Terrorism in Russia

Terrorism in Russia has a long history starting from the times of the Russian Empire. Terrorism, in the modern sense,[3] means violence against civilians to achieve political or ideological objectives by creating fear.[4] Terrorism tactics, such as hostage-taking, were widely used by the Soviet secret agencies, most notably during the Red Terror and Great Terror campaigns, against the population of their own country, according to Karl Kautsky and other historians of Bolshevism.

Starting from the end of the 20th century, significant terrorist activity has taken place in Moscow, most notably apartment bombings and the Moscow theater hostage crisis. Many more acts of terrorism have been committed in Chechnya, Dagestan, and other parts of the country. Some of them became a matter of significant controversy, since journalists and scholars claimed them to be directed by the Russian secret services, often through their Chechen agent provocateurs.

19th century

German Social Democrat Karl Kautsky, Dylan Richards, and other authors trace the origins of Russian terrorism to the "Reign of Terror" of the French Revolution.[5][6] Others emphasize the role of Russian revolutionary movements of the 19th century, and especially Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") and the Nihilist movement, which included several thousand followers. "People's Will" organized one of the first political terrorism campaigns in history. In March 1881, it assassinated the Emperor of Russia Alexander II, who twenty years earlier had emancipated the Russian serfs.[7]

Important ideologists of these groups were Mikhail Bakunin and Sergey Nechayev, who was described in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Possessed.[7] Nechayev argued that the purpose of revolutionary terror is not to gain a support of masses, but to the contrary, inflict misery and fear on the common population. According to Nechayev, a revolutionary must terrorize civilians to incite rebellions. He wrote:[7]

"A revolutionary must infiltrate all social formations including the police. He must exploit rich and influential people, subordinating them to himself. He must aggravate the miseries of the common people, so as to exhaust their patience and incite them to rebel. And, finally, he must ally himself with the savage word of the violent criminal, the only true revolutionary in Russia".
"The Revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it."

According to historian and writer Edvard Radzinsky, Nechayev's ideas and tactics were widely used by Joseph Stalin and other Russian revolutionaries.[7]

Terrorism, both political and agrarian, was central to the strategy of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. The "SR Combat Organization", responsible for assassinating government officials, was led by Grigory Gershuni and operated separately from the party so as not to jeopardize its political actions. SRCO agents assassinated two Ministers of the Interior, Dmitry Sipyagin and V. K. von Plehve, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, the Governor of Ufa N. M. Bogdanovich, and many other high-ranking officials.[8]

Soviet Union

Red terror

Main article: Red Terror

The policy of Red terror in Soviet Russia served to frighten the civilian population and exterminate certain social groups considered as "ruling classes" or enemies of the people. Karl Kautsky said about Red Terror: "Among the phenomena for which Bolshevism has been responsible, Terrorism, which begins with the abolition of every form of freedom of the Press, and ends in a system of wholesale execution, is certainly the most striking and the most repellent of all.. Kautsky recognized that Red Terror represented a variety of terrorism because it was indiscriminate, intended to frighten the civilian population, and included taking and executing hostages ". Martin Latsis, chief of the Ukrainian Cheka, emphasized that Red terror was an extrajudicial punishment not for specific acts, but membership in condemned social classes:

"Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror."[9]

One of the most common terrorist practices was hostage-taking. A typical report from a Cheka department stated: "Yaroslavl Province, 23 June 1919. The uprising of deserters in the Petropavlovskaya volost has been put down. The families of the deserters have been taken as hostages. When we started to shoot one person from each family, the Greens began to come out of the woods and surrender. Thirty-four deserters were shot as an example".[10]

Contemporary Russia

Threat of Islamic terrorism

Further information: Islamic terrorism § Russia, and Islamism

Islamic terrorism is considered a major threat to the security of Russia,[11] with most terrorist activity taking place in Chechnya and Dagestan. Since October 2007, the Caucasus Emirate has withdrawn its nationalist goals of creating a sovereign state in Chechnya. It has since fully adopted the Islamic fundamentalist ideology of Salafist-takfiri jihadism,[12] whose enemies not only include Russia and its citizens, but all non-Muslims, including the local Sufi population, and foreign countries such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Israel. They have made repeated statements in their speeches that they have declared war on "anyone who wages war against Muslims".

