As Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, two explosions have rocked to the country, bringing to the fore the terror threats that the country faces. On Sunday, a female suicide bomber blew herself up in the entrance hall of a train station at Volgograd, killing 17 people. In the early hours of Monday, a suicide bomber killed 14 people in the same city.
Last year, a suicide bomber killed 31 and left more than 130 injured at Moscow’s airport. In March 2010, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up near a metro station.
This upsurge in attacks by suspected Chechen rebels has spoilt further chances of reconciliation between Chechnya and Russia: the north Caucasus of Russia and particularly Dagestan and Chechnya have become major dens of separatist activities.
These attacks have dusted off any hope of a reconciliation that emerged after the announcement by President Vladimir Putin that Russian forces would stop their aerial and ground assaults in Chechnya. Despite attempts by the Russian government to find a solution, Chechen rebels have no plans to cooperate.
Although rebel leaders have not rejected Russia’s peace proposal, there are indications that such efforts will not produce a lasting solution. The proclaimed goal of the last few years of the Chechen terrorist campaign has been to get the State free from Russian control. Chechnya is a hilly area with thick forests that provides an excellent base for carrying out clandestine guerrilla activities.
Such activities have been responsible for the death of over 35,000 people during last few years.
Of late, the rebels seem to be reasonably confident of their access to public places in Russia. Over the years, their strategies have become sophisticated and they have succeeded in acquiring more lethal weapons and plastic explosives. The use of Penta, a highly potent toxic compound, in Sunday’s suicide bombing has alarmed the security and intelligence agencies across the region.
The criticism of the Russian president and the support for the rebels among the local Chechen population is likely to raise their morale. It is widely believed among the rebels that Kremlin discriminates them.
The ‘unfair treatment’ thrust upon the Chechens in the past is responsible for their revival. History bears testimony to Chechnya’s tragedy. Initially, in 1850s the Chechen resistance was ruthlessly crushed by Czar Nicholas I.
In 1894, the overnight deportation of the Chechens to Siberia and Kazakhstan by Stalin further added to their miseries. They were brought back in 1957 but according to the Chechens the discrimination has continued.
The demand by the rebels for an independent State is being supported by Muslim countries across the globe — the Chechen Republic is a federal subject, a republic, of the Russian Federation.
The prevailing dissatisfaction among the senior and junior level army officers regarding the situation in Chechnya is posing serious security challenges. A lack of financial resources has also caused a serious problem for force deployment programmes.
Russia is in a dilemma over Chechnya: neither the withdrawal of security forces from Chechnya nor its complete occupation is tenable. A continuing military operation is unsustainable. It is high time Russia recognises the seriousness of the problem.
Sudhir Hindwan is a Chandigarh-based professor of political science and expert on strategic affairs
The views expressed by the author are personal