Russia says that the suspect behind a subway bombing in St. Petersburg that killed at least 11 people is from Central Asia and has links to radical Islamic terrorist groups. Here are six ways the Russian government may respond to the attack.
- Blame the West
Why? Because that’s what the Russian government-controlled, conspiratorial media always does. In fact, Pravda almost immediately published this interview with the heading, “CIA Involved in St. Petersburg Terror Act?” The source was an individual with the background of “government and business consultant.”
- Double-Down on Alliances with Shiite Wing of Radical Islam
Russia is a long-standing ally of the Shiite wing of radical Islam represented by the Iranian and Syrian regimes and their Hezbollah terrorist proxy. The civil war in Syria has tightened this alliance, making Russia a direct ally on the battlefield.If ISIS or any other jihadist group based in Syria is behind the bombing, Russia’s resolve to keep Assad in power and expand the regime’s territorial holdings will only stiffen. The bombing makes it less likely Russia will pressure Assad and his inner circle out of power (even if a pro-Russian regime remains), as that’ll give the appearance that Russia caved in to the jihadists.Expect Putin to tempt the West into a laxer policy towards Iran and Hezbollah, claiming that their anti-American hostility is a byproduct of U.S. aggression that will disappear when the U.S. changes its tune and abides by Russia’s strategy for the region.
- Use It as a Pretext for Action Against a Neighbor
Putin has a dual strategy conquering neighboring territory under the guise of protecting and unifying Russian minorities while depicting Russia as the best hope of the civilized world as America declines.Putin has been setting the stage to once again seize Georgian territory ever since he had Russian forces rip away Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. Russia has been slowly taking more land, eliciting a condemnation from the European Union and a complaint from Georgia about “creeping annexation.”In March 2015, Vasil Rukhadze of the Jamestown Foundation warned that Russia “might be preparing for a final assault on Georgia.”Russia consistently accuses the pro-U.S. government of Georgia of responsibility for Islamist terrorist attacks on its soil. The Russian foreign minister said in January 2016 that ISIS has a training base in the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia.
The region is indeed a hotspot for ISIS recruitment, but the accusation that ISIS has a training base implies Georgian acquiescence.
There are other neighbors that could be in Russia’s sights, but Georgia is most likely to be blamed for the bombing of the subway.
- Retaliate with Syrian Kurds
Russia has been arming Syrian Kurdish forces that have a Marxist orientation and are accused of being part of the PKK terrorist group. Increased assistance and coordinated action with them is a likely form of retaliation.The Turkish government, which views PKK as a terrorist threat of the highest order, is furious about this but eager to grow its military ties with Russia.
- Increased Support to the Taliban in Afghanistan
Senior U.S. military leaders say that Russia is backing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran is likewise helping the Taliban fight ISIS in Afghanistan.Increased support to the Taliban is an option for retaliating against ISIS (if ISIS is deemed responsible for orchestrating or inspiring the bombing) and also serves other interests.The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan believes Russia wants to undermine the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan. Russia has also sided politically with the Taliban in opposing long-term agreements for U.S. and NATO involvement and demanding the departure of foreign forces from the country.
- Suppress Massive Protests
Putin has been facing the biggest protests in five years with demonstrators fueled over frustration over corruption. The U.S. State Department condemned the arrests of hundreds of protestors, including a major opposition leader.Putin warned the protestors that they risked making Russia follow in the footsteps of the Arab Spring, referring to mass violence and chaos. He obviously wants to use national security as a justification for shutting down the opposition.
Both Russia and the West are threatened by Islamist terrorism and should be natural, full-fledged partners in this struggle against both Sunni and Shiite extremism. Unfortunately, Putin is—and always will be—a former KGB spymaster.
Not withstanding Russia’s pledge to join forces with Trump to fight terror, Putin’s intense desire to challenge the West means opportunities for international cooperation that would otherwise be obvious will be missed.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak please contact us.