There was a time when Isis was a goddess of health, marriage and love from the polytheistic pantheon of Egypt. Now the abbreviation composed of the same letters – ISIS – has become a synonym for death, violence and hatred. The disaster does not only threaten the stability of Iraq or the Middle East, but the whole international community. Much has already been said on the matter and much is going to be said as ISIS will hardly leave the top headlines of news agencies in the short-term or even in the mid-term perspective. The released ISIS video from the recently captured Taqba airbase in Syria is just another stroke on this vivid portrait.
In the video, that was banned on YouTube in Russia but was still available on other platforms, ISIS fighters threatened Bashar al- Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, promising to “liberate Chechnya and the Caucasus.”
The ISIS militants in the video say that Assad’s weapons will be turned against him and add that Russian equipment was used to bomb ISIS fighters. One ISIS militant says he would like to convey a message to Putin, telling the leaser that ISIS will liberate Chechnya and the Caucasus and saying that Putin’s throne will be threatened by ISIS.
Russia already has a long history of fighting extremism and was hit several times by brutal terrorist attacksMaria Doubovikova
Their rostrum was the captured MiG-21Bis (or it could have been a MiG-23 – the footage was not clear) jet fighter. The militants were completely right, saying that the equipment is Russian, but had no idea how old it is. It seems more likely that the jet was delivered long before the Syrian war. If this is the case, Vladimir Putin did not send it to Bashar al-Assad. To my understanding, Russia does not supply aircrafts to Damascus now and its military assistance to the regime is limited. However, the terrorists have little understanding of the matter. Furthermore, their threats against Assad put Damascus on the same side as the rest of the world. However, the international community can continue accusing Assad of destroying moderate rebels - that now means that the supposedly righteous international community must choose between the two enormous evils. But the truth is that Assad was fighting the rebels in general, and the rise of the most extremist and dangerous wing of them means that extremist ideas have much more partisans and supporters, in the region and abroad, than moderate ones. Now, the international community should think twice before pinning a label on Assad. The time of the Western “blood dictator” rhetoric is over. It’s no longer a fight for democracy. It’s a war now. In any war there are no angels.
But what about ISIS’ threats against Russia?
Obviously, Russia already has a long history of fighting extremism and was hit several times by brutal terrorist attacks. The regions of special concern are Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia and the Republic of Tatarstan. These are republics with a large Muslim population, which have always been attractive places for the terrorists and extremists of every hue. The security services are working hard to prevent the spread of extremism into these areas. Russia lives under the permanent threat of an extremist explosion inside its borders. The spread and strength of ISIS is a direct threat to the internal stability and security of Russia. Contrary to what was said by the ISIS fighters, this is not about threatening “Putin’s throne,” but about endangering the peaceful daily lives of Russians. The tougher and stronger the external threat, the stronger Vladimir Putin’s position inside the country will be.
The local authorities, primarily the harsh and strong leader of the Chechen Republic that was promised to be “liberated” by ISIS, didn’t remain indifferent to the threat. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen Republic’s president under whose rule Chechnya transformed from ruins into one of the most stable, prosperous and beautiful Caucasian republics, immediately responded to ISIS. He answered in the Instagram post he usually uses along with Twitter and Facebook to deliver his viewpoints and statements to the attention of a broad audience. What is remarkable about his statement on ISIS is that he used language that hardly any political leader would have the courage to use. He practically addressed them in their own language:
“Taking all responsibility, I declare that those who have voiced a threat against Russia or who have mentioned the name of our President Vladimir Putin will be destroyed right where they made their statement. We will not wait for them to get behind the steering wheel of a plane. They will go where their fellow terrorists are rotting… I want to remind everyone who is planning something against our country, that Russia has worthy sons, ready to fulfill any order, wring the neck of any enemy in his own lair, wherever he may be. And we find ourselves with happiness ridding the world of these scum.<…>I emphasize that they finish their days under the hot sun in Syria and Iraq, and in the first instant of death meet their eternal flames of Hell. Allahu Akbar!”
It should be mentioned, that being already known for his strong anti-Western rhetoric, he accused the Western powers of arming these terrorists to destroy strong and resource rich Islamic countries. Sure, this doesn’t correspond to the official position of the Russian government, however, this point of view has many adherents within the Russian society.
The counter-terrorism mechanisms of Russia are alarmed and ready to protect the internal stability with all possible measures. Furthermore, they have to prevent the fighters from Russia that have joined ISIS from returning or to arrest them in time. These measures build upon the usual anti-terrorist activities of the authorities and will become more intense. So, the direct threat of ISIS fighters doesn’t add any additional concerns to the perception of the on-going crisis. For Russia, despite the danger of ISIS’ impact on extremism in Russia, its concerns are mostly related to the global impact of this terrorist organization. It’s clear that withstanding this threat is impossible without joining forces. It’s clear that unilateral airstrikes are ineffective and the problem needs a much more sophisticated and deliberate approach.
Moreover, it is clear that the West should play a more passive rather than active role this time, as extremism must be countered above all by the Muslim countries. They understand better than anyone else the origins of this illness and have the capacity to find a better medicine. In the current tragedy, Russia is just one of the players whose experience should not be neglected. Its work in the field of counter-terrorism and against the ISIS threat is most likely to be effective inside its own borders, taking into account the previous experience and successes and the current state of alertness.
Nevertheless, why not unite forces and minds from the East and the West and from all corners of the troubled world to face this threat? We should not forget that if we start sinking, we’ll all sink together.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme