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Global War on Terror
Volgograd Bombing Raises Stakes For Putin
© Getty Images

Carnage returns to Stalingrad. © Getty Images

The world is getting used to horrendous bomb attacks and tens of millions of people now live in countries where terror aimed at innocent civilians has become almost a normal tool of politics. It is easy to become callous and indifferent to daily reports of dozens killed by these methods, and to accept the unacceptable as the new normal. That tendency needs to be fought against, and whether the murders take place in Bagdad, the Sinai, Syria or Volgograd, we should fight the tendency to turn the victims into statistics. These are mothers, fathers and children, innocent of any engagement in war, some Muslim, killed at random by vicious fanatics who are the enemies of the whole human race. At AI, our sympathies go out to the injured and the bereaved.

The attacks in Volgograd will resonate deeply in Russian internal and external politics. Internally, success in dealing with terrorists and separatism on the part of Russia’s Muslim-dominated regions was key to President Putin’s rise to power and remains a pillar of his popularity. Attacks like these will do less to shake public faith in the the president than to build support for the tough policing and internal security policies that Russia’s ex-KGB president stands for. The attacks will also intensify fears in southern Russia and elsewhere that the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus are a major threat to Russian peace and unity. Prejudice against Caucasians is already strong in Russia, and fear of Muslim invasions from the south has deep roots in a country that traces its cultural origins to Byzantium and has a long history of warfare with the Ottoman Empire.

And given that Volgograd (then named Stalingrad) was the scene of the heroic resistance that turned the tide of World War II in the east, attacks there telegraph a strong subliminal message that Russia is under threat.

In terms of external politics, the attacks have two consequences. They dramatically raise the stakes over the Sochi Olympics. Sochi is closer to the epicenter of violence in southern Russia than Volgograd and high profile targets like the Olympics are catnip to terrorists. At home and abroad, the world will be watching to see whether the Russians can protect the Olympics and, no doubt, criticizing the methods by which security is achieved. Putin has a lot riding on the success of the celebration; expect the security forces to go all out in keeping Sochi quiet.

Beyond that, Russia’s concerns in the Middle East will only be strengthened by this latest sign of Sunni based terror. (Not even the FSB thinks that Sunnism is itself a religion of terror, but it is terrorist movements rooted in Sunni communities that worry the Russians.) Besides the long historic memories of Russia fighting the Ottomans and the khans, modern Russia has been at war with Sunni extremists since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Russians know very well that a free floating community of global jihadis has formed over the last generation, with financial connections throughout the Sunni world. Russia sees both Assad and the Iranian government as allies in the fight against Sunni terror and the attacks in Volgograd will only strengthen Russia’s determination to deny victory in Syria to the jihadis.

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  • free_agent

    You write, “we should fight the tendency to turn the victims into statistics”.

    This is certainly true. And yet it is disturbing to remember that the considerably larger numbers killed by hunger, disease, and other causes which have been well-controlled in the developed world attract even less attention. (I admit that I am one of the people who doesn’t pay much attention to this.)

  • free_agent

    You write, “financial connections throughout the Sunni world”.

    Where does the money for the various flavors of jihadist terrorism come from? Is it possible to attack the sources of finance, or is jihadism so low-budget that stopping the money is impossible?

  • xbox361

    Not even the FSB thinks that Sunnism is itself a religion of terror.
    Not sure it matters. If you see a Sunni in Sochi, expect a quick takedown.
    Sometimes, preemption makes sense.

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