American Politics, Terrorism and Islam - Part 4: Allegations of Russian State Terrorism

Habib Siddiqui

Posted Jun 5, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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American Politics, Terrorism and Islam - Part 4: Allegations of Russian State Terrorism

By Habib Siddiqui

Russia’s own record of terrorism isn’t any better!

Soon after capturing power in 1917 the Bolshevik party started behaving as a mafia-like organization where, according to Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky, “almost no one died by a natural cause.”[1] This includes poisoning of Lenin, Felix Dzerzhinsky, and Maxim Gorky by Genrikh Yagoda’s NKVD agents on the orders of Stalin; murders of Sergey Kirov, Mikhail Frunze, Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, and Leon Trotsky; poisoning of Stalin by Lavrentiy Beria, and other similar episodes.

During the “Red Terror” (1918-1922) the mass repressions were conducted without judicial process by the state security organization, Cheka. Just in the first two months, ten to fifteen thousand people were executed.[2] Dzerzhinsky himself boasted that: “[The Red Terror involves] the terrorization, arrests and extermination of enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or of their pre-revolutionary roles.”[3]

During the “Great Purge,” orchestrated by Joseph Stalin in 1937-1938, also described as a “Soviet holocaust”, estimates of the number of deaths run from the official figure of 681,692 to nearly 2 million.[4] Of these, according to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, at least 681,692 were shot dead - an average of 1,000 executions a day.[5]

As much as America at one time terrorized her native Indian and Black population for decades, during the Stalin era millions of people, esp. Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia, were traumatized. They were uprooted from their ancestral homes and herded like cattle to live elsewhere. Internal reports show that some 43% of those displaced victims died of diseases and malnutrition.[6]

The people of Chechnya along with their fellow co-religionists in the neighboring Ingushetia were dragged from their homes in 1944 on Stalin’s whims to wastelands of Kazakhstan on a cooked up charge of collaborating with the Germans.  Both these peoples were sentenced to penal servitude and subjected to systematic genocide, worse than those of the Siberian Gulag.  For a time being they were declared an extinct people, who did not exist in Stalin’s time.  Thirteen years later, under Khrushchev, both these peoples were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands.  Many did so on the foot.  While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians. During Stalin’s rule 300,000 Chechen and Ingush Muslims were massacred, almost half the entire population![7] 

During the communist rule, while dissidents were routinely herded in the Siberian Gulags, assassination attempts on unfriendly foreign leaders remained a trademark of the KGB, quite in common with the CIA. According to the KGB-defectors at least ten foreign leaders were targeted for assassination by the Kremlin in the post-Stalin era.[8]  The list included (failed attempts on) President John F. Kennedy of the USA and Chairman Mao Zedong of China. The second President of Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin was killed by the KGB OSNAZ forces on December 27, 1979.

Presidents of the break-away Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – Dzhokhar Dudaev, Zelimkhan Yandarbeiv, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Saidullaev - were killed by (Russian) FSB and affiliated forces. [Just before his death, Saidullaev claimed that the Russian government “treacherously” killed Maskhadov on March 8, 2005, after inviting him to “talks” and promising his security “at the highest level.”[9] To this day, President Maskhadov’s dead body has not been returned to his family for burial. Like his Chechen predecessors, he was dubbed a “terrorist.”]

As a matter of fact outside the Bosnian genocide, perpetrated against Muslims by Serbian Orthodox Christians, Russia’s terrorism against the Chechens has simply no parallel in our time.[10] After the collapse of the Soviet Union, while Yeltsin’s Russia did not object to secession of her former Republics, she had a different qualifier for Chechnya where its inhabitants never accepted Russian domination since her annexation by the Czarist army back in 1859.[11] Apart from obvious reasons of bigotry and double-standard, Russia did not want Chechnya to secede because of economic and internal political reasons. Chechnya’s vast oil reserves and control of the oil pipelines between the Caspian and the Black seas that go through the region as an oil-hub were deemed important for Russia’s economy. Granting secession right to Chechnya was deemed to trigger similar secession movements from other smaller republics like Tatarstan. Russia thus ignored the October 1991 referendum that elected Dzhokhar Dudayev on the strength of his promise to free Chechnya from Russia and declared war against Chechnya in December 1, 1994, describing independence-seeking Chechens as terrorists.

