Watching the pot come to a boil – Russia losing control of the Caucasus

“Watching the pot come to a boil”

2-Nov-10 News — Russia losing control of the Caucasus
Following up: Framingham debate and David Kotok

Russian official admits it’s losing control of the Caucasus

Several analysts are commenting on a remarkable speech on October 25 by a high Russian official, Ivan Sydoruk, the deputy Procurator General of the Russian Federation. His speech contradicts the common Russian line, and specific statements by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that terrorism in Russia’s southern provinces, especially Chechnya, in the North Caucasus, is under control.

Northern Caucasus -- Russia's southern provinces - Sochi 2014 logo at left is site of 2014 winter Olympics
Northern Caucasus — Russia’s southern provinces – Sochi 2014 logo at left is site of 2014 winter Olympics

The analyst Paul Goble quotes Sydoruk as saying that, contrary to the claims that militant attacks are dying off, in 2010, “the number of extremist crimes had increased by more than four times [over 2009], and that 70 percent of these 352 acts had taken place in Chechnya.”

Sydoruk blames the situation on the disastrous economic situation. As July 1, there were some 449,000 unemployed in the North Caucasus, some 40% of the population, creating a breeding ground for militants and extremists.

Thus, although Russian forces had killed over 400 militants in the last nine months, and prevented “more than 50 terrorist acts,” the militants are quite able to recruit replacements, find money and arms, and enjoy some support in the population. According to Sydoruk, Give some one of them a 100 dollars and he will do whatever you want.”

Putin’s hand-picked president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been blaming Georgia for backing the terrorist attacks in Chechnya, providing weapons and financial support.

However, Sydoruk contradicts this, according to an analysis by Jamestown Foundation.

Sydoruk completely contradicted Kadyrov’s accusations against Georgia, stating that most of the weapons in the hands of the militants came from Russian military units.

It’s quite unusual for a high Russian official to step out of line like this. His comments are consistent with other, more anecdotal reporting from the Caucasus, and are more credible than the standard Russian line. Still, it won’t be surprising if he’s digging salt mines in Siberia next year.

As we’ve been reporting lately, the North Caucasus is becoming increasingly lawless. (See “30-Oct-10 News — Caucasus terrorism / politics becomes embroiled in 2014 Olympics” and “20-Oct-10 News — ‘North Caucasus Emirate’ attacks Chechnya’s parliament building.”)

Furthermore, this is in the context of the very dramatic reality that the 2014 Russian Olympics will be held in the sea resort of Sochi — which, by incredible coincidence or design, is the site of a battle that occurred exactly 150 years early, in 1865 — a well-remembered battle where ethnic Russians massacred ethnic Circassians, the same Circassians that now live in the North Caucasus provinces of Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Tensions are bound to continue to rise.

Video of Framingham debate

As I wrote in “26-Oct-10 News — Xenophobia in Framingham, Massachusetts,” last week I moderated a debate among three candidates Framingham representative to Beacon Hill.

The video of the debate is at

This debate is entirely on local issues, but is of interest to a wider audience for only one reason: The debate was dominated by the immigration issue, because of a large Brazilian population in the town.

As I wrote last week, this town debate is a microcosm of the debates being held around the world on immigration. Although the details may be different, the same debate in occurring in France over the Roma Gypsies, in Belgium over the Muslims, and in Hungary over the Jews.

As I’ve been writing for years, the level of all forms of xenophobia around the world has been increasing for the first time since the 1930s, and has been increasingly particularly quickly in the last few months. This led to a world war in the 1930s, and it will lead to a world war again today.

More on David Kotok

Several days ago, I posted “24-Oct-10 News — The mysterious case of David Kotok,” concerning an accusation of plagiarism of a letter by Kotok that appeared in a newsletter by John Mauldin that I had quoted the week before in “19-Oct-10 News — Analyst John Mauldin is turned by the foreclosure issue.”

I received an e-mail message from Samuel A. Santiago, Managing Director & VP of Information Technology of Kotok’s firm, Cumberland Advisors. The e-mail message had an attachment of a PDF file containing a detailed explanation of what happened, and pointing out that the plagiarism charge was incorrect. Readers may download the PDF file to read the full explanation.

