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Russia engaging Central Asia in war on terror

world Updated: Sep 02, 2007 00:45 IST
Fred Weir
Fred Weir
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Over the past three years Russia has enjoyed a respite from terror attacks, though a powerful bomb which derailed a Moscow-St Petersburg train two weeks ago, sending 60 people to hospital, has revived fears that Islamic extremists in Russia’s troubled south could be regrouping, reports Fred Weir.

Russia’s age of terror began eight years ago this month, when a series of powerful bombs destroyed apartment buildings in cities around Russia, killing hundreds in their sleep.

The terror wave was blamed on Islamic extremists from the breakaway republic of Chechnya, and it prompted Russia’s tough-talking new prime minister — soon to be president — Vladimir Putin to launch a full-scale military invasion of the region.

Since then, dozens of Chechen suicide bombers have killed more than 1,000 in attacks on restaurants, rock concerts, airliners and other civilian targets around Russia.

After years of bitter war, Chechnya today appears largely pacified under Moscow-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Over the past three years Russia has enjoyed a respite from terror attacks, though a powerful bomb which derailed a Moscow-St Petersburg train two weeks ago, sending 60 people to hospital, has revived fears that Islamic extremists in Russia’s troubled south could be regrouping.

But experts say Russia’s terrorist danger may be shifting from Chechnya to former Soviet Central Asia. “The growth of terrorism fits into a wider geopolitical pattern, and it’s being fed by many sources, especially poverty,” says Felix Yurlov, an expert with the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow.

Russia and China have moved to turn the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where India is now an observer, into a security alliance. The other members are Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyztan and Kazakhstan. Last month the SCO conducted its biggest ever ‘anti-terrorist’ exercise, involving thousands of Russian, Chinese and Central Asian troops and hundreds of tanks, armoured vehicles and combat planes, near Chelyabinsk, in Siberia.

Experts say that Russia would like to see India become a full member of the SCO.

“India and Russia see eye-to-eye on the terrorist threat and its sources,” says Yurlov. “We have a lot of common ground, but not much concrete cooperation as yet.” One complication, he says, is the increasingly shrill anti-Americanism of the SCO.

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