Thus began the First Chechen War (1994-96), which, according to the BBC, ranks among the worst military engagements of the 20th century.[12] It witnessed the murder of nearly a hundred thousand civilians, injury to over 200,000 and displacement of half a million people (40% of Chechnya’s pre-war population). President Yeltsin, following the footsteps of his murderous predecessors, demolished Grozny - the capital city of Chechnya. International monitors from the OSCE described the scenes as nothing short of an “unimaginable catastrophe,” while former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called the war a “disgraceful, bloody adventure,” and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl described the events as “sheer madness.”[13] So massive was the “terror bombing” attack in Grozny that half its residential areas were damaged beyond repair. Its infrastructure destroyed by bombing, shelling, and street fighting during the struggle for Chechen independence. In February 1996 the Russian forces in Grozny opened fire on the massive pro-independence peace march involving tens of thousands of people, killing a number of demonstrators. Rape of Chechen women became a weapon of war among Russian soldiers to terrorize the Chechen people.[14] The First Chechen War came to an end shortly after Chechens were able to recapture Grozny and a ceasefire agreement was signed on August 31, 1996. Later a peace treaty was signed in the Kremlin on May 12, 1997 between Yeltsin of Russia and Maskhadov of Chechnya.[15]

However, the Kremlin continued to plan invasion of Chechnya. To quote former FSB director and prime minister of Russia Sergei Stepashin, from an interview to Novaya Gazeta “the decision to invade Chechnya was made in March 1999… I was prepared for an active intervention. We were planning to be on the north side of the Terek River by August-September of 1999.”[16] But Russia required a pretext to enter the territory. Thus, the Chechen separatists were falsely blamed for apartment bombings in Moscow in September of 1999 that killed more than 300 civilians.

There are now enough credible proofs - thanks to investigative journalists like David Satter,[17] Vladimir Pribylovsky[18] and Anna Politkovskaya,[19] historian Yuri Felshtinsky,[20] and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko[21] - that the FSB staged a series of criminal activities, including the Moscow Apartment Bombings, to steer public opinion (in a way similar to American public reaction to 9/11) towards legitimizing the resumption of the Second Chechen War and facilitating Vladimir Putin (a former FSB Director) and FSB to come to power in 1999.[22] [Not surprisingly, as soon as three FSB agents were caught while planting a large bomb in the basement of an apartment complex in the town of Ryazan in September 22, all those bombings stopped.[23]]

Thus began the Second Chechen War in which Russia’s terrorism knew no bound. This conflict saw the first use of aerial-delivered fuel air explosives (FAE) in populated areas, notably in the village of Tando. During the early phase of the Russian siege on Grozny in October 25, 1999, Russian forces launched five SS-21 ballistic missiles at the crowded central bazaar and a maternity ward, killing more than 140 people and injuring hundreds. These missile attacks were followed by Russian artillery fires, directed toward the buildings, which caused massive destruction of infrastructure and civilian casualties. To quote the Wikipedia, “The enormous scale of the devastation prompted numerous comparisons with Hiroshima and other cities leveled during World War II.”

The conflict also saw the use of cluster bombs and vacuum bombs dropped on villages, fleeing refugees hit by tank shells from Russian forces. Nearly a third of Chechnya’s residents fled the war-ravaged country. The award-winning journalist John Pilger writes, “On 4 February 2000, Russian aircraft attacked the Chechen village of Katyr-Yurt. They used “vacuum bombs”, which release petrol vapour and suck people’s lungs out, and are banned under the Geneva Convention. The Russians bombed a convoy of survivors under a white flag. They murdered 363 men, women and children. It was one of countless, little-known acts of terrorism in Chechnya perpetrated by the Russian state, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, has the “complete solidarity” of Blair.”[24]

As to the fate of the capital city Grozny, in early February 2000 the Russian military lured the besieged militants to a promised safe passage, to which they agreed. However, the Russian Army had mined the path of ‘safe passage’ just the day before the planned evacuation, and concentrated most firepower on that point. As a result, a number of separatist leaders including the city mayor and military commander were killed.  The guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev and several other militants suffered injury. After entering the city, the Russians dynamited many buildings. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny the “most destroyed” city on earth.”[25]

By June 2006, out of more than 60,000 apartment buildings and private homes destroyed, 900 have been rebuilt. Out of several dozens of industrial enterprises, three have been partially rebuilt. Most of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed and many continue to live in ruined buildings without heating and running water, even as electricity was mostly restored since 2006, as the city has undergone substantial reconstruction.

Before the recent conflicts, Chechnya had a population of two million. During the wars, it was reduced to 800,000. Nearly a million Chechens were internally displaced. From the reports of human rights groups, Putin and Yeltsin killed more than 200,000 Chechens, including 35,000 children. Another 40,000 children were seriously injured. Shamil Basayev’s wife, sister, uncle and child, including many of his family members (all unarmed civilians) were killed as a result of bombs dropped by Russian forces on his uncle’s home in Dyshne-Vedeno.

