Michael Weiss writes: Based on extensive fieldwork in one village in the North Caucasus, [Novaya Gazeta] reporter Elena Milashina has concluded that the “Russian special services have controlled” the flow of jihadists into Syria, where they have lately joined up not only with ISIS but other radical Islamist factions. In other words, Russian officials are added to the ranks of terrorists which the Russian government has deemed a collective threat to the security and longevity of its dictatorial ally on the Mediterranean, Bashar al-Assad.
It may sound paradoxical — helping the enemy of your friend — but the logic is actually straightforward: Better the terrorists go abroad and fight in Syria than blow things up in Russia. Penetrating and co-opting terrorism also has a long, well-attested history in the annals of Chekist tradecraft.
Milashina makes her case study the village of Novosasitili in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district. Since 2011, nearly 1 percent of the total population of Novosasitili has gone to Syria — 22 out of 2,500 residents. Of that figure, five were killed and five have returned home. But they didn’t leave Russia, a country notoriously difficult to enter and exit, without outside help. The FSB [Federal Security Service] established a “green corridor” to allow them to migrate first to Turkey, and then to Syria. (Russians, including those living in the North Caucasus, can catch any of the daily non-stop flights to Istanbul and visit Turkey without a visa.)
“I know someone who has been at war for 15 years,” Akhyad Abdullaev, head of the village, tells Milashina. “He fought in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now in Syria. He surely cannot live peacefully. If such people go off to war, it’s no loss. In our village there is a person, a negotiator. He, together with the FSB, brought several leaders out of the underground and sent them off abroad on jihad. The underground resistance has been weakened, we’re well off. They want to fight—let them fight, just not here.” [Continue reading…]