Andrew Osborn








After a brazen suicide attack by Islamist terrorists, how can Russia's top brass claim Chechnya is 'stable'?, 19th October 2010 14:21

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, has been struck by Islamist terrorists in a brazen suicide attack. The assault has punctured the Kremlin’s far-fetched claims that the restive region is “safe and stable”. Three extremists drove into the internal Russian republic’s parliamentary compound on Tuesday morning, killed three people, and then blew themselves up with explosives. Witnesses said the trio shouted “Allahu Akhbar”, and engaged in a fierce gun battle with Special Forces.

The parliament building was left badly scarred and seventeen people seriously wounded. If that is what Russia’s interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev calls stability (a statement he made hours after the attack) then I think someone needs to hand the man a dictionary. Chechnya is not stable. It is more stable than it used to be, yes, but when suicide bombers can drive into the centre of Grozny and wreak mayhem, a serious problem remains.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard Russian military top brass claim to have defeated the insurgents. I have lost count of the number of times that Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader, has claimed the same. But still the attacks continue.

Nor is the Islamist insurgency confined to just Chechnya anymore. Russia’s entire mainly Muslim southern flank – the North Caucasus – is seething. It is an undeclared guerrilla war. Every now and then the militants pull off “a spectacular” like the double suicide bombing of the Moscow metro in March that left forty people dead.

Such appalling atrocities briefly capture the world’s attention. But not for long. Russia’s two brutal wars in Chechnya in the 1990s did grip the world but what is happening there now is far less tangible. Suicide car bombings, shoot-outs, and targeted assassinations take place across the North Caucasus every week. But they are often in places and affect people that few Westerners have ever heard of.

The militants say they want to create an Islamic caliphate, while experts in the region say crushing poverty across the region makes it easy for them to replenish their ranks. In the meantime, the Kremlin is blithely endorsing grandiose plans to build a series of luxury ski resorts across the North Caucasus. It is a nice idea albeit one that seems decades ahead of its time. Yet if the Kremlin is serious about bringing peace and prosperity to this troubled part of the world, it needs a new strategy that goes well beyond its tried and failed heavy-handed response of merely meeting fire with fire. Building a ski resort or two before the insurgency has been properly and definitively extinguished isn’t going to do the trick either.