Staunton, October 29 – Having declared jihad against Russia, ISIS has now begun its war against Moscow in earnest, stepping up its recruiting efforts in the Russian Federation and other post-Soviet states and actively supporting a military campaign which, the president of Tajikistan says, has led to fighting along 60 percent of his country’s border with Afghanistan.
Because Dushanbe does not have an effective army – the only real combat forces there are Russian – those attacks are attacks on Russia itself; and consequently, it is no surprise that Vladimir Putin is worried and seeking to mobilize CIS security forces against ISIS and what he describes as its threats to those states both from within and from without.
In a commentary on this today, Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin argues that not only will Putin have to fight this threat but that his own policies in Syria mean that he will have to do so far sooner than he may have expected (nv.ua/opinion/oreshkin/dzhihad-igil-protiv-rossii-chto-grozit-putinu-76734.html).
“Putin accelerated the inevitable clash of the remnants of Russian civilization with the Islamist International and this undoubtedly will backfire on Russia,” Oreshkin argues. “the Islamic State is a major threat for Russia,” especially as it moves against the country through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The Russian military is being “dragged into a hot phase” of this conflict already “on the territory of the former USSR. Battles on the borders are already going on” in Tajikistan. And they can be expected in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as well, something especially serious in the former case because of the age of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov.
Consequently, Oreshkin says, “the main threat of the Islamic State comes precisely from this region and not from Syria.” Moreover, one cannot exclude that “terrorist actions will begin.” All of this threatens Putin personally. And the claims of his propagandists that things would have been even worse had he not intervened in Syria will sound hollow to most Russians.
Putin’s “military operation in Syria is a major strategic mistake,” albeit not exactly the one many are talking about given how it is intensifying tensions with the West. He may not have recognized that he was coming out in support of the Shiite minority by intervening as he has, and thus he may not have recalled that most Muslims in Russia and Central Asia are Sunnis.
“Among these,” Oreshkin continues, “certainly will be found extremists who consider Putin an enemy.” Russian officials are already talking about some 5,000 former Soviet citizens fighting for ISIS in Syria; and the numbers of those who sympathize with their actions but who have remained at home are certainly far larger.
That leaves Putin between a rock and a hard place. He must either win in Syria, something Oreshkin suggests is impossible, or he must force Asad to agree to negotiations so that he can present himself as a peacemaker even though he has gone to war. (The Russian analyst does not say so but Putin has had much success in the West with such sleights of hand.)
But that may not matter as much as the Kremlin leader hopes. “If earlier Putin conducted small victorious wars – in Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine, which were accompanied by increases in his rating, now he will be forced to engage in defensive battles.” And if those go wrong, it will open the way to Putin’s “political end.”
“It is one thing,” Oreshkin says, “to defeat Chechen terrorists or a small Georgian army; it is quite another to fight with the enormous Islamist International.” And he is going to have to fight, much sooner and much closer to home than he imagined when he launched his ill-fated Syrian campaign.