Circling the Lion's Den

Putin doesnt aim to recreate the KGB

Henry Plater-Zyberk is a Senior Lecturer at the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. He has just published report named Beslan - Lessons Learned?. He comments Agentura changes in system of terrorism prevention in North Caucasus:

- You wrote in your report: The involvement of local politicians in what should have been a security operation was a mistake, although considering the regional sensitivities it was a situation Moscow was probably not unhappy to accept. But you know Putins decision that commanders of new formed GrOU (operational management groups) from MVD are under control of local governors - local politicians. Can you explain this decision? What is purpose of this reform?

I would like to start from an admission that analysing events in a foreign, distant country on the basis of printed and electronic media and even the best library in the UK is in itself an exercise in imperfection. What you have read is therefore one mans imperfect analysis, views and opinions. That is stressed on the inside of the back cover of all our papers. 

Coming back to your question:

-         no regional political leader, anywhere in the world, is qualified to run an anti-terrorist operation unless he/she has quite recently been in charge of a professional team conducting similar operations. Russia is no exception. Having combat experience is not enough. Once the experts from Moscow have arrived - my understanding is that they were in Beslan almost immediately - all regional politicians should have been at the disposal of the professionals. I am maybe wrong but it seems to me that it was not the case and that they were equal partners.

-         The outrage in Beslan was to some degree a failure of the special services, law enforcement agencies AND local authorities and local law enforcement bodies before the attack started. It seems to me,  just to give you one example,  that the local authorities could have done more to clean up the area around the school and to set up a more distant first security parameter. I am not suggesting that Moscow was happy with what happened. What I wanted to convey was that in this practically impossible situation - it looks like Basayev volunteered his team for the murder and suicide mission - Moscow could say to all regional bosses in Russia: This is what is going to happen again if you dont get your act in order.

-         I think that the creation of  GrOU confirms that theory. Local politicians will now be responsible for local security victories but also failures. Local people will not be able to blame Moscow for everything. 

- Your opinion, why Putin decided to make MVD, not FSB responsible for antiterrorist activity in North Caucasus?

- I find this decision logical, IF the MVD gets its act in order. This should be, in theory at least, a police operation with important input from other relevant organizations. Had Putin given this responsibility to the FSB, he would have to reform it again, boosting its fighting capabilities. I dont think there is any need for that. That also would be a perfect excuse for his critics to accuse him of wanting to recreate  the  NKVD, KGB  and so on. It is easy to sit in a warm office and pontificate about what Putin should and shouldnt do - I know all about it, I do it every day - but he had to take several difficult decisions and none of them would be popular. I think this decision was correct but I dont envy Minister Nurgaliyev. At the moment, he has probably the toughest job in Russia. However, I am not sure that the GrOU would be in charge if there was, God forbid, another large terrorist attack.

- In case of new hostage crisis commander of GrOU will have to be chief of operational staff. What do you think, is it correct decision? In case of hostage crisis in UK who will be chief of operational staff - in London, in regions?

- I think I covered the first part of your question at the end of my previous answer. In the UK, during the Iranian embassy siege at the beginning of the 1980s Mrs Thacher was the ultimate decisionmaker concerning the issues of what should be done but not how it should be done. She decided what should be done after consulting all the professionals. The operational decisions were taken only by professionals and she  never interfered with their work.  I think that this would still be the case with Toni Blair. I cannot imagine local politicians being allowed anywhere near the decisionmaking circle, unless one of them had a specific knowledge or skill required for a specific part of the operation. Local politicians would not be involved in real operational decisions. A lot depends on the scale of the terrorist attack and who is involved. Once you realize that foreign nationals (I dont mean natsyonalnost but grazhdanstvo) are involved, either as the victims or perpetrators the problem becomes very big and so is the number of people involved.

- You wrote FSB will concentrate mainly on collection and analysis of information. Do you know that just after Beslan in OGV (objedinennaya gruppirovka voysk) was created joint intelligence service (objedinennaya razvedyvatelnaya slujba) from FSB, MVD and GRU. Chief of this new service - deputy chief of OGV. It doesnt look like FSB remain main structure for collection of information in North Caucasus. What do you think about it?

- You are absolutely right but it doesnt contradict my point.  I think that on the tactical level  that will be the case.  If the MVD is in charge of the antiterrorist operations in the regions the MVD will have to have the necessary  information to do the job. To my knowledge the MVD has very limitted electronic interception capabilities, if any, and none when it comes to space imagery. That is where the FSB and the GRU come in. The most  difficult part will be the distribution of humint  information, which for understandable reasons each of the organizations  involved could be reluctant to share, especially if it suspects that one of the partners leaks.

- To my impression, Putin choose regions, not centre for main role in counterterrorism operation, and after all - for responsibility. Why, what do you think?

- I entirely agree although I am not sure whether we should speak about main role. I would feel better with increasingly important role, although as a non Russian, sitting very far away from Moscow, it would be presumptuous of me to pretend that I really know the answer.

- Question, what I hear every day from Putin supporters if I mention Yandarbievs case - why we cant do the same thing, that Israel and USA can do? What is your response?

- My understanding is that your government officially rejected the accusation and the local authorities based their accusation on strong but circumstantial evidence, imperfect by definition. I am not qualified to comment on the legal aspect of the case.  As to the second part of the question. I dont know. On one hand, if one would absolutely guarantee that such an action would, for example,  stop the 9/11 attack  very few decisonmakers would hesitate. But then there is a question What then? How many future terrorists may such an attack create ?  We in the EU approach these things much too ideologically. If we had something like 9/11 or Beslan we would look at certain things more realistically.