Al-Qaeda in the Caucasus

by , October 07, 2008

Whatever one expected from the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian war, surely a car bomb was not among the first choices – yet that is precisely what has occurred. As Russian forces prepared to leave security zones in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the wake of Georgia’s humiliating defeat, they stopped a car with Georgian license plates in which the occupants were armed. The car was taken to a Russian checkpoint, where it promptly exploded. Nine Russian soldiers, including a Russian general in the nearby headquarters, were killed, and seven others were wounded.

A car bomb in the Caucasus?

This is a weapon, and a method of terrorism, with a very familiar signature. It points to the introduction of a rather sinister aspect to the Russia-Georgia conflict – the entrance of radical Islamic elements on the field of battle, and clearly on the side of the Georgians.

The reactions to the blast were all too predictable: the Russians attributed the incident to the Georgians, and the Georgians pointed the finger at the Russian special services, notably the FSB. This latter charge may sound improbable to Americans – after all, why would the Russians bomb themselves? – but in Russia and its periphery it is quite common for opponents of the current regime to attribute everything to the supposedly all-pervasive hand of the Kremlin.

Remember Alexander Litvinenko, the anti-Putin agitator who found refuge in London and was supposedly assassinated by the KGB with an exotic radioactive substance? He was one of the leading lights of the Russian equivalent of the 9/11 "truthers," who wrote several books supposedly "proving" that the FSB (and Putin) were behind the bombings of Russian cities by Chechen terrorists – including the infamous Beslan incident, in which Chechen and Ingush terrorists killed Ossetian schoolchildren. A nutty narrative, to be sure, yet Litvinenko was given credibility by the Western media, naturally, since anything that reinforces their anti-Russian mindset is considered fair game.

Yet, far from being all-controlling, the Russkies are hardly in the drivers’ seat on the far fringes of their supposedly resurgent empire, as Roger Boyes’ fascinating series on the region in the Times of London makes all too clear:

"This is where empire falls apart. It had all looked more promising for the Russians in August. The six-day war against Georgia must have seemed like a giant step forward for Vladimir Putin’s state, which leans so heavily on the implicit threat of force. Russian forces cut a swath through Georgia, sapped the authority of a leader who had irritated the Kremlin and secured at little cost the ‘independence’ not only of South Ossetia but also of Abkhazia, with its access to the Black Sea.

"Russia, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has a military presence on the other side of the Caucasus.

"But in doing so it has made an arc of crisis out of the M29 [highway from Ossetia to Ingushetia].

"Russian North Ossetia is counting on a merger with South Ossetia; Russian subsidies will flow and soon enough there will be a new Christian-dominated province with scores to settle. Near by: a resurgent Chechnya, massively reconstructing after a decade of war, bloated with pride and with scores to settle. Sandwiched in between: the failed state of Ingushetia, a land of political murders. This week in Nazran a suicide bomber tried unsuccessfully to ram his Lada packed with explosives into the Mercedes of the Ingushetian interior minister, Musa Medov."

It looks like the car bombers are running wild in the Caucasus, and, in spite of what Litvinenko’s ghost is mumbling over there in the corner, this is undoubtedly not the work of the FSB. Islamic radicals infest the area and are threatening the Moscow-supported regime in Ingushetia, whose president dares not leave his gold-domed palace. Car bombings are the radicals’ weapon of choice. Aside from that, however, the blood feud between the Ossetians and the Chechens – which took center stage at Beslan – dates back to Stalin’s time, when the latter were pushed out and the former moved in. The classic pattern of displaced peoples in conflict provides backdrop and context for the mysterious explosion in Ossetia.

In the dirt-poor Caucasian "republic" of Ingushetia, something wicked this way comes – and it isn’t the Russians, who are helpless to stem the rising tide of violence rapidly engulfing the country. Is it al-Qaeda? The Russians, remember, were the first victims of the Islamic jihad that has now turned on the West with a vengeance. Osama bin Laden, who has boasted of besting the Russian bear in Afghanistan, is not likely to look on Russia’s resurgence with any more favor than, say, the Weekly Standard. There is indeed an odd confluence of interests in this part of the world, an open alliance between ostensible enemies.

All along its periphery and in its "near abroad," Russia is fighting a war on two fronts: against the West in Ukraine and the disputed regions of the Crimea and Transnistria, and against the Islamists in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and throughout Central Asia. Geographically, the former Soviet republic of Georgia is the point at which these two fronts meet and merge.

The possibility that Islamic radicals – the same groups trying to overthrow the authority of the "kaffirs" in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other nearby splinters of the shattered Soviet colossus – are acting in concert with the Georgian military should come as no surprise. Nor would anyone be shocked at the revelation that these groups may well include the local al-Qaeda franchise. In wartime, alliances are merely matters of convenience. Think of it as a modern version of the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

This strategic alliance is reflected, here on the home front, in the strange phenomenon of neoconservative support for the cause of radical Islamist Chechen groups. There is the curious phenomenon of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, which has recently been renamed the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus. The members of this group – Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Elliot Abrams, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, and Michael Ledeen, among others – reads like a who’s who of the War Party. The same gang that brought us Iraq would like to open up yet another front in their perpetual war for its own sake, this time against Russia.

The neocons have been in the forefront of the anti-Russia holy war, with Richard Perle calling for Russia to be thrown out of the G-8 well before the onset of the Iraq war, and this agitation has reached a crescendo with Putin’s successful defense of South Ossetia and Abkhazia against the Georgian invasion. It isn’t just the neocons, however, who are eager to take on the Russians. Barack Obama has echoed John McCain’s fervent support for Georgia, hewing to the Bizarro World interpretation of the Georgian bombardment of the Ossetian capital – in which hundreds were killed and injured – as evidence of a Russian "invasion."

The seeds of a wider war are being planted in the Caucasus, and the Bizarro World quality of all this is underscored by U.S. policy in the region, which is driving us into a de facto alliance with our worst enemies. If the Georgians are dallying with the radical Islamic terrorists in a bid to irritate, and ultimately provoke, the Russians, then we are indirectly aiding and abetting al-Qaeda as it inspires fresh outbreaks of terrorism in the steppes of Central Asia.

How many millions are we sending to Tbilisi? We’re training their coast guard on American ships anchored in the Black Sea. Are we also training their intelligence service in the fine art of car bombing – or do they farm that out to the real experts?

Read more by Justin Raimondo