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Russia's 'Terror War'

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
July 19, 2006

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Russian President Vladimir Putin might be excused for feeling pretty good right now. After criticizing his democracy rollbacks, leaders at the G8 summit were preoccupied with areas of mutual concern, leaving Russia to Putin (WashPost). Granted, Russia's hopes of entering the World Trade Organization were put off, but the U.S. Trade Representative anticipates a deal in the coming months. And just ahead of the summit, Putin won an undeniable victory: the death of the Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev (Economist) in an explosion in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia. Russia's defense minister had deemed Basayev "our bin Laden" (The Age).

Basayev might seem a small fish next to a new Mideast war, train bombings in Mumbai or, for that matter, Russian democracy. Yet his terrorists have been a thorn in Moscow's side (BBC) since the fall of the Soviet Union, and experts say his death is a grave blow to the Chechen separatist movement. But Andrei Babitsky, one of a handful of journalists to meet Basayev, says the resistance will continue.

As this new Backgrounder explains, Chechnya's separatist movement has lost most of its leaders in recent years, causing some speculation of its demise (IWPR). Rising in profile is Chechnya's young, pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (NYT), who seeks to displace the rebels. An analysis from Johns Hopkins University's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute suggests the resistance will continue despite its changing cast because its tendencies are "tied more to circumstances than to personalities." Nevertheless, Moscow is seeking to press its advantage: On July 18, Russia's top counterterrorism official, Nikolai Patrushev, reportedly offered amnesty to separatists (Moscow Times) who agree to disarm.

Despite the Kremlin's claims of progress, the situation on the ground in Chechnya remains grim (London Review of Books). There are differing estimates of the importance of Basayev's death, but the North Caucasus will continue to plague Moscow, reports the Jamestown Foundation. A policy brief (PDF) from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls for a new policy toward Chechnya, while a CFR Task Force report outlines a host of other problems facing Russia.

Still, Moscow can't help but be pleased with the current drift (Russia Blog), which London's Daily Telegraph says is the product of Putin's increased confidence and guile on the world stage. Only recently written off as a basket case, Russia now stands as a dominant force in energy markets (NYT), has made progress on the terrorism front, and appears poised for WTO membership. No wonder Putin is smiling (FT).

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