Overview: The Russian Federation continued to make counterterrorism efforts a priority during 2015. These efforts intensified after an explosive device downed a Russian passenger jet flying over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31.

The Russian government has expressed a willingness to work with the United States and multilaterally on counterterrorism issues, although some bilateral counterterrorism joint activities were suspended in the wake of Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Russian government continued to cooperate with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) investigation of subjects associated with the Boston Marathon bombing.

Continued high profile attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2015 prompted increased concern among Russian officials that ISIL could affect Russian security interests by destabilizing the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Russia's military involvement in Syria caused increased concern among Russian authorities about retaliatory terrorist attacks in Russia. Members of both ISIL and al-Nusrah Front made numerous threats of retaliation, including publishing a video in November threatening that soon "blood will spill like an ocean" in Russia, and beheading a Russian citizen from Chechnya in December. Authorities believed the main terrorist threats were related to the activities of armed groups in the North Caucasus and were concerned about ISIL's ability to influence domestic insurgent groups; Imarat Kavkaz, the largest terrorist group in Russia, pledged allegiance to ISIL in 2015. Separatists and violent Islamist extremists calling for a pan-Islamic Caliphate in the North Caucasus continued attacks against Russian authorities, but the government did not label any as a "terrorist attack." Russian authorities avoided labeling attacks as "terrorist attacks" in order to maintain the narrative that they are defeating terrorism, and that Russia, especially the North Caucasus, is stable.

On December 29, 2014, Russia's Supreme Court issued a ruling recognizing ISIL as a terrorist organization, and banned its domestic activity. With the ruling, participation in ISIL activities became a criminal offense under Russian legislation. In 2015, authorities convicted at least 80 and prosecuted more than 100 Russian citizens of participation in foreign terrorist activity, namely fighting with ISIL in Syria.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: On October 31, a Russian charter plane exploded in mid-air over Egypt due to an explosive on board. All 224 people on board died; 219 were Russian nationals. Russian authorities determined the incident was an act of terrorism, likely carried out by ISIL's Sinai branch.

On December 29, gunmen shot 11 tourists, killing one, while they visited the Citadel of Naryn-Kala in Derbent, Dagestan. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Caucasus Province claimed responsibility.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) reported no "terrorist attacks" within the Russian Federation in 2015. However, in the North Caucasus, authorities detained more than 770 suspected terrorists and accomplices, killed 156, and prevented 30 out of 84 "terrorism crimes," according to FSB Head Alexander Bortnikov. Most terrorist groups in the North Caucasus are allied with ISIL. On December 29, gunmen proclaiming affiliation with ISIL shot at civilians in a historical fortress in Derbent, Dagestan, killing one and injuring eleven. Russian authorities have not labeled the crime an act of "terrorism."

According to the Russian General Prosecutor's statistics portal, registered crimes of "terrorist character" throughout Russia increased over the previous year from 1,127 to 1,531 incidents. The General Prosecutor defines crimes of a "terrorist character" as crimes against public security, including acts of terrorism, planning a terrorist attack, making a public call for a terrorist act, taking hostages, and organizing or participating in an illegal armed formation. The Russian government does not maintain an open, detailed, and centralized depository of crimes, nor do its agencies share a single legal definition of what constitutes terrorism or a terrorist-related act.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Russia has a comprehensive counterterrorism legal framework that includes the provisions of the Criminal Code and various federal laws to include, "On Countering Terrorism," "On Money Laundering and Terrorism financing," "On Countering Extremist Activity," "On Security on Transport," and "On Security in the Fuel and Energy Complex."

The Russian government adopted two decrees in 2015 that allowed security forces to create a more secure environment in crowded urban areas, including sports and transportation facilities.

The Russian government continued to use its "anti-extremism" legislation to prosecute peaceful individuals and organizations, including the political opposition, independent media, and certain religious minorities. Despite having counterterrorism as its ostensible primary purpose, the law criminalizes a broad spectrum of activities, including incitement to "religious discord" and "assistance to extremism," and does not precisely define what is meant by "extremism." The law includes no stipulation that threats of violence or acts of violence must accompany incitement to religious discord, for example.

