Taking The War To Moscow, 2011
by JOHN W. MILLER
January 25, 2011
A victim of yesterday’s bomb attack at Domodedovo airport, Moscow.
Over a period of five days at Easter 2010, I wrote two articles for Family Security Matters entitled respectively: “Myopia in America, midnight in Moscow and Hearts of Darkness” (April 14, 2010) and “Taking the war to Moscow” (April 19, 2010). These articles covered suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro conducted by terrorists believed to have links to the Caucasus Emirate. In the wake of this atrocity (which was officially attributed to a North Caucasian group), both Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Minister Vladimir Putin promised that:
“... The law enforcement agencies would do everything to trace and punish the criminals. The terrorists will be destroyed.”
President Medvedev made similar guarantees and his language was by far the strongest made in public. In addition, the head of the Russian FSB announced in conjunction with the president and the prime minister that a new North Caucasus antiterrorism unit would be operational within 12 days and that active consideration would be given to reintroduction of the death penalty, suspended in 1997 as an obligation to the Council of Europe. My subsequent writing efforts were devoted to a basic examination of terrorism and then I was struck down by ill-health and, for those interested, it is my intention to finish that sequence.
While there are more avenues of information in Moscow these days by comparison with the Soviet era, it is impossible to state with any degree of confidence that what the Western media is told is the full story and although the Russian Armed Forces claims to have killed or captured those connected with the attack on the Moscow Metro, it appears that at least one of the masterminds is at large and reports seeping out of the Caucasus by diverse means indicate that despite deploying special forces, most notably the elite Spetznaz teams, the problem has been exacerbated and casualties have been inflicted on Russian units. In one admittedly rather vague pro-Chechen report, it was noted that a Spetznaz unit had been badly chopped up by guerrillas.
An earlier terror attack at Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, September 9, 2010, in which 15 were killed and 87 were injured.
At the end of 2010, RIA Novosti reported that there had been a 100% increase in terrorist attacks in Russia during that year. Prosecutor General Deputy Ivan Sydoruk, responsible for law enforcement in the North Caucasus federal district, reportedly made that claim against the backdrop of 30 counterterrorist operations carried out in the area and the claim that "300 militants including 17 prominent leaders were neutralized." It can be reasonably assumed that this number included dead and captured but the statement followed something of an argument or certainly conflicting statements made by President Medvedev and leaders in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Allegedly, Medvedev claimed that he had "no faith in the statistics" presented and that they were "often nonsense." In an atmosphere that was quite conclusively post-Soviet, Medvedev also said that the "operative situation in the Caucasus has practically not improved." The local leadership is obviously well-versed in spin because they tried to contradict the Russian president.
Terror at Domodedovo airport January 24, 2011
Unlike 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in the UK, I was asleep when the latest terrorist outrage occurred. And of course I refer to the Domodedovo airport bombing of Monday January 24. After so many years of obfuscation and lying, the Russian media today is more informative than old intelligence officers like myself can remember. The Moscow Times reported promptly and for a change, there is very little reason to doubt the quality of the reporting and the accuracy at the time it was reported. In a report: “Blast Kills 34 at Domodedovo," reporters from Moscow Times, cited above, left nothing to the imagination and presented a graphic of the airport which is reportedly the busiest of the three in Moscow. The account states that a powerful explosion ripped through the baggage claim area in the international arrival halls at the airport, killing at least 34 people and injuring about 170 others. I immediately tuned into satellite TV and the figures appear to be the first and possibly conservative estimate. The bomb was believed to be equivalent to 7 kg of TNT which was detonated at 16:32 local time. (Moscow Times January 25, 2011)
The area of the Domodedovo airport where the baggage claim area is situated (courtesy of Moscow Times).
