Putin's License To Kill

By Yuri Mamchur
June 30, 2006

This week Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is hosting Saudi prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud in Moscow. On Wednesday President Putin personally met with the prince and chose this particular meeting to announce to the world Russia's response to the jihadists who murdered five Russian diplomatic workers last week in Iraq: "find and destroy".

Not many people in the world are aware that since Putin was appointed President in 1999, Russia has revived its tradition of hunting down terrorists abroad. Given the traditional centralization of powers in Russia and the common national goal of revenge, there will be no Russian newspapers posting details about ongoing counterterrorist operations on their front pages, as happens with the New York Times in America. The Russian Duma is also not the U.S. Congress; Putin's order to kill has elicited nary a word of dissent.

In 2002, Ibn Khattab, an Arab veteran of the Afghan war operating in Chechnya, was killed by Russian forces. Khattab, who had been fundraising from the Persian Gulf states for the Chechen jihad, was poisoned by an under-cover Russian agent. In 2004, Zelimhan Yandarbiyev, a Chechen terrorist leader who claimed to be president of the non-existent "republic of Ichkeria" was hunted down by Russian operatives in Doha, Qatar (the same country where the Al-Jazeera satellite news network is based). Yandarbiyev's car was blown up by two under-cover agents who were carrying Russian diplomatic passports. During this operation, Yandarbiyev's twelve year-old son was severely injured. The attack outraged the Qatari government and both "diplomats" were captured and sentenced to death. Later they were extradited back to Moscow, and the Kremlin promised to punish and imprison them. No one knows what has happened to the agents since, but rumor has it that they were secretly decorated for a successful operation.

This time Putin has made it very clear: he wants the people on the tape - and their sponsors - dead. Some commentators have claimed that Putin is simply trying to boost his popularity after this tragedy. However, the Interfax news agency reports that Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), said that everything will be done to ensure that the killers "do not escape from responsibility." Patrushev added that "this is not some random plan; this is a very clear order from the President which goes along with what we do here."

"The President has ordered the special forces to take all necessary measures to find and destroy the criminals who killed Russian diplomats in Iraq," the Kremlin press service said in a brief statement. The terse and direct nature of Putin's words spoken in front of a visiting Muslim dignitary goes along with the Russian tradition of doing things.

The president of the Group Alfa Veterans Association, Sergei Goncharov, said that "Russian forces have the knowledge and ability to find and kill the murderers in Iraq". The Alfa Group is an elite anti-terrorist squad that ended the Beslan school massacre in 2004 and the Moscow theater siege in 2002. However, this quasi-private unit has also proven its ability to expertly employ violence in a political crisis.

In 1993, with Russia on the verge of civil war, President Boris Yeltsin hired Alfa commandos on a private basis to disperse thousands of heavily armed protesters who were supporting the rebellious Communist Parliament. What the regular army and police units (many had defected to the rebels) couldn't do in several days, a 50-man Alfa team accomplished in 15 minutes, dispersing the mob that had stormed Moscow's most important TV tower. One of the commandos was killed by a rocket propelled grenade fired by rebels inside the tower. After a night of fighting in the streets, Moscow morgues were filled with the bodies of hundreds of the rebels. Thanks to the Alfas, Yeltsin secured his government against a Communist coup, but at a high price.

Neither the U.S. nor the U.K. objected to Putin's statement. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow was not available for comment. The official explanation was that U.S. embassy staffs were meeting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a Moscow airport. This spokesman added that Secretary Rice would consider issuing a statement later. The British are pretending that there was no Putin order to send out hit squads at all. The Press-secretary for the new Iraqi government's embassy in Moscow, Dr. Abbas, also said that he had no comment.

This operation will be very challenging, because the self-appointed "Shura Council" is not an organization that publicizes its leadership. Hamas politicians and Iranian President Ahmadinejad both promised Putin that they could peacefully resolve the situation, however "The Mujahadeen Shura Council of Iraq" and their "Horror Brigades" couldn't be "reached" in time, and the diplomats were murdered.

In its official statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry blamed American and Coalition Forces for not providing proper security to Embassy workers and "losing control over the situation in Iraq, which worsens with every day, and where violence and terror became the norm of the day". Now the Coalition Forces "owe" the Russians, and many observers believe that American and Coalition intelligence will cooperate with whoever is going to be sent to Iraq from Russia. Putin added in his remarks to the Saudi prince, "Russia hopes its friends would help to identify the killers..."

If other great powers support Russia's actions, the gory days of global jihad could be coming to an end. The jihad leaders who brainwashed thousands of young Muslims to fight for them are now either dead or on the run. Chechnya, in the late 90s the worst hot bed of international Islamic terrorism outside the Taliban's Afghanistan, is being rebuilt. The new elected Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has declared jihad on all the terrorists around the world.

America used to complain about Putin, and the former KGB officer's declarations that he would "bloody in the toilet" Chechen terrorists wherever they could be found. Not any more.

Yuri Mamchur is Senior Foreign Policy Fellow of the Discovery Institute, creator and editor of www.russiablog.org

Yuri Mamchur is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow with the Discovery Institute in Seattle and creator of Russia Blog, www.russiablog.org.