A No-Compromise War
No. 1 2005 January/March
Yevgeny Satanovsky

Yevgeny Satanovsky is President of the Institute of the Middle East.

Is Russian society prepared to counter terrorism? This question
begs an answer every time Russian politicians, experts, journalists
or the man in the street discuss – in diplomatic language or in
unprintables, in informal conversations or in front of TV cameras –
the past events in Beslan, Budyonnovsk and Moscow. There are many
oppressive factors which create the fertile ground for various
kinds of apocalyptic forecasts made by political scientists and
consultants: confusion, xenophobia, a readiness to point an
accusing finger at anyone (including professionals, who do save
people’s lives), mutual mistrust of the authorities and the
population, Moslems and non-Moslems, Russians and non-Russians.

The three components that can, if acted upon simultaneously,
provide a positive answer to the above question are: the
realization of exactly what is happening, a readiness for action,
and an ability to make adequate decisions as new situations arise.
The main thing here is to understand what Russia has encountered.
Who are its enemies and allies? What moves should it make to
withstand the trial by terrorism? What actions should it not take
under any circumstances?


It must be pointed out in the first place that contemporary
terrorism has come to stay – for decades rather than years. We must
learn to live with this evil, treating it like, say, an epidemic or
a traffic jam. Apart from special systems that make up a large part
of contemporary civilization, there are sets of rules, known to
everyone since childhood, which help a person to survive a car
crash, for example, or avoid getting ill. If a person does fall
ill, he or she needs the knowledge of how to treat the condition.
Not all people observe these rules, and those who do not have only
themselves to blame. The survival of a country that has encountered
terrorism largely depends on how soon these rules are worked out
and become part of the national culture.

Israel’s experience is very indicative in this respect. The
Palestinian leadership planned the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which included
the unprecedented use of suicide bombers, as an action intended to
inflict a defeat on either Israeli society or the Israeli army. It
was expected that, with losses estimated at one to three, Israel
would simply cease to exist; the number of Israelis that would wish
to leave the country would exceed the number of immigrants and the
natural population growth. Moreover, the Palestinians expected a
retaliatory strike from the Israeli Defense Forces, which would
result in the death of tens of thousands of people. Such losses
could allow Palestine to accuse Israel of an excessive use of
force. This could result in the activation of a EU peacemaking
force, as was the case in Yugoslavia.

However, none of these scenarios has actually taken place.
Although Israelis’ losses amounted to one against two, Israeli
society united; Israeli leftists, who were consistent allies of
Yasser Arafat, suffered a crushing defeat at parliamentary
elections; the Israeli army implemented the tactics of pinpoint
elimination of terrorist leaders. Israel continued to live and
develop, in spite of the terror. This provides a good example for
Russia to follow.

The politically correct words that terrorism knows no
nationality or religion are effective as a way to stop ethnic or
religious paranoia, but they are not right in essence. Terrorists
operating on Russian territory cannot be called the Basque
separatist group ETA, the Irish Republican Army, the
Maoist-Trotskyist guerillas from Southeast Asia or Latin America,
the Red Brigades from Italy, or the Aum Shinrikyo sect from Japan.
The suicide bombers killing Russian civilians have a direct
relation to The Green International. This informal
military-political association is redividing power in the Islamic
world and seeks to influence Moslems beyond its boundaries. It is
striving to extend its influence on the outer world as much as
possible by conducting aggressive religious, ideological, political
and territorial expansion.

Terrorist acts can be committed by people of any nationality.
However, the war that has been going on in the North Caucasus for
the last 10 years has made the Russian population and international
observers link Russian terrorism almost entirely with the
developments in Chechnya. The present level of involvement of The
Green International in the war against Russia could be much greater
if it had not dissipated its forces and resources among numerous
“fronts” of the new jihad, in particular in Iraq. This is
particularly true as the core of Islamist terrorist organizations
comprises Afghan Arabs who have been in a state of war with Moscow
since 1980. In the Caucasus, Islamists, who have a 25-year-long
record of guerilla warfare and terrorist acts, have revived the
tactics that were employed in Afghanistan in the 1980s. When
committing terrorist acts, they employ the Palestinian living-bomb
“technologies.” The practice of mass hostage-taking has also been
borrowed from foreign experience.


