Russia’s Anti-Terror Ops in Turkey

Prof. Mark Galeotti (NYU) has an interesting piece in The Moscow News about the recent revenge killings of expatriate Chechens living in Turkey, raising troubling questions over the extra-territorial activity of state security services (and naturally, Russia is not alone in this).

Last month, three Chechens living in Istanbul were leaving Friday prayers. Suddenly a man in a parked car opened fire on them eleven times with a silenced pistol, killing all three.

Part of a Kremlin campaign to eliminate terrorists living and working abroad? After all, one of the three was Berg-haj Musayev, Amir Khamzat. A leader in Istanbul’s Chechen community, Musayev was a close associate of rebel leader Doku Umarov and responsible for raising funds for him. (…)

Istanbul is turning out to be a dangerous place for Chechen rebels and sympathizers. The year before, two more were killed: Gazi Edisultanov in September, Islam Dzhanibekov in December. Both were former rebel fighters and neither murder has been solved.

Nor is Istanbul the only place where expats linked with the rebels have died in bloody circumstances. In 2004, their “president,” Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was blown up in Qatar. His assassins reportedly worked for the GRU, Russian military intelligence. When they were sent back to Moscow to complete their prison sentences, they were released. (…)

Murder can never be justified. The best way to deal with terrorists is through the courts and the law. That is, after all, one of the things that distinguishes us from them.

But I have also met Russian security officers genuinely dismayed that they cannot bring terrorists abroad to justice. Without in any way justifying it, and whatever the truth behind the Istanbul killings, so long as states feel they cannot protect themselves within the law, they will do so without it.