Factors Driving Terrorism in Russia

02/04/2017 8:33 AM | Anonymous

by Blake Holley

This is the second article of three discussing the phenomenon, or lack thereof, of terrorism in Russia. The first article provided a summary of the state of terrorism in Russia outside of the North Caucasus region. This article will look at factors, which would generally appear to drive terrorism, and the third article will look at factors, which would limit terrorist activity in the country.

In consideration of a vast majority of theoretical approaches to terrorism, Russia should be a vast breeding ground for terrorist activity. The economy has been in a downward spiral for over two years, virtually all religious institutions have been taken over by the state and subsumed to the Russian Orthodox Church, oppression has grown by leaps and bounds, and Russia has been indiscriminately bombing Sunni Muslim civilians in an attempt to support a Shiite Muslim regime in Syria.

The Russian economy has more or less stabilized over the past several months, but outside of the country’s major cities, the situation remains dire as consumer demand remains low, inflation has placed many products out of reach of many citizens, product quality has declined, and people are forced to work less, thereby earning less money.

Rainy Day fund

Despite improving macro level indicators, micro level indicators show that the Russian population at large has faced increasing poverty in a stagnating economic environment. Whereas the government can point to some indicators and say that the economy is improving, local news quotes individuals on a near daily basis who are in dire situations.

Many of these people, at least according to census data, are migrants and immigrants from Central Asia who are highly susceptible to radicalization. These people came to Russia for work, but the work has largely dried up to the point where the workers are simply not making the amount of money necessary to support themselves and their families who remain in their home countries.

Therefore, these individuals, many of whom are Muslim, often seek refuge at local mosques and slowly walk down the path to radicalization. The past several years have seen numerous reports of a growing radicalization problem, both among Muslims and Russian Orthodox activists, as well as attendant social problems stemming from this radicalization.

Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church itself has taken a larger role in Russian life, playing a primary role in crafting social policy for the federal government, often at the expense of other religious bodies in Russia. This increased role has caused resentment in some corners, namely among Muslims, and led to increased calls for more of an official Muslim presence in social policy discussions.

Socially, this has had the effect of making many Russian Muslims, who occupy vast areas of central, southern, and eastern Russia, and could be said to be Russia’s largest practicing religion, feel left out of Moscow’s social policy discussions and decision making processes. Feelings of being left out often breed resentment among social groups.

In supporting the Orthodox Church at the expense of other institutions, Orthodox activists have, with increasing frequency, targeted those who belong to other groups and considered “non-Russian”. These non-Russians may indeed be Russian citizens, but, as they do not speak Russian natively, a right enshrined in the Russian Constitution, the activists have staged attacks against them, pushing resentment among these groups, which often goes unnoticed by official law enforcement bodies.

These law enforcement bodies have also engaged in the oppression of citizens and noncitizens alike, often arbitrarily searching and questioning those who appear to hail from other countries, especially those from Central Asia. Whereas many Russians support the “arbitrary” targeting of random searches of Central Asians, the migrants and immigrants have vocally expressed their displeasure with such profiling as they feel that they are not given the proper opportunities to assimilate into Russian society and carry on with their private lives without unprompted harassment.

This oppression also creates anger among Muslims around Russia when they hear about how Russian law enforcement and interior ministry units harass citizens of the North Caucasus. As Muslims tend to consider themselves citizens of the same global Muslim society, there is often a feeling of anger when one group of Muslims faces discrimination, a feeling exploited with great success by jihadist organizations.

In addition, this feeling of anger should also manifest itself in response to Russia’s actions in Syria, in which the Russian Air Force has indiscriminately bombed Sunni Muslims in support of the Shiite Assad regime. The vast majority of Russia’s Muslims are Sunni, which should result in vehemently angry reactions among Russia’s Muslim population.

However, there has thus far not been such an angry reaction. Even in the face of arbitrary repression, social suppression, and economic turmoil, Russia’s Muslims, both citizens and noncitizens alike, do not appear to have mobilized like their counterparts in other countries. The next article in this series will seek to understand why there is no mass uprising of Russian Muslims against Moscow.

Blake Holley holds a Masters in Governance and Global Affairs from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and currently works as an intelligence analyst and specialist on Eurasian security issues based in Atlanta, Georgia. His primary focus is on North Caucasus terrorism and strategic forecasting.


Atlanta Council on International Relations

4780 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, Suite 540-165

Atlanta, Georgia 30338