There are now credible reports that the Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, blamed for hostage taking, may have been a member of the GRU – the Russian Military Intelligence, working towards weakening the authority of the Chechen government.[26] His free passage to Abkhazia in Georgia to fight alongside the pro-Russian elements definitely raises much suspicion.

According to the former FSB agent Aleksander Litvinenko and investigator Mikhail Trepashkin, the Moscow Theatre hostage crisis was also directed by an FSB agent. They also accused the FSB of becoming an international criminal organization that actually promotes and perpetrates terrorism and organized crime in order to achieve its political and financial goals. Many investigative journalists have also accused the FSB of staging many smaller terrorist acts, e.g., market place bombing in Astrakhan, bus stops bombings in the city of Voronezh, and the blowing up the Moscow-Grozny train, bombing in Moscow metro – all these to justify Russia’s second invasion of Chechnya.[27] Many journalists and workers of foreign NGOs were reported to be kidnapped by the FSB-affiliated forces in Chechnya who pretended to be Chechen terrorists.

In a Washington Post article, dated 2006, Anna Politkovskaya mentioned that most of the “Islamic terrorism cases” were fabricated by the Russian government, and the confessions were obtained through the torture of innocent suspects. To obtain confessions, victims’ legs were broken under torture; kneecaps were shattered; kidneys badly damaged by beating; genitalia mutilated; eyesight lost; eardrums torn; and all front teeth sawed off. “The plight of those sentenced for Islamic terrorism today is the same as that of the political prisoners of the Gulag Archipelago… Russia continues to be infected by Stalinism,” she wrote.[28]  She continued, “I recall the words of one torture victim at his trial: ‘What will become of me? How will I be able to live in this country if you sentence me to such a long prison term for a crime that I did not commit, and without any proof of my guilt?’ He never received an answer to his question. Indeed, what will become of all the rest of us, who tolerate this? What has become of us already?”
As we all know, neither Litvinenko, the former FSB agent who wrote the book – Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within, exposing FSB’s involvement with terrorist plots, nor Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya who wrote the books – A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya and Putin’s Russia—survived Kremlin’s target killing. The former was radiation poisoned to death by Russian agents in November of 2006 in London, and the latter was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow on October 7, 2006.[29]

The Kremlin is also accused of complicity in the poisoning of Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko. It was also involved in attempts to denying him the seat of power in Ukraine.[30]

Who can also forget the KGB’s role in the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the liberalization programs of Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet forces in 1978-79? Dubcek’s reforms, which were known as the Prague Spring or ‘socialism with a human face’, were for the most part reversed by new leaders installed by the KGB. The KGB was also involved in unsuccessful suppression of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland in the 1980s.
Nor should we forget Russia’s support for Serbia’s genocidal campaign against the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims in the 1990s that killed nearly a quarter million unarmed people. Her support for the breakaway region of Abkhazia in Georgia unmasks her inherent double standard.

Putin’s Russia is no better than Bush’s America when it comes to state sponsored terrorism. In her book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya writes, “We’ve all observed how the word “mercy” has been swept out of the government vocabulary. The government relies on cruelty in relation to its citizens. Destruction is encouraged. The logic of murder is a logic that is understood by the government and propagated by it. The way things are, you need to kill to become a Hero.
This is Putin’s modern ideology. When capitalists can’t get it done, comrades take over again. We know very well that they never forget to line their own pockets. That’s how things stand: at the end of the seventh year of the war, and in the third year of the second campaign, Chechnya has been turned into a genuine cash cow. Here, military careers are speedily forged, long lists of awards are compiled, and ranks and titles are handed out ahead of time. And all you have to do is to kill a Chechen and submit the corpse.”[31]

(To be continued)



[1] His book title is: “Leaders the mobsters”.
[3] George Leggett, The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police. Oxford University Press (1987), p. 114.
[5] Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) by Richard Pipes, p. 67
[7] See this author’s article and lecture on the “Muslims in the Soviet Union”, UCSB, 1982.
[10] See, e.g.,
[11] Note the similarity in behavior between Russia and Serbia, both Orthodox Christian nations.
[13] Ibid.
[16] Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky, The Age of Assassins: The Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin, Gibson Square Books, London (2008).
[22]; see also:
[23] David Satter, Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State, Yale University Press, 2003.
[26]; see also: