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Insurgent Ideology
Responsibility for the Domodedovo Blast Has Been Claimed, but Questions Remain About the Nature of Russia's Insurgency

Sergei Markedonov, Ph.D., is a political analyst and a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Russia and Eurasia Program, Washington, DC.

Grozny, ChechnyaThere was a new twist in the tale of the Domodedovo metro bombings last week, when Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the blast. In a video message screened on an extremist Web site, the leader of the so-called "Caucasus Emirate" announced that he personally ordered the attack on the airport. The "emir" promised to continue attacks within Russia, saying that 2011 will become a "year of blood and tears" for Russia. In Umarov's words, the campaign will continue until the Caucasus region is "free and Islamic."
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On the one hand it is hard to see Umarov's latest performance as sensational. Back in February of last year the leader of the North Caucasus Jihadists threatened to bring the subversive terrorist war to the central regions of Russia. At the time he said: "The borders of military activity will be broadened, with Allah's will, to the whole territory of Russia, and great successes await us this year." Since then there have been three occasions when Umarov has claimed responsibility for terrorist acts in Moscow Region, claiming a total of 102 lives.

On the other hand, Umarov's real place in the subversive-terrorist war has raised arguments and doubts. The leader has even claimed responsibility for attacks that had nothing to do with this asymmetrical conflict, including the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant. Analysts from the private American analytical company Stratfor (which journalist Jonathan Laing called the Shadow CIA in 2001), who specialize in problems of security and reconnaissance, expressed skepticism about the personal role of Umarov in the Domodedovo bombing. In their view, the "Caucasian emir" is simply "the first among equals" of leaders organizing militant groups.

But does this mean that the real danger stemming from the North Caucasus is not so great? Answering this question requires an appreciation of what is happening in the subversive terrorist underground in Russia's most problematic region. We can start with the fact that today the fight against the Russian state is not being carried out under slogans of ethnic self-determination, and thus not one North Caucasus republic is universally recognized as the center of terrorism. Today Umarov is habitually referred to as a "separatist" or the leader of "Chechen fighters" both in Russia and in the West. This creates continuity between Umarov and the Dudayev-Maskhadov Ichkeria of the 1990s. Miriam Lanskoy, the director of the Russian and Eurasian program at Washington's National Endowment for Democracy, thinks that people become fighters "for reasons which are very local, they are not linked with ideas of a global Jihad."

But whatever the reasons may be in each individual case, the language of extremist groups today is not dictated by national-separatism, but radical Islamism. It is enough to look at the many Web sites of radicals from the Caucasus to see that they are trying to embed their battle in the global Islamic project. Meanwhile, Chechnya is only fourth in this unique terrorist "contest" today, having given way to Dagestan (which doesn't have a titular ethnicity), Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.

In reality "The Caucasus Emirate" is not a centralized structure. In this regard analysts from "the shadow CIA" are not that far from the truth. However, this community is united by common ideological aims and a certain kind of life experience. Consequently, it is possible for separate cells of the terrorist network to carry out attacks autonomously, without any order from their "emir." Furthermore, the removal of "emirs" of a certain magnitude does not represent an irrevocable catastrophe for the network (as events in recent years have demonstrated.) Otherwise it would be harder to sustain the subversive-terrorist war. Although the region's militant groups are uncoordinated and few in number, this is precisely what makes combating them more complicated. It is much easier to influence and corrupt the infrastructure of an unacknowledged republic from the outside.

Thus the Russian authorities and society as a whole have to acknowledge a few unpleasant truths. Firstly, the authorities' opponents, fighting for the "Emirate," are strongly politically motivated. In contrast to the separatists of the past they will be harder to convince or outbid. Therefore, propaganda should be aimed not so much at these fighters, as at the doubtful or wavering population. And the population is wavering for one simple reason, because of a lack of positive policies from the authorities, who see in violence a universal mechanism for resolving a wide spectrum of social problems.

Russian authorities, both in Moscow and in the regions, are also characterized by a lack of distinct ideological motivation. Emergency trips to Kievsky Train Station or Vnukovo Airport, punishing scapegoats and the battle to install new metal detectors looks more like Soviet management than clear political positioning.

All of this bureaucratic rigidity cannot replace an ideology. In the 1920s and 1930s the Islamists and nationalists in the Caucasus and Central Asia were conquered not only by the Cheka, but also by the lofty ideological strength of the Bolsheviks. Although I do not share Communist values, I have to say that today's builders of Russia's civil nation do not have an ounce of that belief in their own righteousness, unselfishness, openness and enthusiasm. If we want to overcome the temptation of radical Islam, then we have to fight it not only with policemen and bureaucrats, but also with ideologists of this "EuroIslam" (especially since in Russia Rafael Khakimov has written a brilliant work on this subject) and advocates of the "Russian nation." Ideology can only be fought with ideology, just as the effectiveness of one engineering invention can only be surpassed by that of another engineering (but not linguistic) discovery.

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