Staunton, April 7 – The 1999 apartment bombings led to actions by Vladimir Putin that contributed to the stabilization of Russia, but the metro bombing in St. Petersburg and the Kremlin leader’s reaction to it are likely to have exactly the opposite effect, Vitaly Portnikov says, provoking rather than preventing a new wave of domestic Islamist terrorism.
The reason, the Ukrainian commentator says, is that what has just happened was entirely “predictable” because “when a country with a multi-million Muslim population is drawn into a bloody war in the Middle East … could there be any doubt that sooner or later, the citizens of this country would become victims of terror?” (graniru.org/opinion/portnikov/m.260068.html).
Pictures on Moscow television of the Russian bombing of Muslims in Aleppo, Portnikov continues, “are worth hundreds of propagandistic statements. And if one wants to name the chief recruiter for ISIS, then I will give his name: This is Vladimir Putin.” And now he doesn’t know what to do.
It is one thing to block extremists coming back from battles in the Middle East, but it is quite another thing to be able to block “citizens of the Russian Federation” who are animated by the same hatreds and goals. It was a Russian who carried out the latest attack, “and his Central Asian roots do not have any importance” in the matter.
“There are already thousands and tens of thousands of such people in Russia,” Portnikov says; “and there are also people from the North Caucasus, who always had Russian citizenship.” The FSB isn’t up to the task because unlike the KGB or even the security services at the end of the 1990s, it is focused on other tasks, including enriching itself and its masters.
According to Portnikov, “this terrorist action was not organized by Putin or for Putin. It is the result of Putin’s policies, and this is much more horrific. Instead of promoting a political resolution in Syria, the Russian president is seeking the victory of Bashar Asad.” That may have given him some advantages in foreign policy, but those have come at a horrific cost.
And that cost is now obvious: Putin’s policies have transformed Russia itself “into a territory of terror.”
The Kremlin leader’s response to the St. Petersburg bombing will only make Portnikov’s prediction more likely. He has turned to repression even though history, including Russia’s own experience, shows that such a strategy tends to provoke more terrorism rather than to block it (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/07/72059-soblazn-muchenicheskoy-smerti and ng.ru/politics/2017-04-05/1_6967_teract.html).
And there is a more immediate problem: Putin’s statements and actions in the wake of the St. Petersburg bombing have dramatically increased hostility toward and discrimination against Muslims within Russia, something that cannot fail to cause some of them to think about turning to violence (ru.krymr.com/a/news/28416147.html).
At the end of Soviet times, many thought that the division between the Slavic nations, on the one hand, and the Muslim nationalities, on the other, would lead to the demise of the Soviet Union. That did not turn out to be the case: it was instead the actions of the Balts, the Ukrainians, the Georgians, and the Russians themselves that ultimately brought down the USSR.
But if Putin continues to anger Russia’s Muslims in the ways that he has and if there is more Islamist violence, it is entirely possible that Islamic groups will play a far greater role in the demise of the Russian Federation, an outcome he routinely has committed himself to oppose but in fact may be unwittingly promoting instead.