The Russian government has banned seventeen terrorist organizations:[13][14]

  1. the Highest Military Majlisul Shura of the United Forces of the Mujahedeen of the Caucasus
  2. the Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Daghestan
  3. Al Qaeda
  4. Asbat an-Ansar
  5. Egyptian Islamic Jihad
  6. Al-Jamaa al-Islami
  7. Jamaat-e-Islami
  8. Muslim Brotherhood
  9. Hizb ut-Tahrir
  10. Lashkar-e-Toiba
  11. Taliban
  12. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
  13. Society of Social Reforms (Jamiat al-Islah al-Ijtimai)
  14. Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage (Jamiat Ihya at-Turaz al-Islami)
  15. al-Haramain Foundation
  16. Junj ash-Sham (Army of the Great Syria)
  17. the Islamic Jihad - jamaat of the mujahedeen

Many Muslims and human-rights activists have criticized the Russian government's counter-terrorism operations, saying they unfairly target Muslims.[15]

1999 Russian apartment bombings

The Russian apartment bombings were a series of bombings in Russia that killed nearly 300 people and, together with the Dagestan War, led the country into the Second Chechen War. The five bombings took place in Moscow and two other Russian towns during ten days of September 1999. None of the Chechen field commanders accepted the responsibility for the bombing. Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov denied involvement of his government.

The bombings had stopped after a controversial episode when a similar bomb was found and defused in an apartment block in the Russian city of Ryazan on 23 September. Later in the evening, Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the Ryzanians and ordered the air bombing of Grozny, which marked the beginning of the Second Chechen War.[16]

Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, Johns Hopkins University and Hoover Institute scholar David Satter,[17] Russian lawmaker Sergei Yushenkov, historian Yuri Felshtinsky, politologist Vladimir Pribylovsky and former KGB general Oleg Kalugin asserted that the bombings were in fact a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the FSB (successor to the KGB) in order to legitimize the resumption of military activities in Chechnya and bring Vladimir Putin and the FSB to power.[18][19] Researchers such as Gordon Bennett, Robert Bruce Ware, Vlad Sobell, Peter Reddaway and Richard Sakwa have criticized the conspiracy theory, pointing out that the theories' proponents have provided little evidence to support them, and also that the theory ignores the history of Chechen terrorism and threats made by the militants before the bombings.[20][21][22][23][24]

An official investigation of the bombings was completed only three years later, in 2002. It was conducted by the Russian FSB agency. Seven suspects were killed, six have been convicted on terrorism-related charges, and one remains a fugitive. According to the investigation, all bombings were organized and led by Achemez Gochiyaev - who as of 2007 remained at large.

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident. An independent public commission to investigate the bombings chaired by Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev was rendered ineffective because of government refusal to respond to its inquiries. Two key members of the Kovalev Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, both Duma members, have since died in apparent assassinations in April 2003 and July 2003 respectively. The Commission's lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin was arrested in October 2003 to become one of the better-known political prisoners in Russia.

Other notable acts of terrorism

In order to discredit Russia's government, a former FSB officer Aleksander Litvinenko and investigator Mikhail Trepashkin alleged that a Chechen FSB agent directed the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002.[25][26] Many international and Russian journalists accused the FSB of staging many terrorism acts, such as a market-place bombing in the city of Astrakhan in 2001, bus-stop bombings in the city of Voronezh, and the blowing up the Moscow-Grozny train,[27][28] whereas innocent people were convicted or killed. In an effort to get publicity, journalist Boris Stomakhin claimed that a bombing in Moscow metro in 2004[29] was probably organized by FSB agents rather than by the unknown man who called the Kavkaz Center and claimed his responsibility.[30] Stomakin was arrested and imprisoned to five years of prison for inciting hatred and defamatory statements aimed at groups and persons of particular religious and ethnic background and for promoting violent change of constitutional regime and violation of territorial integrity of Russian Federation (articles 280 and 282 of the Russian Criminal Code).[31]

Many journalists and workers of international NGOs were reported to be kidnapped by FSB-affiliated forces in Chechnya who pretended to be Chechen terrorists: Andrei Babitsky from Radio Free Europe, Arjan Erkel and Kenneth Glack from Doctors Without Borders, and others.[32]


In 2013 the Investigative Committee of Russia recorded 661 terrorist offences including 31 terrorist attacks, which claimed about 40 lives and dozens more injuries.[33]

On 27 December 2013 a bomb exploded in a parked car in Pyatigorsk, killing three people.[34] In December Volgograd bombings 34 people were killed in two separate suicide attacks.

