Why Putin Can’t Crush His Islamists


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

It’s been an embarrassing week for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, prime minis ter and de facto czar.

On Monday, Islamist suicide bombers struck just a rifle shot from the Kremlin.

The worst of the two subway bombings rubbed ex-KGB man Putin’s nose in it by slaughtering dozens in the Lyubanka station — named for the notorious security-service headquarters upstairs.

And the day after the two blasts killed 39 (with twice that many hospitalized), Islamist terrorists renewed their bombing campaign in Russia’s Muslim republic of Daghestan, next to battered (Muslim) Chechnya.

Adding to Putin’s rage is that the Islamists are based less than a day’s drive from Sochi, site of “his” 2014 Winter Olympics — which could wind up making the 1972 Munich Games look like a terrorist amateur hour.

Doku Umarov, the “emir” of a self-declared Islamist state encompassing the North Caucasus — inside Russia’s southern border — claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Putin went on TV to swear he’d drag the terrorists “up out of the sewers.” His Mini-Me, President Dmitri Medvedev, flew to Daghestan to denounce the Islamists as “scum” (the word, svoloch, is far more forceful than its English equivalent).

But these huff-and-puff threats have been made before, followed by round-ups of hey-you suspects and extrajudicial killings (frequently to settle local scores). The only lasting change has been to further radicalize the region’s Muslims.

Putin’s done all he can short of outright genocide. His posture’s been as tough and uncompromising as that of his Muslim enemies. Yet, enduring success continues to elude him. The terror campaign persists.

Does this bode ill for our own counter-terror efforts? No. And here’s why:

* The Islamist rebellion in the North Caucasus has roots three centuries deep. The region changed hands multiple times in the 18th century, between Persians, Turks and Russians. There’s a heritage of violence — and frustration with intractable locals — from Peter the Great to Putin.

In the 19th century, it took czarist generals a full genera- tion to capture the Osama bin Laden of the day, the Daghestani warrior-mullah Shamil (who was, to be fair, more honorable than Osama). That conflict’s enshrined in Russian literature, from Lermontov to Tolstoy.

During World War II, Stalin felt so insecure about his Muslim subjects that he deported the entire Chechen population to Siberia — an event still festering in the Chechen psyche.

The problem here isn’t international terrorism (despite some ties), but a religion-fueled, culture-driven, history-accelerated secessionist movement. This is a domestic issue. It’s as if we faced the threat of a homegrown Islamist takeover in New Jersey and Delaware.

* While Putin’s response to the Islamists has been fierce, it’s also been clumsy. Countering religious fanaticism requires killing those who need killing, helping those who need help — and knowing the difference. Russia’s military and security services have killed and tortured with little discrimination and gotten themselves drawn into local vendettas (and crime). Their intelligence work’s been inept.

* For both sides, this conflict now verges on a war of extermination. A prisoner taken is a prisoner tortured. Russian commandos, client militias and the Islamists vie to out-do each other in savagery; murders of human-rights workers, political reformers and journalists are routine.

* The strongmen Moscow imposes as local governors have no legitimacy in the eyes of those they try to rule — so they rely on blind force and bribery. Moscow’s local point men are nearly all tainted by ties to regional “mafias.” Putin appoints, uses, then kills the local power players when they become inconvenient.

* The republics of the North Caucasus have been left behind developmentally, with crime the most rewarding career opportunity. As elsewhere, Islamists capitalize on the frustrations of unemployed youth.

* After 300 years, the Russians are still seen as occupiers — and see themselves as such. Yet Putin can’t bear the thought of letting Daghestan or Chechnya go — for two reasons: As a rabid nationalist, he won’t give up another inch of the Russian empire. And he fears that letting one small territory secede might trigger a rush for the exits on the part of other frustrated Russian regions.

As an Army officer, I roamed much of the Caucasus as the Soviet Union collapsed. Locals warned me to stay off the back roads at night. In Putin’s “new” Russia, you can’t drive the main roads in those mountains in the daytime.

There will be no victors. Only more casualties. Putin’s Muslim problem has no solution. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Endless War: Middle Eastern Islam vs. Western CivilizationHis most recent novel is “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. His most most recent non-fiction book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” He is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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