On May 21, a session of security chiefs of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states was held in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.
During the session, Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov addressed the growing terrorist threat and the concentration of militants near the southern border of the CIS.
According to Bortnikov, about 5,000 members of terrorist groups are concentrated near the CIS’ southern border, in northern Afghanistan.
“The deployment of terrorist groups to Afghanistan’s northern provinces bordering with the Commonwealth’s states is especially alarming,” he said. “The ISIS branch Wilayah Khorasan already deployed about 5,000 militants in these areas. They are mostly CIS citizens who fought in Syria.”
“They are constantly infiltrating the Commonwealth’s states and joining local organized crime groups. Cross-border drug, arms and illegal migration flows are also growing,” Bortnikov added.
“Members of international terrorist organizations use refugee and labor migration flows for covert movement from combat zones and countries bordering them to other regions.”
The FSB chief warned that terrorists are developing more sophisticated ways to carry out attacks.
“The criminals have materials, technology and infrastructure for the production of chemical weapons and biotoxins,” he said noting that terrorists are capable of using unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver this kind of payloads.
It is widely known that terrorists are using migration flows to infiltrate Central Asian states and the part of Russia located in Asia. However, big cities in the European part of Russia (Moscow, Saint Petersburg and others) and European states also became the target.
For example, a growing radicalization within labor migrants can be observed in Moscow. According to data from Russia obtained by SouthFront, the number of crimes conducted by persons born in Central Asian states is growing in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other big cities. Mostly these crimes are robberies, random violence and other violent crimes.
Bortnikov’s remarks are not the first alarmist statement by Russian special and security services. Earlier, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated warned of the growing terrorist threat and the expansion of radical elements within Russia.
The terrorists are infiltrating CIS states, incorporating with organized crime, creating clandestine cells and ideologizing and recruiting new supporters, chiefly the socially handicapped youth and migrants, training them to carry out terrorist activities. The terrorists’ resource base is expanding thanks to contributions from business activities carried out by labor migrants from Central Asia in major cities of the Russian Federation both legally and illegally. The revenue from these legal and illegal activities is used to expand the resource base of terrorists and increase their combat capabilities.
The worsening situation in the Central Asia contributes to the spread of radical ideas. Now the main threat of destabilization of the entire Central Asian region comes from Tajikistan. This state is the main target of militants deployed in northern Afghanistan.
Data appearing in 2017-2018 revealed at least tactical support provided by the US to militant groups in northern Afghanistan and aimed at the southern borders of the CIS. There were multiple reports stating that US aircraft were transferring leaders and key fighters of these groups.
In 2015, ISIS was increasing its influence and preparing an attack on Central Asian states in the framework of the global expansion campaign. In the current situation, after the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, terrorists work to expand its influence in the region because they need a foothold for ISIS’ resurgence. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are perfect targets for these efforts.
The destabilization of the Central Asia and the new rise of ISIS will, at the first stage, contribute to the US geopolitical interests. This scenario will deliver a devastating blow to Russia’s influence in the regional, undermine security of the key Russian regional ally, Kazakhstan, and damage interests of China.
The Chinese, Kazakh and Russian political leadership understand these risks. Surprisingly, Russia is the weakest element in measures to counter this. Both China and Kazakhstan are providing a fairly tough policy towards those suspected of extremist activities or cooperation with terrorists. China has rapidly increased control over Uygur radicals. Kazakhstan has rapidly increased control and monitoring over the labor migrants from neighboring states.
Russia is also adopting some measures. However, so far, a notable part of these measures has been calls for strengthening the bordering infrastructure, increasing the level of cooperation on joint operative-investigative operations in migration flows, strengthening the fight against terrorist ideology, in particular on the Internet, as well as carrying out joint work to counter channels of Afghan drug and arms trafficking as countermeasures. These are the same measures, which were suggested during the last 20 years.
According to data from Russia, no additional measures are employed in large cities, like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. News feeds of Russian media serve as another confirmation of this situation. According to rough estimates, there are over 6-8 million legal and illegal labor migrants from Central Asian states in Moscow, Moscow Oblast, Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast (Saint Petersburg region). A notable part of these migrants is illegal migrants. There is no data regarding system measures to detain and deport illegal migrants. Limited police measures to strengthen control of migrants in the central parts of Moscow and Saint Petersburg led only to the fact that their masses shifted to their suburbs and regions (“oblasts”).
In the event of an armed conflict in the Central Asia with the participation of ISIS, the terrorist group’s sleeper cells among the masses of labor migrants in Russia will be activated. It can be said with a high degree of confidence that there is a big number of such sleeper cells within Russia, and their constituent activists number in thousands.
In this case, the Russian law enforcement system will not be able to completely prevent terror activities inside the country. Therefore, Russia will be focused on resolving internal problems. This is the goal pursued by ISIS. An armed conflict in the Central Asia and terrorist attacks in Russia will attract multiple new recruits to terrorist groups. The realization of this scenario is the main security risk in the near future.
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