I’m happy to clarify the record on this matter.

Additional links

Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri (Telegraph)
Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri (Telegraph)

AQAP’s top bomb-making expert, Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri, is believed to be the person who made the package bombs that were intercepted over the weekend, as well as the bomb used by the “Underwear Bomber” on Christmas day last year. Al Asiri is 28 years old, and is part of a new generation of terrorists who have little patience with Osama bin Laden’s grand plans, and want some kills right away. Telegraph

In the wake of the attempted package bombing, Germany has banned all flights from Yemen, including passenger flights, from landing at its airports. Bloomberg

Turkish authorities have still not identified the perpetrators of the suicide bomb attack in Taksim Square in Istanbul on Sunday. PKK Kurd terrorists have denied involvement, but it’s still possible that a PKK splinter group is responsible. Al-Qaeda linked terrorists have been eliminated, but a far left organization may still be responsible. Today’s Zaman

Thousands of refugees who fled to Quetta in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province to escape the floods are now stranded there and unable to get home because they lack the money and have been given no government help. Reuters

Scientists say that robot sex partners are coming soon. Op Ed News

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 2-Nov-10 News — Russia losing control of the Caucasus thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (2-Nov-2010) Permanent Link

1-Nov-10 News — Al-Qaeda shifts to ‘more realistic’ terrorism
Suicide bombing in Istanbul, Turkey

Al-Qaeda’s failed bomb attempt reflects evolving strategies

The strategies of both al-Qaeda and the west are going to have to evolve, in the wake of the failed bomb attempt

It’s ironic that this bomb attempt occurred just two days after a British Airways executive was complaining that airline security had become too onerous, thanks to unreasonable pressure by the Americans, as we reported yesterday.

Printer plot bomb: Explosives were hidden in toner cartridge (Telegraph)
Printer plot bomb: Explosives were hidden in toner cartridge (Telegraph)

But now, new developments in the failed bomb attempt will require that the west will have to strengthen security in some areas.

One development is that U.S. national security adviser John Brennan is expressing concern that there may be other package bombs. Associated Press reports that he said that “it would be very imprudent … to presume that there are no [other packages] out there.” He said that “We currently have put a hold on any cargo that is coming to the United States that originated in Yemen,”

In fact, the devices in the packages were very professional and sophisticated, enough so that they passed through multiple screenings at the Sanaa airport. The devices would not have been detected at all, had it not been for the tipoff by Saudi intelligence.

The second development is the discovery that at one of the packages was in cargo hold of a passenger flight for part of its journey, and that the bomb was ” designed to blow up passenger jets and threatened “another Lockerbie,” according to the Telegraph.

The result is that airline security procedures will have to be updated and perhaps strengthened, rather than relaxed as some people had hoped. In particular, new procedures for package delivery will have to be implemented.

On the other side, al-Qaeda’s strategy is changing as well.

As we reported yesterday, al-Qaeda’s center of gravity has shifted from the Pakistan tribal areas to the deserts of Yemen. This led to the merger last year of the Saudi and Yemen branches of al-Qaeda into Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, al-Qaeda’s basic long-term strategy has not changed. The two most important events for the Muslim world in the last century were the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and Iran’s Great Islamic Revolution of 1979. Al-Qaeda’s objective, masterminded by Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, has been to replicate the Iran’s revolution to create a Sunni Muslim government in another country.

This has now been tried in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, and has failed so far. In fact, since the Taliban were defeated in the war following 9/11, it could be said that al-Qaeda has actually lost ground in the last ten years.

Thus, it’s not surprising that al-Qaeda is making some dramatic changes in strategy.

According to Jonathan Stevenson, a professor at U.S. Naval War College, and Steven Simon of the Council on Foreign Relations, writing recently in the Washington Post, al-Qaeda has decided that it lacks the capacity “to mount sophisticated and coordinated attacks that would match, let alone exceed, the innovation or shock value on display on Sept. 11, 2001, or even in the USS Cole operation the year before.”