According to the logic of the leaders and participants in the
terrorist war against Russia (waged in the name of the neo-salafist
teaching, known as Wahabism), Russian Moslems, including local
leaders, religious figures and the civil population, must either
obey its dogmas or be destroyed. This is why they are top-priority
targets for Islamists. It is Russian Moslems, first of all
representatives of ethnic elites, including Wainakhs – Chechens and
the Ingush, which may become Russia’s ‘main line of resistance’ in
the war against the terrorist threat. This line of resistance could
eventually include a terror-warning system.

Xenophobia and the activities of anti-Caucasian and anti-Moslem
groups, including skinheads, only work into the terrorists’ hands
and help them consolidate their positions. The problem is that,
despite the constant rhetoric about “proletarian internationalism”
in Soviet times, the probability of serious ethnic conflicts
persisted in Russia for decades. The Central Committee of the
Soviet Communist Party played the role of supreme arbiter in ethnic
relations. No one could have imagined back then that this arbiter
might eventually disappear; and when it ceased to exist, the system

Russia has always been populated by hundreds of nationalities
and ethnic groups practicing different religions, speaking
different languages and preserving their own ways of life. Russia
is therefore destined to remain a multi-ethnic state, and the issue
of “the national pride of the Great Russians” is now as acute as it
was in Lenin’s times. The Soviet nationalities policy was
imperfect, bad in many respects and sometimes even horrible, but at
least it did exist. The 1990s saw a period of general
disillusionment with the past, and the emergence of numerous local
nationalisms in place of the single nationalities policy; this
change weakened the country. The understanding of one’s neighbors
inside a common house could have been one of the foundations of a
solid civil society. This, however, requires direct
people-to-people contacts or a permanent information flow that
would provide citizens with truthful, positive and attractive
information about the country’s peoples and religions.

The main question is how to prevent the substitution of the
traditional Islamic institutions in Russia with Wahabi structures,
without turning any restrictions with regard to them or their
activities into some sort of a struggle against Islam. Over the
last decade, Russia has become an open society with a high degree
of religious freedom, in which differences between the population
and the state have been largely resolved. However, this freedom has
brought about the emergence of foreign political-religious groups
in the religious sphere, whose influence has been steadily growing.
Russian society has long been discussing whether the activities of
these organizations are useful, harmful or dangerous. However, it
must be admitted that the only area where society and the state
have encountered a direct military-terrorist threat is from the
adherents of Islam. Loyalty to any state that does not live
according to the Sharia law runs counter to membership in the
Islamic Ummah, as interpreted by Wahabis. Their views are in
contrast to those who adhere to the dogmas of Christianity or the
postulate of Judaism, where the law of the country is law.
This also refers to any nation-state, even if it is populated by
Moslems. A Chechen state that does not live according to the Sharia
law – in its salafist interpretation – is illegitimate in the eyes
of the Islamist community. Political dialog with the leaders of the
Chechen separatists can be a tool for resolving tactical tasks, yet
it cannot solve the problem of terrorism, since the Green
International views Chechen politicians only as temporary allies.
In other words, Chechnya is only a part of a future Islamist
caliphate, and terrorism exists as the main means for its
construction. The Wahabization of Moslems studying at Islamic
universities across the Arab world and participating in Hadj, which
is mandatory for every Moslem, is a serious challenge for Russia.
It is fair to say, though, that no country in the West, nor Arab
monarchies or secular authoritarian regimes in the Islamic world,
have been able to solve this problem at this time.


