The Trade-Offs between Security and Civil Liberties in Russia's War on Terror: The Regional Dimension
Abdullaev, Nabi, Saradzhyan, Simon, Demokratizatsiya
Abstract: This article focuses on Russia's antiterrorist campaign in 2000-04 to discern and analyze dynamics in the trade-offs between security (1) and liberties. An analysis of these trade-offs in four separate regions of the Russian Federation demonstrates that enhancing the powers of the security apparatus at the expense of liberties may help reduce the threat of terrorism in the short-term, as local agents of terror divert part of their operations to freer regions. However, such a strategy eventually backfires at the local level, as suppression of liberties generates political resentment, one of the root causes of terrorism. (2) The repressive laws and practices presented by the authorities as the price the public has to pay in the war on terror can bring only limited short-term gains in this war, while producing a lasting detrimental effect on freedoms and civil liberties in Russia. Moreover, given the fact that Russia is in a state of transition, the intended and unintended effects of the authorities' antiterror policies in the researched period, and beyond, could determine the course of Russia's political development.
Key words: civil liberties, political violence, Putin, regions, Russia, terrorism
This article begins by outlining our methodology, including an explanation of the criteria used to select the research period and the regions (3) to be studied, as well as a list of the watch points used to evaluate the scale of terrorist threats, the effectiveness of authorities' responses to these threats, and the impact on civil liberties.
This article has an overview of the horizontal escalation of the terrorist threat in Russia, the authorities' responses to this escalation, and the impact of their responses on liberties in 2000-04. The empirical data covering the regions in question--the Chechen Republic (Chechnya), the Republic of Dagestan, Moscow, and St. Petersburg--came not only from open sources, but also from interviews with experts and officials, inquiries with relevant government agencies, and extensive field research.
This article explains why official antiterrorist efforts largely failed in three of the four regions over the researched period, and has policy recommendations on what authorities should do to break the vicious circle of suppression and resentment. The recommendations are followed by appendixes that list and describe the most significant terrorist attacks in the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Dagestan, Moscow, and St. Petersburg in 2000-04.
Definition of Terrorist Attack
There are differences in the expert and academic communities as to what constitutes a terrorist attack. This article uses the definition that is common among experts on this subject: an act of political violence that inflicts harm on noncombatants, but is designed to intimidate broader audiences, including official authorities, and is an instrument of achieving certain political or other goals.
The terrorism threat in Russia made a qualitative leap in 1999, when a wave of apartment building bombings rocked three Russian cities, including the capital. We chose, however, to analyze the period of 2000-04, because it coincides with President Vladimir Putin's first term in office. (4) Although Putin formulated the executive branch's antiterror policy after becoming director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1998, he did not have the opportunity to implement his vision until he was elected president in the spring of 2000.
During his first term, Putin slowly reversed the policies of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin preferred a decentralized administrative model for ruling the country, giving broad powers to the regions, while largely avoiding the suppression of civil liberties--except in Chechnya--even during the first Chechen war. Putin, by contrast, believes that only a highly centralized government can prevent the disintegration of Russia at the hands of North Caucasian separatists and terrorists. He continues to act on this belief, staunchly implementing a national security model for fighting terrorism that suppresses civil liberties for the collective good.
The research in this article focuses on two Russian territories--the Chechen Republic and the Republic of Dagestan--and two cities--Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Dagestan and Chechnya are paired together because both suffer from terrorism and a suppression of civil liberties. Both republics are largely Muslim and their political, economic, and social realities are shaped by clan rivalries. Both are behind the majority of other Russian regions in terms of economic and social developments and both have a mountainous terrain that is advantageous for terrorists.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are paired together because these cities are the largest business, cultural, and administrative centers in Russia. They outperform other territories in terms of economic and social developments. Their residents enjoy a relatively high level of freedom. Both cities have a large community of people from the North Caucasus, but only in Moscow have people from this community assisted in organizing terrorist attacks. St. Petersburg has not experienced a terrorist attack, even though it has a number of symbolic targets comparable to Moscow's.
One factor that has made St. Petersburg thus far immune to terrorism emanating from the North Caucasus is that the community of North Caucasus natives in St. Petersburg is more conservative and less transient than the community of natives in Moscow, as the city offers fewer opportunities for those looking to make quick money and leave.
