The year 2011 did not begin happily for Russia. On January 24, a bomb attack at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport—the city's largest—killed at least 35 people and injured more than 130. This tragedy shed light on the fact terrorists in Russia still have the ability to launch major attacks. With the approach of parliamentary elections in December this year and Russia's presidential election in March 2012, terrorists are likely to launch attacks again at sensitive moments. Therefore, in 2011, the security and stability of Russia are seriously at stake.
Since Russia declared a formal end to its 10-year-long counterterrorist operations in Chechnya on April 16, 2009, the security situation in North Caucasus has obviously deteriorated. Major terrorist attacks have increased and terrorism is expanding toward Russia's central region.
URGENT RESCUE: Rescue workers transport a man injured in the bomb attack at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on January 24 (XINHUA/AFP)
Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev said in 2009, terrorist incidents in North Caucasus increased to 673, up 19 percent compared to the previous year, causing more than 300 deaths and more than 680 injures. In the first nine months of 2010, 489 terrorist crimes occurred in the region, including 284 shootings, 214 explosions and 58 armed conflicts with police.
In the meantime, terrorist activities have spread beyond North Caucasus to Moscow and other places. On November 27, 2009, an express train was derailed en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg by a bomb blast, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 100. Among those killed were Board Chairman of the Russian Federal Road Agency Sergei Tarasov and Russian Federal Reserve Agency chief Boris Yevstratikov. Three days later, an explosive went off under a passenger train en route from the Russian town of Tyumen to Azerbaijan's capital Baku. Luckily, no passengers were hurt.
Following those incidents, on March 29, 2010 during the morning rush hour, terrorist attacks were carried out by two female suicide bombers at two Moscow subway stations, killing 38 and injuring a hundred.
Then on January 24 this year, Moscow's Domodedovo Airport was attacked, causing heavy casualties.
These incidents show terrorists now have a greater ability to carry out attacks than in previous years. Moscow has become a frequent target for terrorist attacks. This means Russia's counterterrorist challenges are mounting.
The Russian Government was overly optimistic about the elimination of terrorism in North Caucasus when President Dmitry Medvedev ended counterterrorist operations in Chechnya. He also claimed the cradle of terrorism in North Caucasus had been smashed. As a result, counterterrorist forces were weakened, while terrorist activities surged.
Facing increasingly rampant terrorism, Medvedev admitted the security situation in North Caucasus remained difficult and complex. Also, he has requested strengthened counterterrorist operations by Russian security forces. But it is no easy task to thoroughly eliminate terrorists in the short term.
In addition, frequent terrorist attacks have damaged public confidence in the government. In the near future, until the parliamentary and presidential elections, Russians will watch closely to see what the government does to defeat terrorism.
There are a couple of reasons for the resurgence of terrorism in North Caucasus, Moscow, as well as other places.
The North Caucasus region—where Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan are located—are the base for various anti-government militants in Russia. Chechnya is the root of the turbulence in North Caucasus.
Although Kremlin spent a decade destroying the main forces of separatist militants in Chechnya and, afterward, pushed for post-war reconstruction, Chechens never outgrew their hatred for Russians. Owing to historical conflicts, anti-Russian fervor has in fact remained deeply rooted in the hearts of many Chechens. Indeed, these emotions were only strengthened by the devastation caused by the two Chechen wars from 1994 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2009.
People in North Caucasus share similar cultural and religious backgrounds. In addition, they enjoy close social relations with each other. Although they long for stability and peace, many of them are also sympathetic to separatists.
Armed suppression is an important means of combating terrorism, but it is not the only means, nor can it effectively address ethnic conflicts. To root out terrorism, the Russian Government must work harder to eliminate the psychological barriers that exist between Chechens and Russians while trying to improve local people's living standards.
Long beset by war, economic stagnation and rampant government corruption, North Caucasus is a breeding ground for separatists. The unemployment rates in Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan are 50 percent, 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Furthermore, corruption among government officials has prevented funds allocated by the Russian Federal Government for local development from being effectively utilized. Some of the money has even gone into the hands of militants.
In 2009, the Russian Government allocated more than 26 billion rubles ($887 million) for development in the region, but much of the money went directly into the pockets of local government officials. Thus, the local economy worsened—along with people's living conditions. The resulting discontent among the people contributed, in turn, to terrorist activity.