Geopoliticalmonitor.com

FORECAST

Violence in Russia’s North Caucasus will test whether President Medvedev is entrenched enough in Russian politics to stand on his own two feet.

The August 17th suicide bombing of a police station in restive Ingushetia exemplifies a growing tide of violence in the region. Since the Russian government announced an official end to counterinsurgency operations in Chechnya in April 2009, attacks there and in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan have increased in number and ferocity.

The Second Chechen War and subsequent counterinsurgency operations in the region gave rise to a generation of youth without any cultural links to the Russian state. Lacking in economic opportunities and drawn to an increasingly radicalized interpretation of Salafi Islam, this generation will wage an unrelenting war against Moscow. They are also finding themselves increasingly well-funded thanks to the Afghan drug trade and Russian criminal networks that facilitate assassinations for political ends. It is with these factors in mind that Russian academic Ruslan Kurbanov has warned of a coming ‘Talibanization’ of the Caucasus.

That attacks will intensify over the medium term is a given, however the real question centers on how the Russian government will respond.  The Second Chechen War created a veneer of stability in Chechnya, but ultimately cost a fortune and exasperated Chechen feelings of alienation from the Russian state. Terrorist groups currently operating in Ingushetia are small, highly fluid, and enjoy support from sympathetic elements within the security forces. To deploy federal troops risks further local alienation and human rights abuses.

For President Medvedev, who presides over a decimated Russian economy, the guaranteed costs and uncertain benefits of a military response make such a policy highly undesirable.

As such, Mr. Medvedev has opted for a legislative approach, proposing a package of new policies aimed at invigorating counterinsurgency efforts in the North Caucasus. The package includes: higher pay for police officers, harsher laws for terrorist attacks, better inter-agency cooperation, and a strategy to improve economic conditions in the region. While these policies, if properly implemented, could help alleviate terrorist violence, Mr. Medvedev is under a great deal of political pressure to adopt a much harder line.

The global economic crisis took some of the sheen off of Vladimir Putin in Russian politics, much to the benefit of the liberal-minded President Medvedev. However, President Medvedev still needs to curry favor in Putin’s primary support base – the security forces, or siloviki. If violence continues to rage out of control in the North Caucasus, particularly if there is one very high-profile attack, President Medvedev’s legal approach to combating terrorist networks may come under attack as ‘too soft.’

Prime Minister Putin, on the other hand, has been hard at work reminding the Russian public of his strongman credentials. His most recent adventures include diving to the bottom of a Siberian lake and being photographed shirtless while riding a horse.

In this case, President Medvedev’s loss would be Putin’s gain. Even if Medvedev thinks it best to combat North Caucasus terrorism with the carrot, he may yet be forced to use the stick.

 

SUMMARY OF EVENTS: August 17 – 24, 2009

WORLD

A leading expert on chemical and biological arms control called Wednesday for urgent efforts to stop new mind-altering drugs developed for medical purposes from being adopted by the military for use in warfare.

NORTH AMERICA

Canada

Canadian tax officials plan to meet with UBS bank officials in the coming weeks in a bid to uncover Canadian fortunes hidden in offshore accounts, Canada’s national revenue minister said Friday.

United States

The United States is “criminally investigating” more than 150 U.S. customers of Swiss banking giant UBS on suspicion they concealed income and assets to avoid U.S. taxes, court documents said Tuesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday defended an imminent agreement that will give the United States access to military bases in Colombia, amid regional concerns about US intentions.

The CIA in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.

Former U.S. homeland security chief Tom Ridge charges in a new book that top aides to then-president George W. Bush pressured him to raise the “terror alert” level to sway the November 2004 US election.

From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.

As the Justice Department considers whether to investigate alleged harsh interrogation practices sanctioned by the Bush administration, sources say a soon-to-be-released report by the CIA’s inspector general reveals that agency interrogators conducted mock executions of terror suspects.

WESTERN EUROPE

Britain

Britain has launched an urgent investigation into allegations that UK arms dealers have been buying up old Soviet weapons and selling them on to blacklisted countries.

EASTERN EUROPE

Lithuania

A new report Thursday identified the location of yet a third CIA secret prison provided by a European nation, a disclosure called “irresponsible” by the CIA, and denied by the alleged facility host, the former Soviet state of Lithuania.

Russia

A suicide bomber killed 20 people and wounded 138 in Russia’s Ingushetia region on Monday, turning a simmering Islamist insurgency there into the biggest test of Kremlin control of its southern flank.

Russia has ordered two Czech diplomats out of Russia, Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, in a spying row between two countries at odds over U.S. plans to install an anti-missile system in Europe.

Two suicide bombers on bicycles killed four policemen in the capital of Russia’s mainly Muslim republic of Chechnya on Friday, officials said, in the latest in a wave of attacks in the region.

MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

A series of blasts in Baghdad killed 95 people and wounded 536 Wednesday, in Iraq’s bloodiest day this year, prompting a rare admission of culpability from Iraqi security forces struggling to cope without U.S. help.

Israel

An article by a Swedish newspaper suggesting that Israeli troops kidnap and kill Palestinians to steal their body organs has triggered the ire of Israeli officials.

Yemen

Shi’ite rebels in Yemen are receiving financial support from abroad, a government spokesman said on Tuesday, strongly implying Iranian involvement in an armed rebellion that has flared up in recent weeks.

SOUTH ASIA

Afghanistan

Insurgents struck the Afghan capital Tuesday, two days before national elections, firing rockets or mortars at the presidential palace and unleashing a suicide car bomber on a NATO convoy.

Afghan journalists charged Wednesday that their government was violating the constitution by trying to censor reports of violence on election day, and they vowed to flout the order issued by an administration that appears increasingly hostile toward the media.

President Hamid Karzai’s campaign and chief rival Abdullah Abdullah both said on Friday they had won Afghanistan’s election, with U.S. officials warning the candidates to keep a lid on simmering tensions.

AFRICA

Somalia

Fighting between Somali insurgents and pro-government troops killed at least 45 people and wounded 30 others in separates battles in the south of the country Thursday, witnesses said.

OCEANA

Australia

Leading infectious disease experts in Australia have called on the federal government to abandon its mass swine-flu vaccination plan because of fears the vaccine is a contamination risk that could spread blood-borne diseases.

Zachary Fillingham is a contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com