The double standards applied by the present political
establishment with regard to terrorists are a rule rather than an
exception. Politicians support national liberation movements – as
long as they exist in someone else’s country. International
organizations have become a tool of the struggle waged by the third
world, largely controlled by Islamists, against the ‘golden
billion.’ The liberal-minded intelligentsia defends the rights of
the oppressed, without noticing that the struggle of the “noble
rebels” has turned into the destruction of the civilian population
by armed bands, while the banner of “multiculturalism” is carried
by religious fanatics. There are no exceptions here. Russia’s
Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Department of State, with
perseverance worthy of a better application, are developing the
“peace process” in the Middle East, which in reality is yet another
war in the region. Europe is becoming Islamized, while its leaders
pursue anti-Russian and anti-Israeli policies that seek to appease
the leaders of terrorist groups based in European capitals. The
United Nations, whose ineffectiveness has prompted loud calls for
its renewed role, has for many years been unable to solve a single
question it has addressed. The tough statements by the Russian
leadership, issued after the tragedy in Beslan, sum up the
realities of international politics today: “If you’re drowning,
you’re on your own.”

The support of allies and the consolidation of society play a
significant role in combating terrorism. Comparing the present
danger of terrorism now confronting Russia to World War II is no
exaggeration. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union failed to defeat
Afghan Islamists who were supported by the West. Today, the West is
no longer an ally of the Islamists, yet, at the same time, it has
not become Russia’s ally. Russia, which now is halfway between the
past and the future, is trying to establish order on its territory.
This is occurring while the formation of the system of power,
together with the initial stages of the construction of a civic
society, is not yet over. Russia, weakened by 15 years of reforms,
is extremely vulnerable, and this vulnerability is aggravated still
further by the illusions of the political elite.

Conservatives are opposed to a union with the West, mainly with
the United States. They somewhat correctly point to the
opportunistic nature of Western policies, while pinning hopes on a
multipolar world. It is unclear, however, why Russia’s relations
with, say, India, and the more so with China, should have a more
solid foundation than Russia’s relations with the G-7 countries.
Furthermore, why should a “new Entente” be more preferable for
Russia than a union with the U.S.? The Islamists have proven
themselves to be the enemies of all of the above partners of
Russia. More difficult is the issue of Russia’s relations with the
Islamic (above all, Arab) world. The domestic lobby, which acts in
the interests of those countries, relies on its reminiscences of
past relations that were established in the 1960s through the
1980s. They are inspired by myths from the Islamic community’s
ideological arsenal, such as blaming Mossad and the CIA for the
September 11 events, as well as the suggestion that the occupation
of Iraq by the Western coalition was carried out on Israel’s

The former Soviet satellites in the Arab world have reoriented
themselves to the West; they only cooperate with Russia because
they cannot make a bargain with the West. They use Russia as a
bargaining chip in this relationship. The wars in Afghanistan and
the developments in Chechnya have made Moscow into a bugbear for
the Islamic world. This world despises Russia less than it despises
the U.S., yet it does not consider Russia as a force to fear or to
be reckoned with. The events in Qatar have proved that. Secular
regimes and moderate monarchies in the Islamic world are ready for
a union with Russia to combat their own Islamists, but they do not
want to generate tensions inside their countries. Thus, they avoid
taking any actions against anti-Russian forces on their territory.
Russia’s dialog with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and
similar structures does nothing to solve the problem. In the eyes
of the Islamists, it only confirms the illegitimacy of these
organizations, encouraging terror rather than stopping it. From the
point of view of the Islamists, a country courting the Islamic
world only because it is weak and unable to put up efficient
resistance, demonstrates its weakness.

Repeating the clichОs of the international community, which
describes terrorism as a “weapon of the poor,” liberals have come
to believe that the war in Chechnya was caused only by its economic
state. Thus, they advocate the termination of all military actions
against the militants as a necessary condition for the protection
of the local population’s rights. This pacifism is praiseworthy,
but theories have no relation to the reality: terror is a tool for
redistributing power, and it is being used by educated, former
middleclass men. They use the redistribution of economic aid in
favor of “vagrant bandits” (common not only in Sudan, Algeria or
Palestine, but also in Chechnya), just as any cease-fire (hudna) is
used for a rest and the regrouping of forces before hostilities