The threat of prosecution under Russia's "anti-extremism" legislation has an intimidating effect that results in restriction of freedom of speech and religious freedom under the guise of countering terrorism.

The FSB remains the primary agency responsible for counterterrorism activities within Russia. To a lesser extent, the Ministry of Interior (MVD) also has a role in counterterrorism matters. The FSB International Cooperation Directorate, through a joint relationship with the National Antiterrorism Committee (NAC), has developed the "International Counterterrorism Database" (Russian acronym: MBD), which holds both an unclassified and a restricted section. The FSB exclusively maintains and controls this database, but has invited international intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contribute information on events, subjects, organizations, and methods. The FSB promotes this as the only international database that adheres to UNSCR 2178.

Immediately following the October terrorist attack that downed the Russian passenger jet flying over the Sinai Peninsula, the FSB instructed airport staff and airline agencies to screen their employees in order to prevent a similar act of terrorism.

Border guards are responsible for air, land, and sea arrivals, although with more than 12,000 miles of land border and more than 23,000 miles of coast, the extent to which they are able to patrol all land and maritime crossings is unclear. Border crossings, particularly on the frontiers between Russia and some former Soviet republics, may not be registered. Border guards have the capability of collecting biometrics at ports of entry. While they do not do so regularly, on December 10, 2014, a Presidential Executive Order went into effect requiring biometrics collection for visas issued at Russian embassies in Burma, Denmark, Namibia, and the UK, in addition to requiring passenger fingerprint scanning at Moscow's Vnukovo airport (one of three international airports in Moscow). This initial collection was reportedly a pilot program for an envisioned worldwide rollout, but collection was not done regularly in 2015, nor was the list of countries expanded by the end of 2015.

Standard operating procedures exist for information sharing within the Russian government, but it is unclear how often these procedures are followed. A traveler to Russia must receive a visa from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (via an embassy or consulate abroad), be permitted entry by the FSB (through the Border Guard Service), and then be registered with the Federal Migration Service (until 2012 a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but now an autonomous organization). Russia has visa-free travel regimes with numerous countries, which limited the amount of screening given to travelers before arriving in Russia.

Terrorism-related prosecutions concerning incidents occurring before 2015 continued, in addition to charges being brought against more than 100 persons for allegedly fighting with ISIL in Syria in 2015. Law enforcement actions/prosecutions in 2015 included:

  • On July 13, the Volgograd oblast court rejected the appeal of four Dagestanis convicted of aiding and abetting the 2013 terrorist bombings of a trolley bus and railway station in Volgograd.

  • On July 14, the North Caucasus District Military Court convicted six individuals of conducting a terrorist act at a police station in Stavropol Krai in 2013, killing three people. Murad Ataev and Shamil Abulazizov were sentenced to life. The other sentences were: Ramazan Halizov, 23 years; Vladimir Halizov, 18 years; Magomed Ibragimov, 19 years; and Shamil Gazimagomedov, 17 years. The terrorists used a cellphone timer to detonate an explosive-laden car parked at the Pyatigorsk police station. Three bystanders were killed.

  • On November 6, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Dagestan sentenced Magomed Gadjiev to 12 years in prison for participation in the "Balahinsk" terrorist organization.

  • On August 6, the Nizhny Novgorod District Military Court convicted Ilya Romanov of an attempted terrorist attack in Nizhny Novgorod in 2013.

Russian media reported that federal and local security organs continued counterterrorism operations in the North Caucasus. These operations occurred throughout the region, but predominately were in Dagestan, Chechnya, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Operations included roadblocks and larger-scale military-style operations, especially in rural areas. On December 15, FSB-Director Bortinkov announced authorities had killed 20 of the 26 known leaders of ISIL-affiliated groups in Russia.

  • On April 15, law enforcement officials killed two alleged terrorists in Kabardino-Balkaria. One of the terrorists was later identified as Zalim Shebzukhov, the leader of the local underground and a member of Imarat Kavkaz. He reportedly was recruiting and transporting young men to Syria and preparing a terrorist attack for May.

