Counter-Terrorism: How to Leave the Zone of Confusion
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia

On December 7, 2018, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted an expert discussion on the role of Russia in international counter-terrorism cooperation. This role, as the experts said, is a “backbone force”, but undervalued in the context of international experience.

Although the topic of combating terrorism is “eternal”, the discussion had a formal reason - publication of the latest issue of the Global Terrorism Index 2018, where all countries of the world are ranked according to how much they suffer from terrorist attacks. Over the past year, Russia has improved its performance, moving from 33rd to 34th place, while the first three places are occupied by Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria, where happened most terrorist attacks.

According to the Valdai Club experts, the very existence of such a rating is really positive. Ilya Rogachev, Director of the Department for New Challenges and Threats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, called the index a “useful tool” reflecting the current state of research in this area abroad, although it’s more theoretical than practical. Expressing respect for the authors of the publication, Evgenia Gvozdeva, Director of Production at the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, drew attention to the fact that the Australian index practically does not allow to make any predictions: for example, the issues of 2014–2015 were silent about the disasters that hit France and Belgium. Moreover, the authors with some kind of political engagement not always successfully characterized these or other phenomena in the world.

Most of the modern mechanisms of international counter-terrorism cooperation appeared after the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001. It was Russia, according to Rogachev, which proposed the first global concept to counter-terrorism, stressing the need for public-private partnership in this area, including fight against propaganda of terrorist ideologies. Although at first the Western partners said a decisive "no" regarding the majority of Russian initiatives, something like "we will do it ourselves", - afterwards, in practice, a lot of things was done. “Russia is a backbone force in the field of international cooperation in countering terrorism,” the expert said. “It repeatedly formulated approaches and solutions, introduced the “foreign terrorist fighters” concept, many resolutions of the UN Security Council were adopted on Russia’s initiatives, including border crossings, financing terrorism, supplying weapons and military products to terrorists. This gives ground to affirm that Russia plays a decisive role in international cooperation and the fight against terrorism. ”

However, in recent years, as representative of the Foreign Ministry said, diplomatic contacts in this area became difficult due to the present attitude towards Russia in the West. On the other hand, they never stopped and were pragmatic, so important decisions are taken at the UN, and special services of different countries exchange operative information with each other, which allows to neutralize radicals in time.

According to Evgenia Gvozdeva, terrorism is a constantly evolving phenomenon, and the last step in its evolution was the appearance of ISIS (banned in the Russian Federation), which militants used the Internet, social networks and all other resources of modern media. When young people began to flock to ISIS camps, the threat became truly global. This problem can no longer be solved by a single state. “After the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium the security and intelligence agencies were in a muddle. Therefore, Europe needs to adopt the Russian experience in preventing terrorist attacks and fighting propaganda - this experience would be invaluable for our colleagues,” Gvozdeva said. However, the situation begins to change gradually - in Europe laws are beginning to be adopted, which for many years were shelved. It is already clear that the legislation will continue to change, although this process is not fast.

One of the most painful issues in the fight against terrorism is the fate of militants’ wives and children, who now live in territories of Syria and Iraq. What to do with them is completely unclear. Many minors have EU citizenship, but have already received ISIS ideological training. Europe finds itself in a double trap: they can become terrorists - either if they stay, or if they come to the EU. To prevent this, monitoring and de-radicalization processes are needed, and this is not so simple. If you look at the latest acts of terror in Europe, the problem becomes obvious: yes, some terrorists arrive in the EU together with migrants, but others “grew up” within the EU as its citizens. For example, this happened in Germany. “Only Russia has a clear plan and vision for this problem, it always paid great attention to both evacuation of women and children from conflict zones and minimizing the risks of further radicalization,” Gvozdeva said.

We have to admit that countering terrorist networks is an international problem. And in this regard comes to the fore cooperation between states, exchange of experience. But the main problem of cooperation on antiterrorism is precisely the fact, that many states have very politicized approaches to this issue. And in all states they are different. This also applies to the definition of terrorism, and the hierarchy of terrorist threats. We cannot even agree on a single list of terrorist groups operating in Syria.

One of the areas most affected by the politicization of counter-terrorism interaction is cybersecurity. The situation here is the worst, Ilya Rogachev said, although everyone acknowledges that the issue of Internet and social networks using t by terrorists is one of the most important. Practically there are no contacts on the official levels between Russia and the West, and this is a vivid example of the artificial politicization and ideologization of counter-terrorism, which is a direct harm to people's security and international cooperation.

It is unclear how the situation with counter-terrorism will develop further. In fact, terrorists are always one step ahead: all measures to combat them here are reactions. What to do with "lone wolves of jihad" or killer trucks is obscured by clouds. A hope only remains, that after the ISIS defeat another monster will not arise on its ruins, which we cannot imagine today.