In comparison, there are more opportunists in Moscow. They are more prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to return to the city if asked to help their compatriots in some illegal operation, as they are neither financially--nor in any other way--attached to the city in the long term. (5)
This article uses the following watch points to measure the level of a terrorist threat, responses to the threat, and the level of individual and collective civil liberties in the aforementioned four regions of the Russian Federation: (6)
* the number and scale of terrorist attacks;
* the number and strength of terrorist groups and other violent groups, as well as the dynamics of their motivation and capabilities;
* the number and strength of law enforcement agencies tasked with fighting terrorist organizations and other violent groups, local antiterror and security laws used by law enforcement agencies in the fight and their practices;
* and the level of individual liberties, which include the freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, movement, and the right to impartial justice and suitable living conditions.
Russia's Antiterror Campaign: Key Trends in 2000-04
Russians elected Vladimir Putin as their president in 2000 partly, if not mostly, because he promised to curb terrorism in the wake of the apartment bombings that shocked the nation less than a year before. Then, both Putin and part of the traumatized public equated terrorism with Chechen separatism, and it was the latter that the Russian army successfully defeated during the first years of Putin's presidency. However, while putting an end to the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Russian armor did not eradicate terrorism there. As Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov observed in 2004, army units fighting terrorist groups is "like chasing flies with a sledgehammer." (7)
Moreover, terrorist networks, once based mostly in Chechnya and dominated by ethnic Chechens, have now proliferated across the North Caucasus, with natives of neighboring republics forming their own cells to fight local and federal authorities. This trend was accompanied by the formation of tactical and strategic alliances among local and foreign jihadist elements, separatists, members of organized crime rings, and "avengers"--those whose relatives have been killed or abused by law-enforcement and military troops. People from different republics, not only the North Caucasus, (8) but also ethnic Russians, (9) have come together to fight a guerilla war and stage terrorist acts in the hopes of driving Russia out of the region. Many of these militants dream of establishing an Islamic state in the region and beyond. Together, they have bombed Russian cities and staged horrendous terrorist attacks, such as the Beslan massacre in North Ossetia in September 2004. (10)
While Russian authorities' count of terrorist attacks is flawed (it includes attacks on combatants and excludes some politically motivated assassinations), it is still useful in tracing the dynamics of the terrorism threat in Russia. According to the Emergency Situations Ministry, more than 650 people died in what it defined as terrorist attacks in the first eleven months of 2004, two and a half times more than the number of those killed in such attacks over the same period in 2003. (11)
A cursory glance at the terrorism statistics for the four researched regions (see appendix) demonstrates that the number of terrorist attacks increased during the researched period. Incorporating terrorist attacks in other regions into these statistics would reveal the escalating trend more dramatically.
The number of casualties from terrorist attacks also grew, but not steadily (see appendix). However, adding casualties from terrorist attacks in North Ossetia, Ingushetia, and the Voronezh region, which were ostensibly related to the insurgency in Chechnya, would demonstrate a steady rise in casualties during the researched period.
While escalating their attacks, the underground networks operating in the North Caucasus have also enhanced their capability to carry out conventional operations, staging devastating attacks in Ingushetia's largest city, Nazran, and in the Chechen capital of Grozny in the second half of 2004. (12)
Almost every major terrorist attack in Russia has sparked a debate among policymakers on how to stem the tide of terrorism. With Putin's ascent to the presidency, and the subsequent consolidation of the executive and legislative branches, this debate ended with calls for new laws boosting law enforcement's powers at the expense of individual liberties. (13) Even the Beslan massacre failed to convince federal authorities that terrorism cannot be reined in by mechanical increases in law-enforcement agencies' budgets and powers. (14)
Admittedly, the Kremlin's post-Beslan policy was more multifaceted than previous responses to terrorist attacks. The authorities, for example, attempted to identify the root causes of this horrific act rather than dismiss it as an act of fanaticism. Overall, however, the government continued to rely on a heavy-handed approach, calling for the further centralization of the Kremlin's power at the expense of regional administrations and strengthening its coercive forces (i.e., law-enforcement agencies) at the expense of individual liberties. Instead of being subjected to fundamental, systemic reform, the law-enforcement agencies are routinely given more power and money in the hope that their abilities to prevent terrorist attacks will improve.
