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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
January 2, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Moscow Struggling to Coordinate Counter-Terrorist Effort in North Caucasus

Staunton, VA, January 2, 2016  --  Moscow is finding it increasingly difficult to coordinate the various agencies involved in its counter-terrorist effort in the North Caucasus, and its shortcomings in that regard are “being paid for by the blood” of local residents, according to Rasul Kadiyev, a lawyer and political analyst.

Kadiyev says in an article on the site Kavkazkaya Politika that the recent events in Derbent where forces which claimed to be part of ISIS attacked and killed some local people “confirm that mistakes in providing security” reflect the difficulties the Russian authorities are having in coordinating their counter-terrorist actions.

As a result, he says, the FSB, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, the Ministry of Defense, its various special groups and regional staffs, the various regional and republic governments, and the Russian Information Monitoring Agency are often working at cross purposes rather than a single team, a pattern that gives terrorists an opening they should not have.

Although Kadiyev acknowledges that not everything in Russia occurs as specified in laws and directives, he suggests that the evolution of those official actions over the last decade and especially the last month shows that Moscow has still not figured out how to make things work and in fact is introducing ever greater complexities in this sector.

Vladimir Putin’s December 26 order “on measures to improve the state administration in the area of countering terrorism" was issued in order to address some of these issues by “modernizing the National Anti-Terrorism Committee and “the resubordination of ‘the siloviki’ [officers of the "power" ministries of defense, police, and intelligence.]

But the situation is not only so complicated that no one act could solve all the problems but it is becoming ever more so because of other Russian laws and decrees, Kadiyev says. He gives as an example the September 30 Federation Council approval of Putin’s use of military force abroad.

That action raised rather than solved “a number of legal and economic questions,” including first and foremost which agencies are in charge of the use of Russian military force against terrorism when the forces are on Russian territories or Russian territorial waters but the terrorists are beyond those borders.

When the National Anti-Terrorist Committee was set up in 2006 with the FSB director as its ex officio head, no one thought about that possibility, one in which the NAK and hence the FSB, on the one hand, would be competing with the ministry of defense, on the other, Kadiyev suggests.

But that is now very much the case because “the struggle with terrorists in Syria is headed not by the FSB and not by the NAK but by the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense,” who controls the Caspian Fleet which struck at the terrorists in Syria from the territorial waters of Russia which fall under the jurisdiction of the NAK.”

Putin had earlier (on November 18, 2015) limited the NAK in another way when he decreed the creation of an inter-agency commission for blocking the financing of terrorism and put the Russian Information Monitoring agency in charge, even though the leader of that body also is included in the NAK chaired by the FSB director.

“The question of ‘who is more important’ is not trivial since under conditions of the budget deficit, all organs of power, including the FSB are being forced to optimize their expenses” even as “spending on the armed forces are not being reduced but have become almost the most important.”

The NAK was supposed to coordinate all this, but the situation has changed dramatically since it was set up a decade ago. “The challenges have changed, [and] instead of open many-hours-long battles,  counter-terrorist operations have begun to be carried outby means of the introduction of KTOs.”

That is the reason behind the December 26 decree, but the difficulties of the new situation are reflected in the fact that the new decree has 24 sections compared to only 11 in the 2006 document, a measure of just how complicated the task of coordinating the counter-terrorist operations now has become.

“The regional system of the organization of the NAK remains in essence what it was,” with operational staffs of the NAK headed by regional leaders of the FSB. “However,” that is not the end of it. In areas adjoining seas, new special staffs have been set up to manage the situation. They are headed by FSB border officials rather than FSB officers working with the NAK.

Nominally, “the ‘naval’ staff is subordinated to the operational staff of the NAK in each subject. However, by the terms of the [new] decree, they are allowed to conduct counter-terrorist operations only ‘in the internal sea waters adjoining these territories.” But what this means is far from clear – and conflicts are certain to arise between the NAK (FSB) and the defense ministry.

Moreover and as always, Chechnya is “excluded” from the rules that govern these arrangements elsewhere. The unified group of forces there is “under the leadership of the internal forces” of the Russian Federation “but it has a special status,” one that has meant that Grozny has a voice, often a decisive one, in how these forces are deployed.

The new Putin decree changed this in words and ostensibly brought the situation in Chechnya into line with what it is in the other federal subjects in the North Caucasus and indeed elsewhere in the Russian Federation, but it is unclear whether it has changed the situation on the ground, Kadiyev says.