  • On October 24, the FSB killed three members of a local terrorist group: Ruslan Ibragimov, Ahmed Abdurahmanov, and Shamil Shamilov. One FSB officer was killed during the operation. The terrorists belonged to a local group known for attempting to kill law enforcement officials and extort businessmen.

  • On October 10, authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria killed Robert Zankishev. Authorities believed Zankishev was the head of a local ISIL cell.

  • In late November in Kabardino-Balkaria, authorities killed the leader and two members of a local ISIL cell.

  • On November 29, authorities killed three Russian citizens in Dagestan, all recently returned from fighting for ISIL in Syria: Mahmud Mahmudov, the leader of "Tabasaran;" Robert Melikov, leader of "Suleiman Stalski;" and Hasan Mamedyarov.

  • In early December, the FSB detained the treasurer of an ISIL cell in Dagestan, Islam Hajiyev, in a Moscow mall.

At the end of 2015, the Russian government estimated 2,900 Russian citizens were fighting with ISIL in Syria and Iraq. During the year, authorities convicted at least 80 individuals for fighting with ISIL or the "opposition" against the Syrian government, according to open sources. Authorities held 41 more in detention while investigating alleged terrorist links. In August, Tural Ragimov became the first Russian sentenced for fighting with ISIL in Syria. Ragimov was sentenced to four years under Article 208 of the Russian Criminal Code for involvement in an illegal armed unit in the territory of a foreign state.

Despite the tensions in the overall bilateral relationship with the United States, the FSB has engaged in a limited amount of cooperation on counterterrorism matters. Russia continued to disseminate threat information and responded to requests for information on counterterrorism matters, although its responses were often not substantive or timely. Both the FSB and Investigative Committee requested information from the FBI pertaining to the downing of the Russian charter plane in Egypt. The FSB requested the FBI's assistance regarding security preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

While there were no known legal constraints to effective Russian law enforcement and border security related to counterterrorism, attempts at judicial reforms have had little success due to a lack of political will and institutionalized corruption within law enforcement entities. Ethnic or clan ties in certain regions can make policing and prosecutions difficult. Important cases are often moved to Moscow or other regions to ensure a judge is not influenced by a clan.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Russia is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and belongs to two FATF-style regional bodies: the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, and the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), in which it is a leading member and primary funding source. Through the EAG, Russia provides technical assistance and other resources towards improving legislative and regulatory frameworks and operational capabilities.

The highest levels of government support anti-terrorist funding initiatives, and in November 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order to establish an interagency commission on preventing the financing of terrorism. Russia's financial intelligence body, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring), was moving forward on a draft bill to ratify the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism (aka the "Warsaw Convention"). Rosfinmonitoring is a member of the Egmont Group whose head reports directly to the President of Russia.

The most current data on investigations and convictions of terrorism financing is from 2014. In that year, the Russian government conducted more than 6,000 counterterrorism/extremist financial investigations, resulting in the filing of 62 criminal charges, and 15 convictions. The authorities froze approximately 3,500 accounts belonging to 1,527 people for a value of around US $475,000. In the period of 2008 to 2013, there were 80 total investigations and 21 convictions. In the same period, the government suspended 32 transactions totaling US $106,172.

In order to reduce persistently high capital outflows and fictitious transactions, Russia has increased oversight of the financial sector, putting pressure on smaller financial institutions that are most likely to engage in money laundering and terrorism financing. The primary regulator is the Central Bank of Russia, which has revoked a large number banking licenses over the past few years, often citing the presence of dubious transactions.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Russian Government adopted a countering violent extremism strategy in November 2014, but there were no significant developments in 2015. Russian efforts to counter violent extremism focus on enforcement mechanisms and program administration through governmental agencies, or organizations controlled by the government. The Russian government is reluctant to work with independent NGOs, including Russian-based NGOs, in this area.

International and Regional Cooperation: Russia continued to work in regional and multilateral groups to address terrorism. Russia is a member of and participated in UN and Global Counterterrorism Forum activities. Russia is a member of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.


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