Putin’s Effort to Prevent Terrorism at Sochi Games Backfiring Now in Middle East and Caucasus

March 21, 2016
Sochi Olympics in 2014. Photo by Dmitry Korotaev/Kommersant

Moscow Wants to Block Those Suspected of Extremism from Leaving the Country

Staunton, VA, March 21, 2016 – For five centuries, Russian leaders have been obsessed about emigres, defectors and others who have gone abroad and broken with the Russian regime, fearful of the ability of such people to influence Russians within Russia and even, as was the case with Lenin and the then-miniscule Bolshevik Party, to overthrow the existing system.

Thus, it is no surprise that the Moscow media has devoted so much attention to a Vilnius meeting of the Russian opposition in emigration.
Sometimes this Russian coverage recalls the anecdote about the old Jew in the shtetl who read anti-Semitic Russian newspapers because he liked to see “how powerful we really are.” But even if the emigration seldom has the influence the Kremlin fears it has, Moscow’s fears about that often drive Russian policies.
Not only has the Putin regime and its Chechen executors killed some of those in emigration it fears, but it has taken actions to reduce the ability of Russians to go abroad and possibly join the ranks of the emigration against Moscow by restricting foreign travel by many in the security services and debtors.
Now, it is preparing to take another step which may spark another upsurge in the numbers of Russians who choose to live abroad but which certainly presages an even more repressive Russian regime at home than the one Russians have unfortunately had to adapt themselves to under Vladimir Putin.
Last week, Vladimir Makarov, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Chief Directorate for Combatting Extremism, said that his ministry wants to block foreign travel by those suspected of committing extremist crimes, have not been cleared by Russian courts or have not yet served their sentences.
As the SOVA Analytic Center pointed out, the interior ministry official did not say “at what stage of consideration this initiative is at now.” But Makarov’s words are chilling: They clearly imply that the Russian authorities may block people merely on the basis of suspicion and not even as the result of charges and judicial action from foreign travel.
Given the expansive and flexible definitions of extremism and the general failure of Russian courts to exonerate anyone charged with extremism crimes, the adoption of such a law would cast a dark shadow on almost anyone in Russia whose positions are at odds with whatever line the Kremlin takes.
Some Russian activists have already concluded that they have no future in that country as long as Putin and his system are in power and have moved to the West. Others facing the prospect that they may be stripped of the opportunity to travel abroad via this latest Moscow move seem likely to reach a similar conclusion and leave sooner rather than later.
On the one hand, that will reduce the ranks of the opposition in Russia itself, something Putin and company almost certainly will welcome, although those ranks may continue to grow as more Russians see just what the Kremlin leader and his entourage represent and how they are taking away from Russians one of the rights many of them see as a positive result from 1991.
And on the other, such a trend will mean that the numbers of Russian opposition figures in places like Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, London and New York will grow and provide important new information and insights for the West about the nature of the Putin system if the West is clever enough to pay attention to them.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the first Russian emigration attracted relatively little attention in most countries, with Poland being a major exception. During the Cold War, more Western countries including Britain, France and the US paid far more attention to this important source. The question now is whether the West will exploit this source of information in the future.
Moscow Patriarch Attacks Humanism and Human Rights as ‘Global Heresies’
Staunton, VA, March 21, 2016 –  Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has never been a supporter of humanism and human rights, but now in the sharpest terms yet he has denounced “the global heresy of bowing down to the human” – in Russian, chelovekopoklonnichestva – as a new form of idolatry that threatens to drive “God out of human life and the life of society.”

