MOSCOW — Syria is not Russia’s only war. In recent days, Russian security units have fought full-scale counter-insurgency battles in three North Caucasus republics: Chechnya, Dagestan, and Inigushetia, as well as chasing alleged terrorists around Moscow. Dozens of Russian citizens have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy with the so-called Islamic State to carry out attacks in their home country; and 16 Russian law enforcement agents have been killed in special operations in the past two months, mostly in the Northern Caucasus regions.
This week the Russian federal security service spoke of ISIS-connected terrorists threatening Moscow and other Russian cities. Official reports from Moscow said that 4,407 Russian citizens were involved in extremist activities and were a potential threat to the country.
In Syria, on Tuesday afternoon, two shells hit the Russian embassy in the capital, Damascus. Meanwhile Jabhat al-Nusra leaders affiliated with al-Qaeda called on jihadists from all over the world to attack Russians.
Wait, but didn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin explain that it was necessary for Russia to fight in Syria so that ISIS would not threaten Russia?
“I came to the conclusion that if we fear that the terrorists will do something, they will definitely do it,” Putin said in his most recent interview for Rossia 1 TV. “We must take pre-emptive action. Of course, there are risks, but let me say that these risks existed anyway, even before we began our operations in Syria.”
The record of the last three weeks suggests that the terrorists have been pre-empted very little, if at all.
Part of the ISIS threat to Moscow appears to be coming from Chechnya, a republic in the south of Russia controlled by a strongman faithful to Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Russian security officials reported on Tuesday that the latest plot for an attack on Moscow was hatched in the Chechen capital of Grozny. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said that it had detained a few suspects, including some persons from Chechnya and Syria, who were planning the Moscow attack in order “to destabilize state power and stop us from using the military against ISIS in Syria.”
One of the suspects, Aslan Baisultanov, had received an order to conduct a terrorist attack from a man called Shamil Cherkizov. Baisultanov admitted he traveled to Moscow from Chechnya with explosives. “I had to come to Moscow with this substance,” Baisultanov told the judge on Tuesday.
FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov reported at a national anti-terrost committee meeting this week that 12 Russian citizens detained in Moscow on Monday were ISIS members and accomplices who were preparing attacks on public transport in the national capital.
Russia has a long history of jihadist terror. Over the last 15 years more than 1,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks across Russia. Innocents died in blown-up buildings, subways, on trains, in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, in the streets.
President Putin apparently did not believe that by bombing Syria, the Kremlin exposed Russians to a bigger threat. “We have already become used to hearing about a terrorist attack here, a terrorist attack there,” Putin said on Rossia 1.
In fact, the majority of Russians are terrified by jihadists. After more than 40 Russians were killed in three separate jihadist atrocities on public transport in December 2013, a VTSIOM public opinion poll showed that 78 percent of Russians feared becoming a victim of a terrorist attack.
Independent experts note that the terror threat Russia is facing today is different from what it was a decade ago—it is even worse now.