Putin Putting Russia's Fate in Iranian Hands?

by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET) February 21, 2011
 
Rather than the January 24th suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport (that claimed 36 lives and wounded almost 200) giving rise to a soul searching by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it has sadly given rise to hypocrisy on his part.
 
Moscow’s investigation into the attack is still ongoing. But earlier this month, in a very chilling video, Doku Umarov—the self-styled emir of the Causasus Emirate—claimed responsibility for it.Threatening further attacks, Umarov said, "With Allah's grace, we will make this year for you a year of blood and tears."
 
Islamist separatist insurgents from the Caucasus region have been in rebellion against Russia since the 19th century. Twenty-first century insurgent attacks have included the 2004 siege of a school that led to 380 deaths; the 2004 downing of two commercial planes that departed from Domodedovo Airport claiming 90 more lives; a 2009 high speed train bombing that took 100 victims; and a 2010 Moscow subway bombing that killed 40.
 
The most recent attack is an embarrassment for Putin. He built his reputation as being tough on terrorism, reassuring the Russian people he was in control. After the attack, while Putin vowed “retribution is inevitable” for those responsible, he surprisingly avoided pre-judging that those responsible might be the very Islamists who are now taking credit for it. 
 
This is so unlike Putin—who has demonstrated a propensity to freely make pre-judgments. After all, as his political antagonist, Mikhail Khodorkovsky—the billionaire former head of Yukos Oil—sat in jail awaiting trial in Russia on what were believed to be trumped up charges, Putin stated the “thief should sit in jail.” Already convicted of tax fraud and closing on the end of an eight year sentence, the former oil tycoon was preparing to stand trial for allegedly stealing oil from his own company. Unsurprisingly, Khordorkovsky was later convicted—the Russian judge presiding over the case ensuring Putin’s will was imposed upon the defendant. (Interestingly, the additional six year prison sentence Khordorkovsky received is sufficiently long to keep him from creating problems for Putin when he undoubtedly runs for the presidency in 2012.)
 
 
A Russian government official of Putin’s stature, unabashedly calling for the conviction and sentencing of a supposedly innocent-until-proven guilty defendant, should have no qualms about identifying those responsible for the airport attack as Islamist separatists. Yet Putin held back.
Putin’s reluctance to accuse the Islamists was most likely tied to his need to ease the Russian people into the realization he has fed them false hope. In 2006, when Putin was president, Russia’s secret police killed Islamist leader Shamil Basayev. Putin proclaimed the Islamic insurgency had been defeated and a thousand year era of peace had begun. But in 2007, an Islamist group called Caucasus Emirate—seeking to bring Islamic law to North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya—was formed. Last February, the terrorist group’s leader announced Russian cities would be included within their “zone of military operations.” Thus, it would appear Putin must now hit his own “reset” button concerning his assessment on Islamist terrorism.
 
It is also hypocritical that Putin would tell his people that retribution against the perpetrators is inevitable. This is especially true if the investigation into the airport attack is conducted with the same lack of enthusiasm evident in numerous unsolved cold case investigations into the murders of journalists who dared criticize Putin.
 
 
What Putin fails yet to grasp is the major Islamist threat looming ahead for Russia. Based on low birth rates for native Russians and much higher ones for Muslims, it is estimated by 2050 the country will boast more Muslims than native Russians. This evolution, combined with Putin’s policies towards Iran, will leave Russians facing a very serious threat.
 
In the end, it will prove to be Russian assistance given to the Iranians in building their nuclear facilities and Putin’s reluctance to work with the US and other nations to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability that will come back to haunt Moscow. For as Russia’s Muslim population and the ranks of Islamist separatists grow in the future, the latter will be looking for a “game changing” means of imposing its influence over all Russia. That means may well come in the form of a nuclear weapon the Islamist separatists come to possess—courtesy of Iran. 
 
Putin naively believes in a non-existent Russian/Iranian bond that places Moscow outside Iran’s crosshairs. But Iran eventually has in mind for Russia the same fate it has for other non-Islamic states—a fate shared by the Caucasus Emirate: i.e., to make the country subservient to shariah law. 
 
In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, having consolidated power in Iran and ruling a nation-state as a vehicle to further Islam's global domination goal, sent a brazen letter to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. As Moscow witnessed the collapse of its East European satellite buffer, Khomeini suggested Islamism replace Marxism in Russia.  He wrote, 
 
“I strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan. I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.”  
 
Where Khomeini failed, current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks to succeed.
 
Putin needs to understand a stark reality of his actions: he puts Russia’s fate in Iranian hands.
 
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (ret) is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam War, the US invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war.  He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.
 

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