In remarks March 20, Kirill said that at present, many around the world present the human being and his rights as “a universal criteria of truth,” a mistaken view that is responsible for “the revolutionary exiling of God from human life and from the life of society” and that must be opposed.
Today, the Russian churchman said, “we are speaking about the global heresy of bowing down to the human, a new idolatry which drives God out of human life. There has never been anything like this on a global scale.” And it must be opposed by the church and healthy elements in society in order to avoid “apocalyptic events.”
Among those events, the patriarch added, has been the assertion “with the help of law of the right of any choice of an individual including the most sinful which violates God’s word,” a clear reference to same sex marriages and the Russian church’s unqualified opposition to such unions.
Kirill then recalled his first teachers, his father and grandfather who he said “passed through jails and camps not because they violated state laws but because “they refused to betray the Lord and the Orthodox church.” In fact, as Moscow commentators have pointed out, Kirill is misrepresenting the situation and putting himself and the church on the side of their jailors.
Indeed, Ilya Milshteyn says that “by calling Russians to holiness and threatening an apocalypse, [the Russian patriarch] in essence has spoken in defense of the current regime” which has no interest in protecting or even acknowledging universal human rights.
Another commentator, Aleksandr Plyushchev, makes a similar point, noting that the Soviet Union had not signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and acted as if its subjects had no human rights against “the ideology of the authoritarian state.:
Plyushchev continues that Kirill’s latest declaration not only reflect his subservience to the state but are “the words of an openly weak leader of a shaky institution. A strong idea doesn’t need force to win people over.” Only a weak one does, and thus it is not surprising that “a weak one always needs a monopoly and the denial of free choice.”
Those who object that the US is a religious society but also one that reflects human rights, Plyushchev points out that there religions adapt themselves to society in order to win converts rather than seek to impose their will by force. Thus, there are indeed many churches in Boston but on every other one of them, there is the flag of the gay rights movement.
And Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko deputy in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, sums up what is dangerously wrong with Kirill’s position. He notes that “the Russian Orthodox Church considers that the powers that be are from God” even though the Russian constitution specifies that “the source of power is the people.”
That is something Kirill’s latest declaration shows that both the Russian Church and the Russian state need to be reminded of, he suggests.
Putin’s Effort to Prevent Terrorism at Sochi Games Backfiring Now in Middle East and Caucasus
Staunton, VA, March 21, 2016 – Vladimir Putin received enormous credit for preventing any terrorist incidents from interfering with the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but the method he adopted – helping jihadists to leave the Caucasus for the Middle East prior to the games and then blocking their return to the Russian Federation – is now backfiring in both places.

Last week, the International Crisis Group released a 53-page report “Jihad for Export” that has attracted attention in the Russian media.
Putin’s policy helped reduce terrorist incidents in the North Caucasus at the time of the Olympics but only by intensifying Islamist radicalism in the Middle East and further radicalizing those jihadists in the North Caucasus, the ICG report suggests. This is yet another example of the way in which Putin’s pursuit of his short term goals often entails larger and longer term disasters.
In support of its argument, the ICG report quotes a law-enforcement source in Dagestan who said that “of course, we opened the borders and helped [the Islamist radicals] to go there and then closed the border behind them by introducing criminal responsibility for participation in such militant activities.”
According to that source, “everyone is happy: they are dying there on their way to Allah, we have no terrorist acts here, and we are bombing them” at the present time in Syria.
The Moscow-assisted departure of jihadists from the North Caucasus in the months before the Sochi Games not only led to a decline in the number of terrorist incidents there but allowed the Russian force structures, after the world’s attention shifted away from Sochi, to take draconian steps against those remaining in the North Caucasus.
Although Kommersant called into question the ICG conclusion that “the Russian authorities to ensure the security of the Sochi Olympics made possible the departure of extremists from the southern region of [Russia],” the Moscow paper itself quoted a Russian political scientist, Ruslan Martagov who said that is exactly what happened.
Martagov told the paper that “In Dagestan there were not a few cases when people connected with the special services unselfishly gave foreign passports to young people who wanted to go to Turkey and then to Syria,” where their arrival boosted the ranks of Islamist radicals and helped spark the refugee exodus.
Meanwhile, in the North Caucasus itself, the Russian authorities in the second half of 2014 — that is after the Sochi Olympics — intensified their moves against Islamist radicals there. Even as they blocked the return of jihadists from Syria, the authorities composed lists of those they felt were already or were likely to become disloyal and arrested many of them.
But as both the ICG report notes and as Kommersant seconds, these actions have not led to a further decline in radicalism in the North Caucasus but instead have led, in the Moscow newspaper’s words, “to still greater activism” on the part of the militants. To the extent that is true, the Sochi Games continue in this sphere as well to cast a dark shadow on the region.