Friday, July 07, 2006

Travelling under the flag of Rome

Theres an old story about how Roman citizens could travel throughout the world with impunity, and safety. The retribution of Rome for an attack on one of its citizens was known to be swift and brutal. I guess that the Russian's, as they leap back upon international scene, are looking to take the same approach. Via RussiaBlog,

Russia’s response to the jihadists who murdered four Russian diplomatic workers last week in Iraq: “find and destroy”.

Not many people in the world are aware that since Putin was appointed President in 1999, Russia has revived its tradition of hunting down terrorists abroad. Given the traditional centralization of powers in Russia and the common national goal of revenge, there will be no Russian newspapers posting details about ongoing counterterrorist operations on their front pages, as happens with the New York Times in America. The Russian Duma is also not the U.S. Congress; Putin’s order “to kill” has elicited nary a word of dissent.

In 2002, Ibn Khattab, an Arab veteran of the Afghan war operating in Chechnya was killed by Russian forces. Khattab, who had been fundraising from the Persian Gulf states for the Chechen jihad, was poisoned by an under-cover Russian agent. Zelimhan Yandarbiyev, a Chechen terrorist leader who claimed to be president of the non-existent “republic of Ichkeria” was hunted down by Russian operatives in Doha, Qatar (the same country where the Al-Jazeera satellite news network is based). Yandarbiyev's car was blown up by two under-cover agents who were carrying Russian diplomatic passports. During this operation, Yandarbiyev’s twelve year old son was severely injured. The attack outraged the Qatari government and both “diplomats” were captured and sentenced to death. Later they were extradited back to Moscow, and the Kremlin promised to punish and imprison them. No one knows what has happened to the agents since, but rumor has it that they were secretly decorated for a successful operation.

This time Putin has made it very clear - he wants the people on the tape and their sponsors - dead. Some commentators have claimed that Putin is simply trying to boost his popularity after this tragedy. However, the Interfax news agency reports that Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Russian Federal Security Service, said that everything will be done to ensure that the killers "do not escape from responsibility." Patrushev also said that “this is not some random plan; this is a very clear order from the President which goes along with what we do here”.

Russia has a number of positions unpopular in the Islamic world, as well as a fundamental cultural and religious rift. However, it is allied with the premier state terrorism sponsor, Iran, so it has largely been spared the sort of attacks that the "Great Satan" and our cultural allies in Europe have been subject to. However, as Russia develops, it risks becoming more closely associated with those groups, and even Russia itself, traditionally Muscovite, associates itself with the European sphere. These connections, and Russia's western economic ties, may serve to make the country a more favored target among international extremists.


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