Thus, the new al-Qaeda understands its limitations, and is adopting “more realistic means of achieving its grand objectives.” According to the authors:


“With the help of these so-called “cleanskins,” who are difficult for Western security services to detect, al-Qaeda’s opportunistic, pragmatic leadership has embraced urban warfare of the sort pioneered by terrorists decades ago: low-intensity, IRA-style operations in densely populated areas, using both conventional military weapons (such as assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades) and standard terrorist weapons (such as improvised explosive devices). This, not simultaneously blowing up airliners or destroying skyscrapers, was the mode of jihad envisioned by Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, the late leader of the jihad in Saudi Arabia and the author of the appropriately named turn-of-the-century al-Qaeda combat manual “The War Against Cities.”

This change in strategy to “low-intensity, IRA-style operations in densely populated areas” should exclude blowing up airliners, according to the writers, but in fact, shipping UPS or Fedex packages with bombs fits the objective of creating IRA-style chaos without spending much money or resources.


“The long-range implications of this evolution are sobering. Al-Qaeda’s leaders are realizing that they can panic and disrupt Western society the old-fashioned way — but on a global level. If they succeed, their new strategy will inspire increasingly rigid security measures and rising paranoia, which will almost inevitably drive a wedge between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. Given our increasingly rancorous, polarized politics and the politicization of counterterrorism, al-Qaeda’s foray into urban warfare could make effective governance and the preservation of constitutional norms much tougher propositions than they have been so far in the age of terror.”

This brings us back to a theme that I’ve been emphasizing for years: the political confrontation and xenophobia that’s been increasing in all forms around the world is leading to a new world war.

For al-Qaeda, the mutual xenophobia between Muslims and non-Muslims serves al-Qaeda well. As long as American and European armed forces have a presence in the Mideast, doing everything from fighting Taliban terrorists to helping Pakistani flood victims, and as long as Islamist terrorist activities are killing far more Muslims than non-Muslims, there is little chance of triggering the kind of Iran-style revolution that’s the objective of al-Qaeda.

If Stevenson and Simon are correct, then “IRA-style” terrorism or bringing down an airplane with a mailed package bomb will meet al-Qaeda’s objectives by dividing Muslims and non-Muslims at little cost. If al-Qaeda is really successful, then these kinds of activities will force American and European armed forces to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving them free to bring about the kind of revolution that that Osama bin Laden envisioned over twenty years ago.

Suicide bombing in Istanbul, Turkey

A suicide bomber struck Taksim Square in Istanbul Turkey on Sunday at 10:30 am, critically wounding two and injuring 32 others, according to the LA Times. Taksim Square is a vast transportation and commercial hub, and the city’s busiest location.

Nearly half of the injured were police officers.

PKK Kurdish separatist terrorists are suspected in the bombing, but they’re not the only suspects. The bombing bears the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack, and extreme left-wing groups are also suspected, according to the Guardian.

Additional links

The bomb packages in the failed terrorism attack were addressed to two Jewish synagogues in Chicago. Chicago area Jewish organizations remain on high alert. Chicago Tribune

When a US delegate once confronted a Chinese diplomat about Beijing’s uncompromising support for Pakistan, the Chinese reportedly responded with a heavily-loaded sarcastic remark: “Pakistan is our Israel”. Al-Jazeera

On September 2, there was a fatal plane crash in Dubai of a UPS mail cargo flight. The UAE claims that there was nothing suspicious about the crash, but the US is going to open an investigation to see if it could be a precursor to this weekend’s failed bomb plot. Debka

Russian president Dimitry Medvedev has met in Hanoi with Vietnamese leaders to seal a $5 billion agreement to build Vietnam’s first ever nuclear power plant. VOA

China’s recent embargo on exporting rare earth minerals is causing more deals to be made by nervous neighbors. A few days after India promised to supply Japan with rare earth minerals, Vietnam has now signed a deal to supply Japan with them as well. BBC

This is incredible. Recall that Bernie Madoff swindled investors out of something like $60 billion in a Ponzi scheme. The trustee overseeing Madoff’s bankruptcy is supposed to recover money to be returned to the swindled investors. In the six months ending September 30, he recovered $849,000 to be returned to the victims, and he spent $26.9 million to do it. Bloomberg

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 1-Nov-10 News — Bomb plot shows al-Qaeda shift from Pakistan to Yemen thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (1-Nov-2010) Permanent Link

31-Oct-10 News — Bomb plot shows al-Qaeda shift from Pakistan to Yemen
Joint Russian/U.S. drug operation in Afghanistan criticized by Karzai

Bomb plot shows al-Qaeda shift from Pakistan to Yemen

A college girl and her mother were arrested in Sanaa on Saturday, the capital of Yemen, a day after parcels containing bombs sparked a global security alert, according to Al-Jazeera.

