Friday, November 7, 2008

Was the Russian government behind today's suicide bombing Vladikavkaz?

A suicide bomber blew herself up yesterday at a bus stop in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz, killing at least ten people and wounding another forty. The style of the attack is unmistakably Chechen, and it recalls another attack by Chechens in South Ossetia: the Beslan hostage crisis.

But there's something interesting about both Beslan and this recent attack: though supposedly committed by Chechens and directed at the Russian government as a continuation of the rebels' struggle for nationhood, these attacks were committed in South Ossetia and directed against civilian non-Russian targets. Basayev's excuse for taking a school hostage in Beslan was that it was simply cheaper – that he'd intended to carry out the attack in Russia proper, but that they'd simply "[run] out of money," That excuse doesn't make sense in this case, as the attack was much simpler than Beslan, and could easily have been committed in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

A more cynical, yet unfortunately more realistic explanation is that the attacks were directed by the Russian secret services, and meant expressly to discredit the Chechens, and stoke ethnic tensions between the Chechens and Ossetians. The attacks in Beslan, according to assassinated Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko, must have been carried out with the consent of the Russian secret services, as many of the hostage takers had previously been in Russian prisons. Being in a Russian prison for terrorism means two things: that they were likely released because they agreed to become Russian agents, and that even if they hadn't been compromised, they would have been subject to intensive surveillance and "control" for decades after their release. Fellow assassinated journalist Anna Politkovskaya was very likely murdered for her investigations into what happened in Beslan, and right before her death had discovered something about the incident that was "embarrassing to the Kremlin." At the time and up until today, the truth about Beslan has been obscured in countless ways by the Kremlin, and it's quite obvious that there's something that they wanted very much to cover up, even in the very early days of the crisis.

The Russians have strong motives in organizing Beslan and the most recent attack. First of all, the attacks reflect very poorly on the Chechens, and by extension Chechen aspirations for nationhood independent of Russia. Secondly, they reinforce the idea that the Caucasian people are naturally warlike and cannot be trusted to independently govern themselves. Keeping the northern Caucasus within Russia's grasp is important, as independent nations in the northern Caucasus would – like in the independent southern Caucasian republics – be an alternative for energy transit westwards. As we've seen with Russia's recent annexation of South Ossetia, securing control of the Caucasus has proved to be one of Russia dearest wishes.

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