The past year saw a continuation of the US-Russian counterterrorism cooperation that emerged following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
At the Presidential Summit in Moscow in May 2002, Presidents Bush and Putin agreed to expand the scope of the United States-Russia Working Group on Afghanistan, co-chaired by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. It is now known as the US-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism. This interagency working group met for the first time under its expanded mandate on 26 July 2002 in Annapolis, Maryland, and again in Moscow on 22-23 January 2003.
But even as the United States and Russia cooperated in the global war on terrorism on all fronts in 2002, Russia faced terrorist acts that struck at the heart of its national security.
Russia continued to be subject to a number of terrorist events in 2002, many connected to the ongoing insurgency and instability in Chechnya. The continuing conflict, which began in late summer 1999, has been characterized by widespread destruction, displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and human rights abuses by Russian servicemen and various rebel factions. At least three rebel factions, which consist of both Chechen and foreign – predominantly Arabic – mujahidin fighters, are connected to international Islamic terrorists and have used terrorist methods. (They have been designated, in 2003, as terrorist organizations for asset freeze under Executive Order 13224.) Russian forces have continued to conduct operations against Chechen fighters but also draw heavy criticism over credible reports of human rights violations.
Extremist groups and individuals seeking to create an independent Islamic state in the north Caucasus were responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks in 2002. Russian citizens were the victims of frequent attacks with command-detonated mines, including one that killed 36 persons, 12 of them children, and wounded over 100 others attending a Memorial Day parade in Kaspiisk, Dagestan.
But Russia's most serious terrorist event of 2002 occurred on 23 October when more than 40 armed militants took hostage 800 Moscow theatergoers to demand an immediate end to all Russian security operations in Chechnya. More than 120 of the hostages – including one US citizen (and a US Legal Permanent Resident) – died from a narcotic gas used during the rescue operation.
The terrorists, who included several female suicide bombers wearing explosive "suicide" vests, placed several mines throughout the theater and threatened to begin killing the hostages unless their demands were met. The leader of the attack was identified by the Chechen mujahidin news agency Kavkaz Tsentr, and later by Russian news agencies, as Movsar Barayev, commander of the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) of the Chechen State Defense Committee (Majlis al-Shura). On 24 October, the Arabic news agency Al-Jazirah identified the group as the previously unknown "Sabotage and Military Surveillance Group of the 'Riyadh al-Salikhin' Martyrs" (a.k.a. the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs). A group member said in a recorded statement, "Our demands are stopping the war and withdrawal of Russian forces. We are implementing the operation by order of the military commander of the Chechen Republic." These two groups – Special Purpose Islamic Regiment and Sabotage and Military Surveillance Group of the 'Riyadh al-Salikhin' Martyrs – were among the three that the US Government designated as terrorist groups for asset freeze.
On 24 October, the Government of Russia immediately drafted and introduced UNSCR 1440 condemning the Moscow hostage taking as a terrorist act and urging all states, in accordance with their obligations under UNSCR 1373 (2001), to cooperate with Russian authorities in finding and bringing to justice the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of this terrorist attack. The resolution was unanimously adopted the same day.
On 1 November, Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev, in a letter to Kavkaz-Tsentr, publicly claimed full responsibility for organizing the attack. Basayev said that the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs (RSMB) had been under his direct command and that Chechen President Maskhadov had no prior knowledge of the event. Basayev then publicly resigned his positions as Amir of the Council (Majlis) of Muslims of Chechnya and Dagestan and as the Military Commander of the Islamist International Brigade, saying he would henceforth devote himself completely to the RSMB.
Less than one month later, however, Basayev was once again commanding mujahidin units in Chechnya, according to President Maskhadov's official news agency, and warned that all "military, industrial, and strategic facilities on Russian territory, to whomever they belong" were legitimate targets for attack. Usama Bin Ladin also acknowledged the Moscow hostage takers in a November 2002 audiotape message, saying to the Russians, "If you were distressed by the killing of your nationals in Moscow, remember ours in Chechnya."
Throughout 2002, Russia continued to take important steps toward strengthening its participation in the global war on terrorism, particularly by ratifying the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. By the end of the year, Russia was a party to 11 of the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism. Before 2002, Russia had signed but not ratified the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection. Russian officials were optimistic that official ratification of the 1991 Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection would soon occur.
The Government of Russia enacted domestic legislation and executive orders to enable its fight against terrorism in 2002. On 11 January, President Putin signed a decree entitled "On Measures to Implement the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1373 of September 28, 2001" that introduced criminal liability for anyone intentionally providing or collecting assets for terrorist use as well as instructions to relevant agencies on how to seize terrorist assets.
On 11 October, Russia was removed from the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) list of Non-Cooperating Countries and Territories, in part due to the establishment of a Russian financial intelligence unit, the Financial Monitoring Committee. A functioning financial intelligence unit is central to Russia's ability to cooperate internationally to combat money laundering, to its participation in the Egmont Group and FATF, and to track and freeze terrorist assets.
Although the Russia Federation maintains diplomatic relations with the seven states presently on the US Government's State Sponsors of Terrorism list, the Russian Government firmly opposes state-sponsored terrorism and supports international initiatives to combat it. The Government of Russia maintains that its relationships with such states serve as a positive influence that has – or may have – moderated or diminished the support these governments provide for terrorism.
In February, the Federal Security Service hosted an antiterrorism conference in St. Petersburg. They invited representatives from the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies of approximately 40 countries, including the United States.
At the United Nations, Russia circulated a draft General Assembly resolution calling for enhanced cooperation among all components of the UN system in the fight against terrorism. The resolution also noted the interconnection between terrorism, transnational organized crime, and drug trafficking. Russia is using its seat at the new NATO-Russia Council to emphasize counterterrorism cooperation. In December, Russia hosted a NATO-Russia conference on the Role of the Military in Combating Terrorism. At the most recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, held at the same time of the Moscow hostage crisis in October, President Putin's representative, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, said that the Moscow crisis compelled "the countries that were to some extent reluctant to join in this coalition to more actively participate in combating all signs of terrorism." The APEC summit generated a very strong statement against terrorism, including a decision to monitor the misuse of the Islamic alternative remittance hawala system.
In a much publicized statement on 11 September, President Putin asserted what he claimed was Russia's international right to take unilateral military action against Chechen fighters and other terrorists in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge (near the border with Russia) if Georgia did not carry out more active measures against the fighters. He followed his statement with a letter to President Bush, which he copied to the United Nations and world leaders. From 29 July to the end of 2002 there were at least five instances of Russian cross-border aerial bombardment of Georgian territory. During an attack on 23 August – witnessed by OSCE border monitors and confirmed through independent means – Russian bombs claimed the life of a Georgian civilian and wounded seven others.
The US Government has stated its unequivocal opposition to any unilateral military action by Russia inside Georgia and repeated its strong support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has urged Georgia to address the security problems arising from the presence of Chechen and third-country extremists with connections to al-Qaida in the Pankisi Gorge. The United States has encouraged Georgia and Russia to work together to promote regional security within their respective territories and to find negotiated, political solutions to their many disagreements.