Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ISIS Now Targeting Karachayevo-Cherkessia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Using both the Internet to promote its ideas among the nations of the North Caucasus and its ties to Islamist fighters from that regions who fought in Syria as a channel for guns and explosives, ISIS is now targeting Karachayevo-Cherkessia, according to Anton Chablin.

            In an article for the Svobodnaya Pressa – Yug portal, the regional specialist says that there are ever more backers of “political Islamism” in that republic who are “financed and directed from Syria. Among the leaders of this movement is Islam Atabiyeva, who fought in Syria under the name Abu Jihad (yug.svpressa.ru/war21/article/141090/).

                Recently, he continues, “the force structures of Karachayevo-Cherkessia conducted a special operation in the course of which they liquidated a cell of ISIS militants who were operating in the republic.” Among the forces involved were FSB spetsnaz and the Russian Guard. Six people were arrested, and arms were seized.

            The government forces also confiscated a map of the republic “on which was shown the locations of the buildings of the force structures” as well as other key government institutions. “Most likely,” Shablin says, “the terrorists were prepared several diversionary actions against the siloviki.”

            According to investigators, he continues, “the cell was directed and financed directly from Syria by ISIS. But not a single one of the criminals had ever been in Syria, although they planned to go there in order to receive ‘combat experience.’”  But there have been some from the republic who have gone, with at least a few of them arrested on their return.

            Last spring, for example, the Turkish special services arrested and handed over to Russia Temirzhan Eslimesov from Karachayevo-Cherkessia who was returning from having fought for ISIS in Syria. Later, two more Karachayevo-Cherkessia natives, Mussa Shardan and Rustam Suyunchev, were identified and sought under international warrants.

            Particularly worrisome, Chablin continues, has been the appearance of women from Karachayevo-Cherkessia in the ISIS forces in Syria.  When four young women nurses returned home, they were arrested. Officials have not yet released their names.

Most of the North Caucasians who have fought in Syria have been at the bottom of the chain of command. Islam Atabiyev was an exception. He was a close aide to Umar ash-Shishani, the war minister of the self-proclaimed kalifate who was killed in June of this year.  Atabiyev’s status in Syria may explain why ISIS has been focusing on Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

Republic officials have been playing down the danger, Chablin says, lest they discourage tourists from coming to the republic.  But the danger is real, although it is not the one it faced in the past.  “The special services are encountering new challenges: in place of nationalism has come political Islam.”

“Its propagandists call on Muslim ethnoses not to keep themselves separate but on the contrary to ‘eliminate’ borders among them in the name of a general holy war with Christianity.” In bi- or multi-national republics in the North Caucasus, that may represent a particular danger now and in the future.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Budget Cuts Deepen Information Gulf between Urban and Rural Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 24 – Information and Mass Communications Minister Nikolay Nikiforob says that budgetary cutbacks mean that the government will close almost all public access Internet points in Russia by the end of this year, a decision that will hit Russians in small towns and villages far harder than those in cities.

            That is because most of the public access Internet points now in operation are in villages and small towns where few individuals as yet have their own access to email and the web. Now, even fewer of these people will, and that in turn means that they will be even more dependent on state television and the postal service than they were before (tass.ru/ekonomika/3728315).

                Nikiforov says that these points will “stop work almost everywhere,” although he insisted that decisions about which to shut would be taken on a case by case basis.  He suggested that such access points would remain “only in the very smallest population points where there are no other means of communication.

            The minister suggested that this was not as much a tragedy as many might think because ever more people even in small villages have their own personal access to the Internet. But he acknowledged that the closure of the only way some villagers have to communicate with others outside their home area would have a serious impact on many, including on the post office.

            Nikiforov acknowledged as well that this step violates existing law and said that in the coming months, he and his staff would be proposing amendments to bring the law into line with the reality he is creating.  He also said that he hoped Rostelkom would invest more, but its spokesman have already indicated that they are not prepared to do so without subsidies.


Russian Officials Rate Loyalty, ‘Protest Potential’ of University Students and Instructors in Moscow and the Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 24 – Concerned that university instructors or students could be the seedbeds of unrest, universities in Moscow already and in the regions in the near future have begun rating both professors and students in terms of their loyalty and “protest potential” in advance of the upcoming presidential race.

            The Moscow newspaper “Kommersant” reports today that this new program was discussed at a meeting over the weekend of the pro-rectors of these universities and that the evaluations are being composed “’for the official use’ of the organs of state power” (kommersant.ru/doc/3124258).

            Nikita Danyuk who heads the Institute for Strategic Research and Prediction at Moscow’s Friendship of the Peoples University took the lead. He said that gathering such information was necessary because “the state exists in a situation of undeclared war. It bears a hybrid character and has many fronts. One of these passes through our state – the mental front.”

            Western governments given their experience with “inciting state turnovers,” he continued, view students “as one of the chief ‘destructive elements’” and consequently focus on them, hoping that they will be able to use them as a fifth column against the existing state regime.

            For the last two years, Danyuk told the meeting, he and his colleagues have visited “more than 40 Moscow and dozens of regional higher educational institutions where students were asked to express their own views on political questions so that his team could assess “’the protest potential’ of students and instructors.”

            Unfortunately, he said, it was the case that among the professors and instructors were those involved in “the destructive propaganda of anti-state ideas.”  This is a real threat now and it will become a more serious one still as the presidential election approaches in 2018.

            “Happily,” he told the meeting, “our state overcame the boundary of parliamentary elections with practically no losses.” But given the nature of Russia’s opponents, it cannot count on always being able to do that.  He said Western agents were now devoting particular attention to universities outside of Moscow and so monitoring must be extended to them.

            That this intimidating procedure is backed by the Kremlin is suggested by the fact that the institute in which Danyuk works is headed by an official who worked in the presidential administration as an advisor on foreign policy between 2005 and 2009.