Staunton, December 13 – Russians have been long accustomed to thinking that the North Caucasus is the main source of a terrorist threat to their country, but the situation has changed, Yevgeny Satanovsky says, and today, Russia faces a far greater terrorist threat from Central Asian migrants who have been penetrated and organized by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey.
In an article in Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kuryer, the president of the Moscow Institute of the Near East argues that an Islamist explosion can happen “at any time in many Russian cities” because of the presence of labor migrants from Central Asia who are just waiting for a signal to attack.
Russians and Russian officials, he says, have failed to understand the ways in which radical Salafi Muslims appeal to the class interests of the Muslim masses and set them against both the existing Islamic establishments and the governments which stand behind them. And they have failed to understand how quickly the masses can be won over by the radicals.
Salafis from abroad have already achieved a beachhead in the mosques of Dagestan and the Middle Volga, and from there, they are in a position to mobilize the millions of Central Asian labor migrants in Russia. “The consequences of ignoring this,” he says, can be disastrous especially since the Salafis and their backers have broader political interests than most think.
They are quite prepared to exploit “massive collective street prayers” like those which have involved up to 140,000 Muslims in Moscow alone and redirect such prayers into a political channel against the Russian government, Satanovsky says. The traditional Muslim hierarchy on which Moscow thinks it can rely has no ability to stop this.
Instead, the Russian authorities must begin to work with that part of the Salafis who are prepared to live within the law. But that is a problem because such people may quickly change from one side of this line to the other. Consequently, to defend itself, Russia needs to think about how to deal with the immigrants within its borders.
Today, many Russian officials comfort themselves with the idea that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Movement for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan, Hizb ut-Tahrir and other radical Central Asian groups and Islamist movements who have come to Russia and live on its territory will not undertake any actions against the country because it is for them “a place of work and rest.”
That notion, “which has become de facto an axiom,” is no longer true if it ever was. That is because the Salafis who lead these groups are directed from abroad by governments who see such movements inside Russia as a useful means of putting pressure on Moscow in the short term and projecting their own power in the middle and longer ones.
Given the growth of tensions “on the Afghan-Turkmen, Afghan-Uzbek and Afghan-Tajik border not to speak about Kyrgyzstan which is in a state of constant internal instability and the presence in Russia of millions of people from Central Asia … the possibility of forming on their base of a broad intelligence and diversionary network is more than real.”
One should not forget, Satanovsky says, that “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia participated in the mujahid war against the USSR in Afghanistan, in the overthrow of the Najibullah government and in the coming to power of the Taliban.” They clearly are prepared to use the same tactics more broadly inside Russia.
“In the contemporary world,” he continues, four governments of the Near and Middle East, or more precisely their special services, support close ‘working contacts’ with Islamist radicals who represent a danger for Russia.” In addition to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, they include Qatar and Turkey.
Only the last “is interested in maintaining constructive cooperation” with Russia, and Moscow’s ability to influence the others is “practically nil.” Thus, the Russian authorities must focus on dealing with the threat the Central Asian labor migrants present, something Russian business is not interested in but that those concerned with Russian security must be.