The Trade-Offs between Security and Civil Liberties in Russia's War on Terror: The Regional Dimension

By Abdullaev, Nabi; Saradzhyan, Simon | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

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

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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.

Methodology

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.

Researched Period

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. …

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