The financial and organizational support of Islamist terrorism,
and the recruitment of new members, is carried out not only by the
Islamic countries, but also from the territory of those states
being attacked by the Islamist community. Organizations operating
under the brand name al Qaeda and their allies have taken root in
the U.S. and Great Britain, and successfully use the Western
banking system for replenishing their resources. It has been proved
that funds of the European Union and other sponsors of the
Palestine National Authority are being spent for organizing terror.
Experts argue that a large part of the money being used by the
terrorists in Chechnya is of Russian origin and derives from the
funds allocated for Chechnya’s reconstruction. Corruption is an
ally of the terrorists: whether it is a border guard letting in
cars and trucks without the appropriate checking procedure (for a
bribe, of course), or officials milking the national budget.

The coordination of the federal and local authorities’ efforts
is a must for building an antiterror system. It is no accident that
the Beslan tragedy is viewed as an attempt to extend the Chechen
conflict into the entire Great Caucasus and turn the region into a
civil war zone, uncontrolled by the federal center.


Counterterrorist experience gained by the West and Russian
special services over the last few decades, in particular with
regard to hostage-taking, negotiations on their release, etc., has
proven to be not very useful when dealing with terrorists of the
new type: fanatic suicide bombers. Many experts say that the
chances for surviving a terrorist act committed by suicide bombers
are higher for those who are ready for an immediate reaction and
action, be it an attack or escape. A high number of potential
terrorist acts have been prevented in Israel in recent years by
such people: waiters, bus and taxi drivers with a military service
record, who immediately reacted to some imminent danger. Many of
the children who escaped from the school in Beslan when it was
seized by terrorists saved their own lives, unlike some of their
schoolmates who followed classical recommendations and did not
resist the terrorists.

Another factor that helps counter terror is the coordination of
actions of professionals and authorities, and the support of these
actions by the population. Even professionals cannot work miracles.
This is why the Israeli special forces, when planning an
anti-terrorist operation, assume in advance that the death rate
among the hostages will be 100 percent. This approach helps them to
avoid mistakes that are caused by the wish to save everybody.
Unfortunately, nothing can ever guarantee the rescue of all
hostages. Exceptions to this rule are very rare, and in those cases
involving “mega-terror,” which Russia has now encountered – and
Israel encountered much earlier – it is virtually ruled out.

Unlike geographically small Israel, the antiterrorism system in
Russia cannot be made uniform throughout the country. Large and
small towns, major industrial centers, villages and special-purpose
facilities need their own plans to counter suicide bombers or
groups of terrorists, many of whom are armed and trained every bit
as well as national special forces. These plans must take into
account local conditions, the state of the infrastructure, seasonal
weather changes, the specificity of the local nationality, and
proximity to combat zones.

At the same time, the main indicator that Russian society has
realized the problem it faces can be witnessed by its degree of
consolidation, which is similar to the degree of consolidation the
Israelis or Americans have displayed during their national
tragedies. Countering terrorism cannot be an affair of the state,
special agencies and organizations alone. Without the participation
of broad sections of the population, all antiterrorism efforts
would be doomed – if not to defeat then to infinite repetition of
terrorist acts. How the citizens of Russia can be united into a
community that is capable of withstanding an outside threat, while
keeping its foundation intact, is a special subject. I would only
like to point out here that at least in two countries of the
contemporary world, Britain and Israel, the years-long struggle
against terrorism has affected civil freedoms and society’s
self-perception to a minimal degree.

The most important factor, perhaps, that can help Russia
discover the mechanisms for efficiently combating Islamist terror
is the realization of its nature. Islamists do not wait for
concessions from the Russian Federation, nor any other country they
are fighting against. They simply want to destroy the country and
its citizens: atheists and believers, Moslems and non-Moslems.
Islamists do not consider these individuals to be people and are
ready to sacrifice their own lives and the lives of their relatives
for a victory in the new jihad which, in its senseless cruelty, has
exceeded by far the jihad of the Prophet’s times. In the struggle
against such an enemy compromises are senseless, and the only
efficient strategy is to destroy the terrorists before they strike.
The creation of a mechanism that will make this possible will bring