The Russian State in the Face of Terrorism

It is an old story. It has long been known that the USSR covertly supported various terrorist groups and organizations – the Red Brigades, the extremist branches of the PLO, the Red Army Faction, etc. – either directly or via the secret services of “brotherly countries” such as East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The objective has always been clear: to fight Zionism, American imperialism and, more generally, to sow havoc and fear in Western countries. However, during the Gorbachev-Yeltsin interlude, links with various terrorist movements weakened or ceased, as Russia tried to “normalize” its relations with the Western world.

The situation changed under Putin. As soon as he came to power, he unleashed the second war in Chechnya, the matrix of all his future wars. In fact, it was not called a war, but an anti-terrorist operation. The extreme cruelty of the Russian armed forces provoked a hardening of some Chechen fighters. The struggle for national independence was transformed into a fight for a Caucasian caliphate. Bloody terrorist attacks rocked Russia in the first years of the new millennium. Putin was the first to call George W. Bush after the attacks of September 11, 2001: he was anxious that his massacre of the Chechen people should be recognized as part of the fight against international terrorism.

While in the first decade of the century the Russian regime managed to tame the Chechen resistance with radical measures, relying on its ruthless henchman Ramzan Kadyrov, the number of criminal cases for “terrorism” and “extremism” paradoxically began to rise in 2012, when Putin returned to the Kremlin. The wave of popular protests against electoral fraud in the parliamentary elections and against his third term in office scared him off. Thanks to the expansion of “terrorist” articles in the penal code and total control over the judicial system, the fight against terrorism has turned into an industry of repression.

The regime now fights not only Muslim militants, such as members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (who do not preach violence), but also human rights defenders, opponents of the war in Ukraine and other disloyal groups. In most cases, it is no longer a question of belonging to a terrorist organization but of being accused of “apology for terrorism,” which has become a veritable tool of persecution. According to Re:Russia, between 2012 and the first half of 2023 – in the absence of a wave of terror – 3,373 people were convicted under various articles of the Penal Code relating to “terrorism.” And in 2022, the number of people convicted under these articles (669) was 40 times higher than the 2009-2011 average.

The insanity of these charges, which carry heavy prison sentences, is becoming increasingly apparent. Mathematician Azat Miftakhov, whose latest statement is published by Desk Russie, has just been sentenced to four years in a penal colony for allegedly stating in a private conversation (assuming it ever took place) that he wanted to take revenge for the death at the front of a friend who had fought in the Ukrainian armed forces. Former political prisoner Alexander Skobov, whose interview Desk Russie is publishing, will stand trial for declaring the need to dismantle Putin’s criminal regime (but taking no action). Another Soviet political prisoner, Boris Kagarlitski, a renowned sociologist, was recently sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for condemning the war in Ukraine (“apology for terrorism”). Director Evguenia Berkovich and author Svetlana Petriychuk have been languishing for a year in a Moscow prison under preliminary detention, for their show Finist, the clear hawk, which tells the terrible story of Russian women seduced on the Internet by Islamists and ready to follow them to Syria. These winners of Russia’s most famous drama prize, the Golden Mask, in 2022 for this show are now officially accused of “apology for terrorism” and their names feature on lists of “terrorists and extremists,” even before their trial. Several prominent figures who no longer live in Russia are also on those lists of “extremists and terrorists”, including world chess champion Garry Kasparov, world-famous writer Boris Akunin, famous actor Artur Smolyaninov and others. Their property in Russia is confiscated, and they will be immediately arrested and tried if they decide to return home.

The sentences are particularly harsh for particular population groups considered “suspicious,” as was the case during the Stalinist era for some peoples of the Caucasus, for Volga Germans, Poles, Koreans, etc. For several years now, young Chechens are regularly convicted of “terrorism” for the slightest disagreement with the Kadyrov regime. Since the annexation of Crimea, this has also been the fate of Crimean Tatars, on the same charge. They are sentenced to life imprisonment or to terms ranging from 10 to 25 years in harsh prison colonies, such as the one where Alexei Navalny was held or where Vladimir Kara-Murza is serving his sentence.

This is Russian state terror, not only in Ukraine, but also among its own people. Anyone who opposes this terror, even by peaceful means, is first proclaimed a “foreign agent,” then a terrorist, a slanderer of the army, a traitor to the homeland. The range of repressive laws is vast, allowing any free voice to be stifled.

While the Russian authorities hunt down opponents under the pretext of fighting terrorism, they support, as in Soviet times and for the same reasons, Islamist movements such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban, which are internationally recognized as terrorists. Russia supports Hezbollah politically, militarily and economically, and has practically sided with Hamas in the Gaza conflict.

Perhaps this is why Vladimir Putin was so surprised by the murderous attack on Crocus City Hall by the Afghan branch of Islamic State (IS). While the Russian secret services may have been aware of the planned attack and let it happen for obscure reasons of internal struggles, Vladimir Putin was clearly not. On April 4, the Russian president said: “Russia is a unique example of interfaith harmony and interethnic unity. It behaves in the international arena in such a way that it could not be the object of an attack by Islamic fundamentalists.” This is why the Kremlin is trying to accuse Ukraine and the West of being behind the Tajik terrorists.

Increasingly detached from reality and immersed in messianic dreams, Putin finds it hard to accept Russia’s role in destroying IS in Syria and, more generally, to understand that a terrorist movement cannot, by definition, be manipulated from the outside to fight only against designated targets, such as the United States, Israel, or Europe. Obsessed with “Nazi” Ukraine and his own political opponents, the Russian leader savagely bombs Kharkiv and destroys power plants in Ukraine but refuses to see that his regime is facing real Islamists who may not have said their last word.

Born in Moscow, she has been living in France since 1984. After 25 years of working at RFI, she now devotes herself to writing. Her latest works include: Le Régiment immortel. La Guerre sacrée de Poutine, Premier Parallèle 2019; Traverser Tchernobyl Premier Parallèle, 2016.

See also

Why the Anti-jewish Riots in the North Caucasus?

The pogrom at Makhachkala airport took the world by surprise. How should we interpret this event? Was it spontaneous or was it a manipulation by Russian power which thus sought to send messages to the West and Israel?

Why Putin Chooses Chaos

Putin’s speech to Valdai unambiguously states his intention to destroy the international order and create chaos in its place in order to indulge in depredations without constraint. The support for Hamas displayed by Putin and his propagandists perfectly illustrates these aspirations.

Most read

The Great Russian Pretence

The Russian propaganda discourse resonates with certain conservatives. Our author looks at the way in which, far from defending a European “civilization”, the Putin regime has transformed into an “eschatological sect”.

When Soft Power Turns Hard

The Ukrainian political scientist calls on the West to be lucid, because Russian propagandists are using culture to give a more “humane” image to the genocidal barbarity of the Putin regime.