This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 September 2016.
On June 28, three suicide bombers entered the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where they killed 45 people and injured 229. Although only one of the terrorist was from Russia (the other two were Uzbek and Kyrgyz), it is almost certain that that their last words to one another were in Russian. It is estimated that between 5,000 to 7,000 Russian-speaking jihadists have made Russian the second most popular language of ISIL, after Arabic.
The Changing Demographics
That Russian should be the lingua franca of jihadists from the former Soviet territory is surprising. Many, perhaps most, younger Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks (judging by the gastarbeiters from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan) do not know Russian well or even at all. That Russia is becoming widely-spoken is indicative of the explosive internationalization and the vastly expanded recruitment patterns of what might be called the Russian Jihad based in Russia and former Soviet Central Asia.
With an estimated 2,400 of its citizens fighting with ISIL, Russia is surpassed only by Tunisia and Saudi Arabia in the number of its nationals in the extremist group’s ranks. It is far ahead of the top four European suppliers of ISIL soldiers: France with 1,800 fighters, Britain and Germany with 760 each, and Belgium with 470. Russian language graffiti has been spotted in Darayya, Syria (“We will pray in your palace, Putin! Tatars and Chechens, rise up!”), and there is an Univermag grocery store in the “Russian” district of ISIL’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, alongside Russian-language schools and kindergartens.
Courtesy Дмитро (Dmytro)/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 13 August 2016.
In a speech earlier this year at the Russian Academy of Military Science, Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, discussed the changing environment of modern warfare. Noting the rise of hybrid conflicts such as color revolutions, General Gerasimov highlighted the importance of, “leading military theorists and specialists as well as the defense industry and the government to jointly develop a “soft power” strategy to counter the potential threat from ‘color revolutions.’” The importance of this speech is two-fold. First, it demonstrates that while some have come to believe that Russia has developed a unique and profound soft power strategy, this is not the case. Second, this speech may indicate a trend towards a greater reliance on the use of soft power, though its use is framed as a defensive measure. Rather than using soft power to project values and appear more attractive as countries such as the United States attempts to do, this speech highlights the importance of countering foreign efforts directed against the Russian Federation. Though Russia traditionally relies on hard power to ensure state security and project power, the country may begin a revitalized effort of utilizing soft power to help achieve this, an effort not seen since the Cold War era.
Courtesy the lost gallery / flickr
This three-part series was originally published by the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter between the 16th and 18th August 2016.
When US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow in March, looming over his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin was a statue of Russian Emperor Alexander II (1855-81). Known as the ‘Tsar-Liberator’, Alexander freed the serfs, introduced trial by jury, relaxed press censorship and created elected regional assemblies that might, but for his assassination, have laid the foundation for bolder constitutional experiments.
But isn’t Alexander the wrong autocrat? Russia, we are told, is in the grip of Stalin-mania. Over the past 12 months, The New York Times, The New Statesman, The Independent and Foreign Policy have reported on an unspoken Kremlin policy to rehabilitate the Soviet tyrant.
Dubbed ‘re-Stalinisation’, its alleged aim is to return Russia to the fear and suspicion that characterised life until Stalin’s death in 1953 and to secure what are asserted as having ever been Putin’s twin goals: the consolidation of absolute personal power and restoration of the Soviet Union (or something like it) in Eastern Europe.
Labyrinth, courtesy René De Bondt/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 13 July 2016.
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou | Professor, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies (CIES), Kadir Has University, Istanbul
As if out of the blue, but not really a surprise at all, Turkey has in the last week announced both a rapprochement process with Israel and an attempt to mend relations with Russia. It has also made overtures to Egypt to improve bilateral commercial and economic ties, though its relations with the Sisi regime remain politically complicated. The flurry of diplomatic activity on the part of Turkey’s government indicates that the situation before diplomatic overtures was becoming increasingly unfeasible, and that Turkey’s isolation was growing. This isolation found Ankara increasingly at odds with its neighbours and partners, threatening Turkey’s self-cultivated image as a soft power. This image has been eroding with the escalation of the Syrian crisis, the surge of violence in the country’s southeast in the state’s fight against the PKK, and the series of bombings both by Kurdish militants and the Islamic State across the country. In other words, Turkey was becoming an unreliable and ineffectual contributor to the region’s security.
Reaching out to Israel and Egypt implies that the AKP government is turning away from its proclivity for ideology-laden foreign policy. It also suggests a realisation by Ankara that, based on a power politics assessment, its continued ambivalence toward the Islamic State was further marginalising Turkey and weakening its ability to shape and influence the future of the region, especially the eastern Mediterranean (including the resolution of the Cyprus problem), together with the other relevant stakeholders. The latest terror attack at Istanbul’s main airport, although planned and orchestrated before diplomacy took centre stage, suggests that the policy reversal in now complete. Although further attacks are a very real possibility, Turkey is bound to expect more empathy and support from its allies. The reopening of the airport the day after the attacks indicates a degree of state and regime resilience that it will not easily be broken. The turn toward Tel Aviv and Cairo also suggests an understanding that Turkey has potentially much to gain from a developing Western regional security complex in the eastern Mediterranean, which should also include Greece and Turkey together with Israel and Egypt. The opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU during the same week is also indicative of its enhanced status.