If Russia is to finally move beyond the threat of radical terror groups and other killers like those who bombed Domodedovo, the Kremlin and its allies in the North Caucasus must spend more time wooing moderate Muslims whose ambivalence leaves radicals room to maneuver rather than simply trying to kill suspected terrorists in sweeps which tend to destroy markets and bystanders in the process.
Moderate Muslims who disagree with radicals as well as vengeful government forces, in turn, need to build solidarity with civilian allies across the Federation who also seek reform in government security policies and are able to clearly distinguish between Chechens and militant terror groups. For far too long there has been a gulf between the people of the Caucasus who want peace and the rest of Federation. Many Caucasian Muslims travel, work, and make friends outside of the Chechnya region but fear “I’m from Chechnya/ Dagestan/ Ingushetia” will only turn conversations icy.
As I wrote in my story about Chechnya and Ingusetia in the Guardian Weekly, many moderate believers in peace in the Muslim Caucasus region would be happy to support efforts to take on radicals and reduce violence, except that they fear bringing information to the authorities will be met with violent over-reaction.
I’ve experienced this personally. I was working with Chechen and Ingush humanitarians to help rebuild and restore stability in the war-ravaged region when co-workers told me a refugee camp had been attacked by the government. Ingush government security forces acting on Kremlin policy pursued a lone suspected militant into the Agrosnap displacement settlement inhabited by the elderly, women, and children outside the town of Nazran.
When the suspect hid in a family shelter, security forces locked all the civilians in the camp into a laundry and washroom and then began raining mortars and bullets onto the shelter until the suspect was dead. In other cases, police have acted on tips to question suspects by besieging neighborhoods or locking up those brought in to answer questions without charge.
With Putin, Medevedev and their regional allies’ current security policy of vengeance and punishment, many citizens of the Caucasus remain trapped in crossfire when they instead could be protected allies of the rule of law. While we in the West rely on the collective security mantra, “See something, say something,” moderates in Russia’s Caucasus who seek peace and security for the country suffer the opposite, “Say something, disappear in prison never to be heard from again.”
If Russia spends more time winning over the hearts and trust of moderate Muslims in the Caucasus and acts with more surgical precision and care when acting on intelligence, perhaps the next time a Chechen, Ingush, or Dagestani citizen hears about radicals trying to recruit their neighbor’s kid or planning an attack, they will have more confidence that taking action can save rather than destroy lives.