Strategic implications of Moscow airport attack

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According to reports, the recent attack on Moscow's Domodedovo airport was the work of North Caucasus extremists. However, Russia's strategy regarding the region has already been adapted to guarantee long-term security ahead of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, writes global intelligence company Stratfor.

This analysis was authored by global intelligence company Stratfor.

"Tactical details of the 24 January attack on Moscow's Domodedovo airport continue to emerge, but by most accounts, it was a suicide attack perpetrated by a militant or militants from the North Caucasus. If reports of the attacker's origin are accurate, this would be the second such attack in Moscow by Caucasus militants in less than a year, coming after the Moscow metro bombing in March 2010.

However, this attack will be unlikely to cause Russia to rethink its strategy in its fight against Islamist militancy in the North Caucasus region.

Russia has been struggling with Islamist militancy in the North Caucasus republics for the past two decades, epitomised by two protracted wars in Chechnya throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. By the late 2000s, Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin had quelled much of the violence in the republic by splitting the Chechen militant movement into nationalist factions and Islamist factions, then buying the nationalist factions' loyalty by transferring much of the security and political control to nationalist leader and eventual Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

From then on, Kadyrov was on the Kremlin's side, and from this followed a shift in Moscow's strategy for handling Chechnya.

The strategy shift centered on giving control of security on the ground to local security and military forces composed of ethnic Chechens, rather than ethnic Russians serving in the national army. Kadyrov was allowed to retain his own 40,000-member militia, which became officially responsible for maintaining security. This, in effect, transferred direct military responsibility from Russia to an indigenous force in Chechnya aligned with Moscow.

Strategic implications of Moscow airport attack

This strategy split the Chechens and used the local warlord structure to maintain control, and also kept Russian forces — which could unify the disparate Chechen factions — out of the region. The result has been far less turbulence in the republic than in previous years.

But a side effect of this was the movement of various militants out of Chechnya to regroup and begin operations into neighbouring republics, particularly Dagestan, which has, as a result, seen more violence and instability. In response, Russia has begun to lay the groundwork to organise its Chechen strategy in Dagestan, though it will need to be tailored to fit with Dagestan's wholly different clan structure.

This process has created a backlash in the Caucasus, which Moscow had been expecting and for which it is mostly prepared. Stratfor sources in Moscow say the government had anticipated occasional security breaches that could reach as far as Moscow and St. Petersburg — like the Domodedovo attack.

Also, while Russia has been able to crack down on umbrella militant organisations like the Caucasus Emirate, this group has devolved into smaller localised militant groups that still pose a security threat.

However, Moscow believes these attacks are short-term volatility in a long-term plan for stability. Russia's aim is to have the shift in strategy and the accompanying backlash under control by the end of 2012, ahead of the 2014 Olympics to be held in Sochi near the North Caucasus republics.

At this point, whether the attackers were specifically from Chechnya or Dagestan is mostly irrelevant, as the North Caucasus region is being tackled by Russia as a whole. Ultimately, this latest attack will not cause any significant shift in Russia's strategy, as the shift in strategy was already under way."

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