Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:28 GMT

Enhanced Security in Caucasus Isn't Enough

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Publication Date 28 January 2011
Other Languages / Attachments Russian
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Enhanced Security in Caucasus Isn't Enough, 28 January 2011, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A few years ago, I rang the spokesman for Russia's army in Chechnya. It was the eve of an election, and I was looking for a straightforward statement that security had been enhanced to stave off any militant attempts to derail voting.

I had expected the quote to be easy to extract, but no matter how I asked the question, he just would not tell me what I wanted to hear. Eventually, he paused and said, wearily, "Come on, Oliver, how many times have you been to Chechnya? What else could we do?"

A second went by, then he added, "That's off the record."

I remembered his comments while watching President Dmitry Medvedev promise enhanced security following the horrific suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedevo airport, since my first reaction was: what else could he do?

Police regularly stop and search anyone whose darker skin and hair suggest they are from the Caucasus, where Chechens, Ingush and other locals have been waging an insurgency for more than 15 years. In the Caucasus itself, tactics are more brutal. Human rights groups talk of thousands of disappearances, murders and cases of torture.

All of this has been in the name of security, but – as the horror in Domodedevo airport showed – it has not worked. In fact, a quick look at the atrocities committed in Moscow shows how intimately they are linked to the violence in the Caucasus.

One of the bombers of the metro in March last year was the widow of a man killed by security forces. Similarly, one of the bombers of twin airliners in 2004 - who incidentally took off from Domodedevo, having bribed a guard to let her on the plane - blamed Russian troops for killing her brother.

Another metro bombing in 2004 was, its perpetrators later announced, timed to coincide with the anniversary of a massacre of civilians at Novie Aldi in the early days of former president Vladimir Putin's campaign in Chechnya.

The most hard-to-obtain component in a suicide bombing is the bomber. Explosives and detonators are cheap and plentiful in comparison.

But the violence inflicted on the Caucasus in the name of "enhanced security" has created a generation of despairing, angry, ill-educated and trapped orphans and widows with no hope for a better life.

They are a pool of potential suicide bombers for anyone who decides it is acceptable to inflict carnage on ordinary people.

The measures used to try to restrain the militants, which have included empowering local leaders in the North Caucasus to act autonomously as well as pouring money into the region to try to create jobs, have served largely to corrupt the government. That, perversely, has entrenched the brutality that created the violence in the first place.

Doku Umarov, leader of the militants in and around Chechnya, has previously said that there are no civilians in Russia. He sees any Russian as a target. The attack on the airport was, however, on a target that was almost certain to include foreigners. As such, it was an escalation and could mean that he is ready to attack anyone at all.

That being the case, it is in all of our interests that some form of stability is brought to the North Caucasus and it is time to recognise that this will not be won by the kind of enhanced security that Russia has employed since it first decided to crush Chechen independence in 1994. Stopping a small rebellion by producing a widespread insurrection must, by any measure, be deemed a failure.

Moscow has labeled all insurgent leaders as terrorists but some of them, now in exile in the West, are as appalled by these acts of mass murder as any Russian.

A recently published memoir by Ilyas Akhmadov, once Chechnya's foreign minister and now a refugee in the United States, describes him trying to persuade western officials to admit to the horrors Russia was inflicting on his nation.

"We wanted the war to be called a war and to drop the pretence of a ‘counter-terrorist operation'," he wrote. "We wanted a reassessment of what this conflict was about, the recognition that terrorism was a result of the war, and that the war was the result of important political problems that needed to be addressed. The discussion got nowhere."

Closing our eyes to the reality of the Caucasus does no one any favours – least of all the Russians, as the bombing of Domodedevo showed. It is time to find something other than enhanced security.

Russia must open up the North Caucasus to outside influence, and stop labeling any foreigners there as spies or terrorists. Foreign money is needed, but it must be spent transparently to get the economy moving; to introduce new practices; and to break the conveyor leading unemployed young men to join militant groups.

Foreign governments should recognise what is happening in the North Caucasus, and call it by the right name. Akhmadov is right. It is a war, not a counter-terrorist operation and western nations must recognise that.

Lastly, here in the West we must engage with the tens of thousands of Chechens and other refugees from the North Caucasus who now live among us, and have genuine grievances against Moscow.

We must ensure that Russia enforces its own laws and stops allowing police to behave like an occupying power in their own country. And Russia must create conditions that allow the refugees – often the most educated and most energetic parts of their nations – to return home and contribute to rebuilding a society that has been destroyed.

Oliver Bullough is IWPR's Caucasus editor.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR. 

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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