Among other measures, the Putin administration has scrapped the popular election of governors, eliminated single-mandate districts in national and regional parliamentary elections, and restricted media coverage of terrorist acts. While submitting these and other measures in the form of bills to the Parliament, President Putin and members of his government also put pressure on regional elites and the mass media to toe the Kremlin's line on what it describes as a "war against international terrorism." (15) For instance, Putin accused one of Russia's national channels of making money on blood after NTV broadcast from the Dubrovka theater in Moscow seconds before a commando raid.
Following that terrorist act, the Russian Parliament passed a raft of amendments to federal laws on media and on terrorism that would have imposed severe restrictions on coverage of terrorist acts. Putin vetoed the bill in November 2002, but he made it clear that he was upset with the coverage.
Russia's leading broadcast media responded in April 2003 by adopting a convention that set strict rules for covering terrorist acts and antiterrorist operations. (16) The coverage of the Beslan massacre differed from the Dubrovka attack. NTV was the only national channel that provided almost nonstop coverage of the tragedy in Beslan, where more than 1,200 hostages were held by a group of terrorists. One of NTV's anchors, Ruslan Gusarov, humbly asked a security officer in a live interview if the official thought NTV had committed any violations in its coverage.
The law on countering extremism has become a landmark in terms of expanding law enforcement's powers in the day-to-day war on terror. The law, passed in July 2002, has such a broad definition of terrorism that law-enforcement agencies can apply it to a broad spectrum of political and religious organizations and individuals. The law bans the dissemination of information that "substantiates or justifies ethnic or racial superiority," (17) regardless of whether this information poses a threat. This provision allows prosecutors to classify many religious texts as extremist material. (18) This provision obstructs an individual's right to collect and disseminate information. (19)
The law also defines any activity that "undermine[s] the security of the Russian Federation" (20) as extremist. Law-enforcement agencies have used this vaguely worded definition to harass environmental whistle-blowers who have exposed cases of toxic and radioactive waste dumped by the Russian military. This provision can also be used to prosecute anyone who harshly criticizes the conduct of individual officials or the authorities and, thus, it obstructs the freedom of speech.
Another provision of this law expands the range of groups and individuals who can be prosecuted for assisting in extremist activities. This assistance can be defined very broadly, covering, for instance, those whose only relationship with a terrorist is as a landlord, or even someone who provides funds or office equipment without knowing that they would be used for extremist activities. Such people can be identified as extremists and found liable under this law.
The law also allows the authorities to liquidate any organization suspected of extremist activities, violating citizens' right to association. The Prosecutor General's Office or Justice Ministry can find an organization in violation of the law and issue it a warning. If the warning remains unheeded, either agency can issue a second warning and, then, go to court and ask for the organization to be shut down. The law also allows prosecutors to suspend the organization's activities without a warrant, but the organization can appeal such a decision.
The procedure for closing a media outlet is very similar to shutting down an organization suspected of extremism. A warning may be issued in response to a publication or broadcast that supervisory authorities consider to be "substantiating or justifying a need for extremist activities." (21) There have been cases when law-enforcement and security agencies have gone beyond this wide range of powers granted to them by the antiextremism law and other legislation. (22)
Two other key bills passed in 2000-04 by the Parliament and signed into law by President Putin as part of the legal response to the escalation of terrorism include numerous amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedures Code and give longer sentences to convicted terrorists. These amendments allow police to keep terrorism suspects in custody for up to thirty days without charging them. In comparison, those suspected of other crimes can be detained for up to three days without being charged. This measure clearly violates the freedom of movement and an individual's right to impartial justice, allowing investigators to put more pressure on a suspect in custody and giving them time to produce evidence in cases where they lack it. (23) In 2004 the State Duma passed an initial draft of a new and more repressive Law on Countering Terrorism that replaced the existing 1998 law. The bill would allow the FSB to declare a state of emergency in an area threatened by terrorist danger for up to sixty days, based on information--even if unverified--about preparations for a terrorist attack. (24)
Law-enforcement officials in the North Caucasus have relied on existing laws in their efforts to fight terrorism. They also abused their powers by cracking down on dissent that is unrelated to terrorism, as demonstrated in the Dagestan section. In Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies have conducted extrajudicial executions during the shift from large-scale operations to seek-and-destroy patrols. (25)
During the researched period, Russian authorities gave the law-enforcement and defense agencies tacit approval to assassinate suspected terrorist leaders both in Russia and abroad. While the FSB did not hesitate to assume responsibility for killing Jordanian-born warlord Khattab in Chechnya, no Russian agency would admit to killing the vice president of Chechnya's self-proclaimed separatist government, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, in Qatar in February 2004. While refusing to assume responsibility, Russian authorities demanded, and succeeded in obtaining, the transfer of two Russian agents convicted of the assassination back to Russia under a Qatari court order.