The arrests were confirmed by Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who said, “Yemen is determined to fight terror but will not allow anyone to intervene in its affairs.” This 16 word statement contained two messages to two different audiences: To the West, the message is that Yemen will fight terrorism; to the local audience, the message was that Yemen’s government will not allow the United States to interfere in Yemen’s internal affairs.

Even so, the U.S. administration is absolutely delighted that Yemeni officials have moved so swiftly and agressively, something that they haven’t always done in the past.

The packages were found after a tip from Saudi Arabian intelligence services. One package was found on a UPS cargo plane at East Midlands Airport, north of London, the other in a FedEx facility in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), according to Haaretz.

According to the al-Jazeera article, the Dubai bomb contained the same explosive that was found in the underwear of the “Christmas bomber,” who tried to blow an airplane over Detroit on December 25 of last year.

If I were a high-level “executive” in the al-Qaeda organization, I’d be really pretty pissed off right now that, after the failure of the Christmas bomber, yet another bombing attempt has failed. I assume that failures in terrorist organizations are punished not by firing the person responsible, but by beheading him.

Nonetheless, this does show the shift in the center of gravity of the al-Qaeda organization from Pakistan’s tribal area to Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This shift in the past has been credited to the bombing of terrorists in the tribal areas by American unmanned drones, which has caused fighters to flee to Yemen, as well as to North Africa.

Whoops! Airline official complains about too much security

On Wednesday, the chairman of British Airways criticized the U.S. for forcing international airlines to inconvenience their passengers with too much security, according to the Independent:


“The chairman of British Airways won support in the aviation industry last night for attacking “redundant” anti-terror checks imposed by the US, as calls grew for easier passage through British airports.Martin Broughton said passengers should no longer be required to take off their shoes or have their laptops checked separately in security lines.

Britain should not be required to impose security restrictions on its own passengers that the United States did not deem necessary for domestic flights, the chairman told the annual conference of the UK Airport Operators Association in London.

His comments immediately struck a chord with many in the industry, receiving backing from airport and airline operators as well as pilots, security experts and passenger groups.

“America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do. We shouldn’t stand for that. We should say, ‘We’ll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential’,” said Mr Broughton. “We all know there’s quite a number of elements in the security programme which are completely redundant and they should be sorted out.”

However, Broughton has become strangely silent in the last couple of days.

Additional links

After China on Friday angrily canceled bilateral meetings with the Japanese, saying that the Japanese had lied, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met briefly on Saturday. The informal meeting took place in conjunction with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit meeting being held in Hanoi. Kyodo

A number of Chinese actions in the past few months — threats in the South China sea, Yellow sea and East China sea, and unexpectedly embargoing exports of rare earth elements — have caused a bit of panic among China’s neighbors. Thus, at the ASEAN meeting, “Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao strove to promote regional understanding and cooperation … and in bilateral talks with Vietnamese and Australian leaders.” From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Wen is in China’s Artist archetype generation (like America’s Silent generation), highly risk-averse and willing to compromise. However, he’s at the end of his career and younger officials will not be so conciliatory. Xinhua

A joint operation on Thursday by Russian and U.S. forces captured and destroyed thousands of pounds of high-grade heroin and opium in Afghanistan, destroying a “major hub” of drug production, about three miles from the Pakistan border. However, the operation was strongly criticized by Afghan president Hamid Karzai because he had not given permission for Russian troops to take part. The presence of Russian troops in Afghanistan is a sensitive issue, because the Russians fought a “Vietnam-style” war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. BBC

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 31-Oct-10 News — Bomb plot shows al-Qaeda shift from Pakistan to Yemen thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (31-Oct-2010) Permanent Link

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