First thoughts on 29 March 2010 Moscow metro bombings

With 37 dead from blasts in the Lubyanka and Park Kultury metro stations this morning, apparently from two female suicide bombers, it is still too soon to say anything authoritative or definitive about the tragedy. Inevitably — and I’m sure correctly — this has been linked with the North Caucasus insurgencies and, combined with the November 2009 Nevsky Express train bombings, it suggests a return to terrorist attacks outside the troubled region itself. This may be true, and it would certainly meet self-styled ‘Emir of the North Caucasus’ Doku Umarov’s assertion that “Blood will no longer be limited to our cities and towns. The war is coming to their [Russians'] cities.” However, a key question will be where these attacks originated. Although Chechnya is hardly pacified, Kadyrov’s brutal methods have managed to shatter the rebel movement. Instead, the main focus of terrorist insurgency has shifted to other North Caucasus republics, most notably Daghestan and Ingushetia. However, the movements there are more nationalist than jihadist, Islamist to be sure but not the particularly virulent form that tends also to be associated with suicide attacks on purely civilian targets (indeed, if anything they have recently sharpened their focus on those they deem enemy combatants: police, soldiers and government officials). If these bombers prove not to have been Chechens or inspired and supported by the remaining Salafist jihadist elements within Chechnya, then this might be a worrying sign of a radicalisation of the other North Caucasus insurgent movements.

The Russian mafiya’s mythical international army

I’ll post in more detail on this general topic shortly, but a particularly and entertainingly muddle-headed piece of journalism in the Russian magazine Versiya did oblige me to comment. It paints the usual blood-curdling picture of Russian organised crime’s global activities. It’s “300,000″ members outside Russia reportedly control 90% of the drug trafficking into Spain, dominate the European underworlds, intimidate even Al Qaeda, and so it goes. Professionally, of course, it is always in my interests for there to be a good measure of hysteria about Russian OC: the more of a threat it seems, the more interest there is in my work. But more objectively, let’s just step back from this. The 300,000 figure, for a start, runs the risk of becoming one of those apocryphal figures everyone re-uses because they don’t have any viable alternatives (like the still-recurring “40%” of the Russian economy reportedly controlled by OC). How do we really know? More to the point, the original data on which it is based (from Italian prosecutors who, to be sure, know their stuff) refers to ethnic Russian criminals, not necessarily members of organised crime groupings, and there is a big difference. More to the point, given the especially flexible, networked nature of most Russian OC, and especially that operating outside the Motherland, there is an open question as to how far we can describe what are often multi-ethnic associations as ‘Russian OC’. Definitely something to return to later, but for the moment I can simply be gratified and exasperated in equal measure as to the superficial reporting which still dominates so much coverage of Russian OC, wherever it may be published.

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