choosing topics for its summit in 2006, Russia opted for energy security, infectious diseases and education instead.

The problem is that Russia has nearly exhausted the potential of its anti-terrorist cooperation with the United States and the EU, said Vladimir Baranovsky, deputy director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) at the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2001, Putin made all the right statements. Now, the West does not need statements. In fact, it seems to the United States and the EU that they can deal with the problem without Russia. So, putting this problem on the agenda would yield a lot less in the way of agreements than energy security.

It is unclear why the West suddenly has little interest in cooperating with Russia on fighting terrorism. That the Gleneagles summit was nearly ruined by the terrorist explosions in London that occurred during the meeting showed how pertinent the subject remains. Recent disclosures by Spanish investigators have also indicated that the terrorists behind the March 2004 Madrid bombings were trained by a group of activists with experience of training Chechen rebels, which would indicate that Russia and Europe are fighting the same battle against terrorist acts.

The real reason is that Russia and its Western partners have different views on terrorism, said Igor Maksimychev, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Many EU politicians do not consider the Chechen fighters terrorists, and will not move a finger to cooperate with Russia until their armchairs explode under them, he continued indignantly.

At an international conference on the fight against cyber-terrorism, organized by the Russian interior ministry in Moscow in April, some high-ranking Russian security officials seemed to share Maksimychevs view of Western attitudes, venting their anger at the Wests lack of solidarity with Russia in the fight against terrorism. The fact that the Internet sites of Chechen separatists are registered in Western countries gives ground for particular concern.

There are 40 Russian-language sites spreading extremist views on the Internet, and only 10 of them are tied to providers inside Russia, Boris Miroshnikov, the head of the interior ministrys department on cyber-crime, told the conference. The others are registered abroad, mostly in European countries. This is a clear case of double standards.

The Western participants at the conference, however, argued that Western countries face exactly the same problem with foreign-registered extremist sites as Russia does. A lot of German-language neo-Nazi sites are registered in Denmark or Sweden because these countries have lax rules on what you can publish on the Internet, said Robert Laktis, head of the computer crime unit in the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, who was also present at the conference. These sites are read mostly in Germany and Austria, where this kind of propaganda is prohibited, but we cant do anything about it. So, Russia is not the only one to complain.

Most Russian officials, however, still hope to find some kind of common ground with the United States and the EU in the fight against terrorism.

Anatoly Safonov, the Russian presidents special representative in the Foreign Ministry for fighting world terrorism and transnational crime, said at a meeting with journalists that fighting terrorism will be discussed at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Special attention will be paid to protecting energy networks from terrorist attacks, Safonov said, adding that all G8 countries had the same views on terrorism in principle. In Safonovs words, the differences were apparent only on specific issues, particularly the situation in Chechnya, attitudes toward the new Hamas-led government in the Palestinian authority, and the situation in the Balkans.

The people who justify terrorist acts by Chechen separatists do not understand that the world is interconnected and that Russia will not be the only country to suffer from them, Safonov said. Some of the international terrorists who fought in Chechnya came there from Yemen via the Balkans. As for Hamas, our position is that they should be given a chance to prove their peaceful aspirations by recognizing the right of Israel to exist. Putin gave Hamas a chance to prove their legitimacy by inviting the Hamas leadership to Russia in March.

As if the differences on international issues were not enough, in April the State Duma adopted a program for fighting terrorism that raised a lot of eyebrows both in the West and among the Russian human rights activists. The bill prohibits the media from publishing certain information, including tactics used in anti-terror operations that could pose a danger to the life and safety of the public.

The bill also makes public justification of terrorism a crime, a sinister move in Russia, where whole chunks of the media have defended the Chechen position, especially during the first war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996. People who commit terrorist acts or make calls for them can now be tried and sentenced in absentia, a move clearly aimed at individuals such as Akhmed Zakayev, the former representative of the late Chechen separatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov, in Europe, who has been granted political asylum in the UK.

Since both Western governments and Russian human rights groups have stated repeatedly that anti-terrorist measures should not serve as a justification for the limitation of freedom in Russia, the bill may be seen as one more cause for friction during possible discussions on terrorism at the G8 summit.

It would be wrong for Putin to tie any economic issues, especially energy, to the fight against terrorism during the summit, said Alexey Malashenko, an expert on Russias Islamic minorities at the Moscow Carnegie Center. He may then face the same accusations as those he heard after [the terrorist standoff in September 2004 in] Beslan. Then, he was accused of using the fight against terrorism in order to curtail the direct election of governors. That is why giving the terrorism issue a low profile at the G8 summit is probably a wise move.