Nearly two decades into Russia's own version of the "war on terror," it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that the country is in the throes of a rising Islamist insurgencyor that the Russian government, which once promised a swift, decisive victory over "Wahhabism," increasingly seems to have little idea what to do about it.It was not always this way. Two decades ago, the threat posed by Islamic radicalism was still distant and ephemeral for most Russians. True, the sudden collapse of the U.S.S.R. had unleashed a wave of ethnic separatism on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Over the span of thirteen months, fifteen new countries, six of them majority-Muslim, emerged from the wreckage of the "evil empire." As a result, the aggregate number of Muslims within Russia proper actually decreased. And, after more than seven decades of officially-atheist Soviet rule, those Muslims that remained within the Russian Federation lacked a clear religious direction or sense of spiritual identity.
But if the growth of Islamic radicalism wasn't an immediate concern, a further fragmentation of the Russian state was. The corrosive example of independence on the part of the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia ignited dreams of the same in many corners of the Russian Federation. This was particularly true in Russia's Caucasus republics—the majority-Muslim regions which abutted the newly-independent nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. These stirrings were given concrete voice by the November 1991 declaration of independence by Chechnya's nationalist leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev.