March 25, 2024


Russia may be a military dictatorship and armed to the teeth, but it struggles against Ukraine and fails to protect its homeland. Border incursions increase, and on March 22 terrorists killed 137 and wounded more than 100 more at a Moscow theater. The atrocity was not the work of madmen nor of Ukrainian operatives. It was sectarian violence and growing evidence that the country unravels ethnically as well as politically. The gunmen were avenging Russia’s slaughters of Muslims in Syria and Afghanistan. In January, the largest anti-war protest was about Russia’s exploitation of its Turkic regions where Putin recruits a disproportionate share of Muslim young men as “cannon fodder”. These incidents occurred just nine months after oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin marched 20,000 mercenaries toward Moscow to violently overthrow its substandard military leadership. Helicopters were destroyed, soldiers killed, and a truce was called. Then, three months later, Prigozhin and his team were killed in a plane crash. Now Putin faces another enemy: ISIS-K [regional branch of ISIS or ISIL, both the Islamic State] which claimed responsibility for the theater carnage. It declared: “Islamic State fighters attacked a large gathering of Christians on the outskirts of the Russian capital, Moscow, killing and wounding hundreds and causing great destruction to the place.”

So much for Putin’s proud, invincible Russian Empire. His regime cobbled together incoherent statements following the calamity. The first was to blame Ukraine in order to deflect attention from Russia’s actual existential threat which is the crumbling of the Russian Federation as secular Muslims, and other ethnic groups, organize to fight for independence and justice. This fear is why Putin never mentioned ISIS after the terrorist attack (which would’ve raised the issue of Muslim unrest) and suggested that Ukrainians were behind the attack. The Kremlin slanders Ukraine in the hopes of increasing support for another mass military mobilization. It won’t. Terrible casualties, enough to populate a small city, have spawned an anti-war “White Scarves” protest movement comprised of distraught wives and mothers of Russian soldiers. The death rates are so high that recruitment has dried up and twice as many desertions now occur along its frontlines as took place a year ago. The combination of protests, attrition, desertions, and draft dodging reduce the nation’s security. Putin now has fewer forces to immediately deploy at home as well as in Ukraine.

Fortunately, Kyiv pre-emptively denied involvement in the terrorist attack in anticipation of Moscow’s usual “friendly flag” accusations, which duly followed. Washington also quickly corroborated that ISIL was the culprit, that it had tipped off Moscow that an attack was imminent, and that Putin apparently “scorned” the information, believing it was untrue and concocted to frighten his people. Then the broadcast deluge began. The first was its biggest “megaphone” — Margarita Simonyan who is head of RT media. She accused Ukraine and its ally of lying. “They KNEW who the performers were. Before their arrest,” she said on TV. “This is direct participation. This is not ISIS [ISIL]. It’s just that the performers were selected in such a way that they could convince the stupid world community that it was ISIS.”

Former president Dmitry Medvedev also waded in, as he always does, publicly blaming everything on Kyiv. But he went further and demanded immediate retaliation and commensurate “deaths”. Lastly, Russian oligarch and ultra-nationalist Konstantin Malofyev joined in by suggesting a nuclear bomb be

dropped. “Let’s give the civilian population of Ukraine 48 hours to leave the cities and finally end this war with the victorious defeat of the enemy. Using all forces and means.”

Fortunately, as the usual Russian suspects postured, Al Jazeera explained what and who ISIS or ISIL is and why it attacked Russia. (Note to readers: The acronym ISIL is the more-accurate name, as it recognizes these areas that the group affects and targets while ISIS refers exclusively to Iraq and Syria, according to Britannica.) At the height of its influence, ISIS controlled about a third of Syria and 40 percent of Iraq. And ISIS-K is its offshoot in Afghanistan. In July, that terror cell killed 43 people in an assault on a political rally in northern Pakistan. In January, it killed at least 84 people in two suicide bombings in Iran. Now it has attacked Moscow and also threatens to attack China (for its mistreatment of Uyghurs who are Turkic Moslems) as well as Indian and Iranian Embassies in Afghanistan.

The group has issued a flood of anti-Russian propaganda, portraying Russia as an oppressor of Muslims in Chechnya, Syria, and Afghanistan (during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s) but also in Shia-majority Iran. Kabir Taneja, a fellow at the Strategic Studies programme of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, India, told Al Jazeera that Russia is seen by such groups as “a crusading power against Muslims”. They cite Russian terrorist incidents such as the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis, the 1999 apartment bombings, the Moscow theater hostage crisis, and the Beslan school siege, plus other incidents in major Russian cities and in Chechnya and Dagestan.

“Russia has been a target for ISIS and not just ISIS-K from the beginning,” added Taneja. “It attacked [the] Russian embassy in Kabul in 2022, and over the months Russian security agencies have upped their efforts to clamp down on pro-ISIS ecosystems both in Russia and around its borders, specifically Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Group in New York, said “ISIS-K has been fixated on Russia for the past two years and accuses the Kremlin of having Muslim blood on its hands, referencing Moscow’s interventions in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria.”

Another fault line in Russia is Putin’s religious beliefs that are on a collision course with liberalization and democracy, as well as Islam. He and his gang of white guys are white supremacists and deploy a form of rabid “Christianity” that is fully endorsed by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, a corrupt and globally reviled cleric. Kirill not only “blessed” the war with Ukraine, but publicly urged soldiers to kill Ukrainians, an act condemned by many countries and religious leaders. Such intolerance corrodes Russia where the largest Muslim population in Europe lives.

Outside influences also stoke trouble. The independence of Turkic regions in the Russian Federation has been openly advocated for years by the Organization of Turkish States, headquartered in Istanbul. The Organization, which includes Central Asian nations, upset Moscow before the war when it declared that there were ten Turkic regions inside the Russian Federation that have a right to sovereignty.

As I’ve written before, the creation of a Mountainous Republic of the North Caucasus was proposed and failed, but could happen if North and South Caucasus entities formed a viable, regional alliance with

backing from Turkey, Central Asian nations, and/or the European Union. Bashkortostan and Tatarstan are rich and most of their peoples are Turkic. They could be viable nation-states, as could a few others. But first Russia must continue to unravel — a process that will proceed due to its baked-in political and sectarian divides. Putin’s war has accelerated the process and his unjust genocide against Ukrainians in 2022 slowly bankrupts the Federation. Another catalyst has been Putin’s other “genocides” involving the conscription of the sons of Turkic ethnic minorities, who are dying in droves daily.

Violence grows inside and outside Russia. A great unravelling has begun and must happen sooner rather than later.