As I prepared this article, I was watching President Dmitry Medvedev on TV, very solemn while offering condolences to the families of those killed and to the survivors and describing the attack, quite correctly as terrorism although at that time no one had claimed responsibility. To emphasize his concern, he canceled an important trip to the World Economic Forum at Davos, where he was due to speak in a plenary session on January 26. Putting his Presidential muscle on full display, he stated that all Moscow airports would be put on high alert and just as at Easter last year, he vowed to find and punish those responsible. Almost incredibly, he made the observation that "the laws that should have been in force were far from correctly implemented.” Given the circumstances, this was a public admission of failure.
The international media and Russian TV provided ample footage of passengers being evacuated and survivors’ accounts. It is likely that the bomb was contained in a suitcase and there seems to be some debate about whether it was a suicide attack. Obviously, it is far too early to speculate on who was responsible and whether the suitcase was carried by a suicide bomber or was merely being unloaded. For those with an interest in the affair, YouTube is already carrying videos of scenes at the airport and it appears that arrivals and departures are running to schedule.
By mid-day on January 25, local time for me, our (Australian) national broadcaster the ABC was carrying reports from Moscow, which indicated that some people had stated that a man had been yelling threats and promising to kill many people shortly before the explosion and that those killed had risen to 35. Obviously, this cannot be verified as yet. According to a retirement Interior Ministry officer who has worked in airport security, Moscow Times states that the attack was not necessarily planned by a North Caucasus group, contradicted by another anonymous source said three North Caucasus natives living in Moscow had been placed on the national wanted list. Until more is known, speculation is pretty fruitless but the Domodedovo attack is obviously terrorism and of a variety well known in the West.
The Russian dilemma
I have had many interesting exchanges with American friends, some of whom are former intelligence officers. While we all deplore terrorism for whatever reason, there is a slowly building consensus that the Russian government has been trying to have the best of both worlds for far too long. They have built up relations with countries opposed to the US and supported old allies from the days of the Soviet Union. The relationship between Russia and America is fraught with problems on a number of fronts. It is obviously in the best interests of the Russians to have the START Treaty ratified and as a foreigner, I could not help but wonder why when the Obama team discussed the treaty with President Medvedev and his group late last year, they did not play a key card in discussions. Surely, America has every right to ask why Russian intelligence organizations are operating at levels far exceeding the Cold War across the Western world and the case of the SVR illegals last year demonstrates the tip of the iceberg. President Obama's advisers could have asked additionally why the Russian government runs interference for Iran and through various channels supports Hezbollah and other Middle East terrorist groups. If this method is deemed too public, what has happened to the much-vaunted back channels to Moscow?
To a certain extent, it could be said that the chickens are coming home to roost in Russia. With the breakup of the Soviet empire, many republics are governed by former Soviet apparatchiks or strongmen and those in the East are known to be infiltrated by Al Qaeda and related terrorist groups. The fact that two deadly attacks can be carried out in Moscow in less than a year is proof positive that Islamic fundamentalist terrorists - those three words that US administration officials will not combine - also have Russia in their sights. We have been told endlessly that the FSB, the newly badged and strengthened Second Chief Directorate of the KGB, responsible for internal security is highly professional and conducts liaison with Western services on counterterrorism. The one question that I have failed to see answered is: “To what extent has the FSB provided useful information to Western security and intelligence services concerning the activities of terrorist groups?” I have seen no comment from the FBI and unfortunately most of my contacts with that organization have long retired. A subsidiary question could well be along the lines of how much information has the West provided to the FSB and with what result?
It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to see that the Russian government and people are now facing what the West has had to put up with for decades. Every life lost to a terrorist attack is to be regretted, no matter whether it happens to be Russian, American, British and so on. It is time for the US administration to talk turkey to the Russians. Like many wavering Western Europeans, the Russians must be left in no doubt that they are in this with the rest of us and that means active cooperation without a secondary agenda. There is no joy in my heart to witness Russians experiencing the same threat as the US and my own country.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor John W. Miller is a former senior intelligence officer with NATO and allied forces, with considerable experience in Russian (Soviet) affairs and counterterrorism.