Overall, despite some targeted operations, law enforcement's response to the escalation of terrorist attacks and conventional guerilla operations remains excessive and indiscriminate.
There should be no doubt that the federal authorities are aware of the scale of abuses suffered by residents of the North Caucasus at the hands of local authorities and law enforcement, especially in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.
However, the Kremlin ignores these abuses in a tacit trade-off, whereby Moscow provides weapons, funds, and a legitimacy that comes with being a government employee while local authorities demonstrate loyalty by brutally suppressing political dissent. However, this arrangement is failing. The dynamics of terrorist networks in these three regions and several neighboring areas in the North Caucasus clearly demonstrated in the researched period that they were on the brink of becoming failed republics. Local leaders are as abusive and corrupt as leaders in the 1990s, but they are also becoming increasingly impotent. They cannot curb the escalation of terrorism. (26)
Paradoxically, federal and local authorities, while broadening their powers to react and, to a far lesser extent, interdict terrorist groups, do relatively little to deter terrorism, especially through economic and financial development. Companies and organizations whose associates are found guilty or charged with terrorism can expect investigations into their finances. As of 2005, Russian law prohibited the indiscriminate confiscation of property of convicted terrorists, which could be a much more effective tool for discouraging potential sponsors or accomplices than fines or liquidation of companies. One reason such a repressive measure had not been introduced as of 2005 is that the Russian public largely opposes confiscation, fearing extension of this measure to other crimes. Yet the Prosecutor General's Office and other law-enforcement agencies repeatedly called for the reintroduction of confiscation in the researched period. (27)
In fact, the collateral damage inflicted on liberties and freedoms in this war on terror raises questions about the potential for further damage. One question is whether the authorities are striving to tighten their grip on the Russian public, which is, on one hand, becoming less sensitive to the growing death toll in the ongoing war on terror in the North Caucasus, (28) but, on the other, is prepared for a further curtailment of liberties if it stems terrorism. A nationwide poll conducted by the independent Levada Center after the Beslan tragedy revealed that 58 percent believe that the moratorium on capital punishment should be lifted. Another 26 percent responded that terrorist's relatives should be punished. Thirty-three percent would ban Chechens from either traveling or living in Russian cities. (29) A nationwide poll on terrorism conducted by the state-controlled All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) revealed an even greater preparedness to sacrifice freedoms for security. The September 2004 poll showed that 84 percent would favor the execution of terrorists even though a moratorium on capital punishment is a prerequisite for Russia's membership in the Council of Europe (CoE). Another 44 percent said they would support media censorship to support the war on terror. Thirty-five percent would support tougher ID checks, phone tapping, and body searches. (30)
Thirty-three percent indicated they would support the suspension of opposition political organizations to fight terrorism. Such a formidable percentage demonstrates how incumbent officials can use the war on terror when running for reelection.
The repressive laws and practices presented by authorities as the price that the public has to pay in the war on terror can bring only limited short-term gains in this war, while producing a lasting detrimental effect on freedoms and civil liberties in Russia. Moreover, given the fact that Russia is in a state of transition, the intended and unintended effects of the authorities' antiterror policies could determine the course of Russia's political development.
The case studies below discuss both the authorities' legal responses and their antiterror practices, as well as the impact of these on the four regions.
The Case of Chechnya
Russian authorities insist that an antiterrorist operation has been underway in Chechnya for …
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Publication information: Article title: The Trade-Offs between Security and Civil Liberties in Russia's War on Terror: The Regional Dimension. Contributors: Abdullaev, Nabi - Author, Saradzhyan, Simon - Author. Journal title: Demokratizatsiya. Volume: 14. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2006. Page number: 361+. © 1998 Heldref Publications. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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