Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, listens to Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko as he visits the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant in southern Siberia on Friday, Aug. 21, 2009. (AP/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin)
Watch BBC video on the power plant explosion
Chechen terrorists have claimed responsibility for blowing up the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydroelectric Power Plant, Russia's largest, and for the blast at a police station in Nazran. A group calling itself Riyadhus Salihiyn has announced its plans for stepping up "economic warfare" against Russia, the terrorists' priority targets being oil and gas pipelines, power plants, and major industrial enterprises. If in the case of the Siberian electric power plant Russian officials are shrugging off these allegations as "idiotic," the Nazran terrorist act, as well as the now almost daily terrorist attacks in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and in what seemed like a pacified Chechnya suggest that the North Caucasus situation is rapidly reaching boiling point, threatening to get out of state control.
The "Afghanization" of the Caucasus has both internal and external causes. Unemployment, corruption, blood feuds, criminal standoffs, and struggle between various local clans provide a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. All that is true, yet without serious financing and supply of weapons from abroad the scope of terrorist acts could hardly have been quite so great. That the Islamist gunmen have the backing of certain foreign agencies is not to be doubted, but to blame this on the United States, the UK and Israel, as Ingushetia President Yunusbek Yevkurov has done, is fairly short-sighted, to say the least.
President Yevkurov is certainly a most worthy person, his courage and readiness for self-sacrifice have earned him general admiration, but he must either produce convincing proof of his accusations or realize that making this kind of statement is not in Russia's interest.
All the countries on his list have experienced similar terrorist acts, while in Afghanistan and Iraq where US troops are based these are practically a daily affair enacted under more or less the same scenarios as in Russia. For this reason Russia and the West willy-nilly have no alternative but to pool their resources to fight this menace. It is a known fact that a joint state-level US-Russian group has been set up to this end. For obvious reasons its activity does not enjoy much publicity, so it is difficult to judge the degree of its success. Very possibly, other terrorist acts we know nothing about have been averted by this group's efforts. Clearly, though, a single group like that is not nearly enough for resolving the problem of terrorism.
So the issue on today's agenda should be on a global scale, i.e. a new system of world security embracing the Untied States, Europe, Russia, ex-Soviet republics, and eventually also China, India and other countries. In this context, stepping up close cooperation between such organizations as NATO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization must be seen as a most natural move.
The NATO bloc, as the superior entity in terms of seniority, experience and strength, ought to be taking the lead here, the more so since, having reached the retirement age of 60, NATO is obviously going through a serious crisis. The impression is that, having achieved undeniable success in ending military confrontation among Western countries and saving Europe from the threat of Communism, NATO has now lost the point of its existence. NATO's obsessive enlargement is not unlike just another market soap bubble, with all its attendant woes. This bubble must not be allowed to burst, for given the growing threat of global chaos, NATO could become a key element of the new global security mechanism, provided it played its policy cards right.
At the moment some politicians and pundits aware of the magnitude of impending threats are dropping vague hints about admitting Russia to NATO. Alas, it's a bit too late in the day for that; this particular boat has left port. There might have been some sense in discussing the matter in the 1990s, and also in the immediate wake of 9/11, but the West missed its chance in a most pig-headed way. At present, it is both possible and necessary to try and involve Russia in closer cooperation with the Euro-Atlantic community in creating a global security network. If these efforts bear fruit, the next step should be bringing major Asian powers into this network, too.
Regrettably, people whose strategic goal is further NATO expansion and weakening Russia's position in its traditional spheres of influence still hold sway in Washington despite the advent of a more sensible administration. However, the fact that such top-notch political players as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and numerous others are increasingly in favor of integrating Russia into Euro-Atlantic security structures speaks volumes.
Russia's task nowadays is this: proceed from declarations in favor of such a security structure to working out specific statistics, diagrams, charts, drawings, logistics, and a million other details of this new global system. As the West is now unlikely to go in for such things, it is in Russia's interests to take the initiative and spare no effort in promoting it in Washington and Brussels.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.