See also


  1. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2016). Global Terrorism Database (globalterrorismdb_0616dist.xlsx). Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd University of Maryland
  2. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2016). Global Terrorism Database (gtd1993_0616dist.xlsx). Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd University of Maryland
  3. See the "Etymology" section
  4. Humphreys, Adrian (2006-01-17). "One official's 'refugee' is another's 'terrorist'". National Post. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-10-11. The divergent assessments of the same evidence on such an important issue shocks a leading terrorism researcher. 'The notion of terrorism is fairly straightforward — it is ideologically or politically motivated violence directed against civilian targets.'" said Professor Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa's Carleton University.
  5. Terrorism and Communism by Karl Kautsky. Kautsky said: "It is, in fact, a widely spread idea that Terrorism belongs to the very essence of revolution, and that whoever wants a revolution must somehow come to some sort of terms with terrorism. As proof of this assertion, over and over again the great French Revolution has been cited." (Chapter 1)
  6. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  7. 1 2 3 4 Edvard Radzinsky Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives (1997) ISBN 0-385-47954-9
  8. Anna Geifman. Entangled in Terror: The Azef Affair and the Russian Revolution, Wilmington, Scholarly Resources Inc., 2000, 247 pp. ISBN 0-8420-2651-7 ISBN 0-8420-2650-9
  9. Yevgenia Albats and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia - Past, Present, and Future, 1994. ISBN 0-374-52738-5.
  10. Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7
  11. State Duma Deputy: US Making strategic mistake Pravda
  12. Darion Rhodes, Salafist-Takfiri Jihadism: the Ideology of the Caucasus Emirate, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, March 2014
  13. 'Terror' list out; Russia tags two Kuwaiti groups Arab Times
  14. "Russia names 'terrorist' groups". BBC News. BBC. 2006-07-28. Retrieved 2016-08-09. Russia has published a list of 17 groups it regards as 'terrorist organisations', including al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban.
  15. Bigg, Claire. "Russia: Rights Groups Say Muslims Are Unfairly Targeted In Fight Against Terrorism". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 2016-08-09. The Russian government is fabricating cases against Muslims in order to prosecute them for terrorism, leading Russian human rights campaigners charged today.
  16. Alex Goldfarb, with Marina Litvinenko Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, The Free Press, 2007, ISBN 1-4165-5165-4
  17. David Satter. Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State. Yale University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-300-09892-8.
  18. http://www.hudson.org/files/publications/SatterHouseTestimony2007.pdf
  19. "Oleg Kalugin: "Putin Is a Temporary Twist In History"". The Ukrainian Week. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2016-01-12.
  20. Sakwa, Richard (2008). Putin, Russia's choice (2nd ed.). Routledge. pp. 333–334. ISBN 978-0-415-40765-6.
  21. Vladimir Putin & Russia's Special Services Gordon Bennet, 2002
  22. Western treatment of Russia signifies erosion of reason Dr. Vlad Sobell, 2007. The same article at Russia Profile
  23. Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Russian Presidential Election – Affirming Democracy or Confirming Autocracy?
  24. Bowker, Mike (2005). "Western Views of the Chechen Conflict". In Richard Sakwa. Chechnya: From Past to Future (1st ed.). London: Anthem Press. pp. 223–238. ISBN 978-1-84331-164-5.
  25. Lazaredes, Nick (4 June 2003). "Terrorism takes front stage — Russia's theatre siege". SBS. Retrieved 2006-11-28.
  26. М. Трепашкин: "Создана очень серьезная группа" (in Russian). Chechen Press State News Agency. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-01.
  27. Special services stage undermining activities - by Yulia Latynina, Novaya Gazeta, 3 April 2006.
  28. The marketplace was blown up by photorobots by Vjacheslav Izmailov, Novaya Gazeta, 7 November 2005.
  29. The Moscow metro bombing - by Roman Kupchinsky, RFE/RL Reports, 12 March 2004
  30. Stomakhin, Boris (2006-10-12). "Pay back for genocide" (in Russian). Retrieved 2008-12-02.
  31. ARTICLE 19’S Statement on the conviction of Russian newspaper editor Boris Stomakhin, 23 November 200
  32. Ismailov, Vyacheslav (2005-01-27). "Special services of delivery". Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). Retrieved 2008-12-02.
  33. "Russia hit by 31 terror attacks in 2013 – chief investigator". TV-Novosti. February 27, 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  34. Названа мощность взорвавшейся в Пятигорске бомбы [Strength announced of the bomb which exploded in Pyatigorsk]. lenta.ru (in Russian). Lenta.ru. 2013-12-28. Retrieved 2014-01-07. Автомобиль «Волга», припаркованный возле одного из зданий на Черкесском шоссе в Пятигорске, взорвался вечером в пятницу, 27 декабря. В результате инцидента погибли три человека, все они были случайными прохожими.

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