The Russian government has announced a new counterterrorism program amid the fallout from the Beslan school crisis, offering a $10.3 million reward for those who help Moscow “neutralize” Chechen rebel leaders Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov. Though Moscow has previously put a price on Basayev, who officials have been pursuing for a decade — and quietly offered bribes in exchange for the capture of Chechen militants — the highly public announcement of a significant reward marks a shift in the government's counterterrorism strategy.
The proposed rewards program appears to be quite similar to the Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program run by the U.S. Department of State, which offers payments to tipsters who help to “prevent, frustrate or resolve acts of terrorism against U.S. interests.” To date, the RFJ program, established in 1984, has paid out at least $57 million to three dozen people who aided the arrest (or “neutralization”) of people on the United States’ most-wanted list — including Odai and Qusai Hussein, 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yusef and Mir Amal Kansi, who killed two federal workers outside CIA headquarters in 1993.
Though the RFJ program has yet to secure the capture of those at the top of the U.S. list — such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — it can be termed a relative success.
Whether the Russian program will be as successful remains to be seen, but two factors — human nature and endemic corruption within many parts of the government establishment — argue that, if nothing else, it is a solid starting point.
Until now, Moscow’s counterterrorism strategy has appeared fairly thin: Despite regular terrorist attacks both within Russia proper and in Muslim-majority regions, officials’ hands for the most part were tied by a lack of resources, international law and concerns about international censure regarding human rights abuses. However, putting a price on the heads of known Chechen militant leaders — who are believed to be in Chechnya — marks the beginnings of a relatively sound strategy.
Money, after all, is a nearly universal motivator — and corruption within Russia’s official circles is widely believed to be a key enabler for the Chechen militant movement. Certainly, there are likely to be some highly committed ideologues surrounding the wanted men — Basayev and Maskhadov — who cannot be bought, but the temptation for some with potentially valuable information is likely to be high.
From Moscow’s standpoint, there is another potential benefit: The mere announcement of the reward could yield some gains without any payouts actually being made. Neither politicians nor militants can lead in a vacuum; if Basayev and Maskhadov begin to harbor new concerns about the trustworthiness of any of their subordinates or supporters, they might begin to isolate themselves from the Chechen community. That in itself could hamper the militant movement to some degree.