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Interview with Fiona Hill, Foreign Policy Studies Program, the Brookings Institution - 2003-05-13


Despite much anti-terrorism effort, the bombing attacks Monday in Chechnya as well as the attacks in Saudi Arabia show there is still much to be done. VOA's David Borgida speaks with Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution about how links between these unfortunate events can be understood.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us from the Brookings Institution, Fiona Hill, a Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program there. Ms. Hill, thanks for joining us.

MS. HILL
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA
It is a day to discuss these unfortunate incidents around the world, and certainly the incident in Chechnya on Monday was quite unfortunate. Tell us a little bit about what you believe led to this. Given all the discussions that have been going on between Moscow and Grozny these days, one might not have expected this to be happening. I guess this is the second one in about 5 months or so.

MS. HILL
Yes, that's correct. And that's also following hard on the heels of the Nordost Theater hostage crisis which we all remember in October of last year, which was the most serious such terrorist incident in Chechnya, and of course on Russian soil, since the beginning of this most recent round of war, of course following on from the Moscow apartment bombings that precipitated that.

In a way, I don't think we should have been at all surprised that there would be an incident like this, in spite of, as you said, the dialogue between Moscow and Grozny over the last several months, because this has really been a top-down dialogue. It has really been directed by the center, by Moscow. Moscow has decided how it is going to resolve this conflict. There are a lot of disaffected groups. There is not a broad-based dialogue with the Chechnyans. The Chechnyan opposition movement is fractured.

As you noted, Aslan Maskhadov, the elected Chechnyan President, who has been rejected by Moscow as a legitimate leader, has denied culpability in this latest terrorist attack, as he has done in others. And he is not in complete control of all of the other different factions that are opposing Moscow. The conflict has been infiltrated from the outside by many different groups, some with ties to al-Qaida. It has become a training ground for those who are seeking experience in these kinds of conflicts, perhaps to export elsewhere. It is a very complicated and very fluid situation in Chechnya.

MR. BORGIDA
It is indeed complicated, and I want to just follow up on that point, because we have just had a conversation about al-Qaida. Could you paint a picture for us in a little more detail about this intersection of al-Qaida there in Chechnya, apparently a place where al-Qaida forces are no stranger?

MS. HILL
A lot of it has been done on the individual level. Chechnya has also recruited or been an attractive venue for many of the types of people that we have seen associated with other al-Qaida actions. Of course, Osama bin Laden himself has made frequent references to Chechnya as part of the global jihad. We have had instances of people who have fought in Chechnya appearing in Afghanistan during the beginning of the American campaign. We also remember that a senior al-Qaida operative tried to gain access to Chechnya. That has kind of come out in the last several months that several years ago they were scoping Chechnya out as a potential staging ground for al-Qaida forces.

Really, the fact that the Russian Government has really failed to resolve the political conflict that this all started out with, with Chechnya, to reconstruct the region, and has failed to restore any semblance of stability there or to restore the economy and the polity of the region, has left it as a festering sore, a kind of mini-Afghanistan within Russia's own territory, largely out of control of the Russian Government, in spite of their best efforts to spin this as the end of the war and the beginning of a process towards reintegrating Chechnya into the Russian Federation.

MR. BORGIDA
Ms. Hill, briefly, we don't have a lot of time left, in less than a minute or so, why is Chechnya such an attractive place for terrorism?

MS. HILL
Well, really, because most of the territory is out of control of the Russian forces or the Russian installed Chechnyan Government. And in that territory that is controlled by the rebel secessionist forces, Maskhadov himself has little scope for really restoring control. He has very few resources. And the funding that is coming in for the forces to fight against the Russians is coming in from broader terrorist groups and other Islamist movements that are seeking to perpetuate this conflict.

MR. BORGIDA
Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution here in Washington, thanks so much for your analysis. We appreciate that.

MS. HILL
Thank you.

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