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Russia no longer has a southern buffer-zone, it is exposed to ISIS says Col. Larry Wilkerson

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. A train blast in St. Petersburg has killed 10 people, and injured at least 20 to 30 others. The attack coincides with the visit of President Vladimir Putin to the city. Russia has been on a particular alert against Chechnyan rebels returning from Syria, where they have fought alongside the Islamic State. This is not the first time there has been an attack on transportation in Russia. Now joining us from Williamsburg, Virginia, to discuss these attacks, and its implications, is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, now currently an Adjunct Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, and a regular contributor here at The Real News Network. Thanks so much for joining us, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: So Larry, it’s too early to know the specifics, but who might be responsible for these attacks, and what can you tell us about these types of terrorist attacks in Russia? LARRY WILKERSON: I think the most likely suspects probably are what is being reported, at least somewhat, in the media, and that is ISIS. And the rationale will be because of Russia’s operations in Syria against ISIS. Now, there could be some intent to blame more local potential terrorists, such as those from Chechnya. But I suspect it’ll be aimed at ISIS, if not for real reasons, for political reasons. SHARMINI PERIES: And as I said in the introduction, this is not the first time this kind of attack has happened in Russia against transportation. And it is suspected, at the moment, that these attacks might be Chechnyans who are returning from Syria, who’d fought alongside the Islamic State. Explain that dynamic for us. LARRY WILKERSON: I think we forget sometimes, Sharmini, that Russia, even during the time it was the Soviet Union, had a great trepidation about –- I could say even fear –- about its southern borders. That’s one reason why so many other states were incorporated as buffers in those borders. Even though Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and others, featured themselves majority, or at least substantial Muslim populations. They always feared the attack from the south, if you will. And in that fear, Muslims and radical Islamists, as we are wont to call them today, featured greatly. It’s not as if they have Mexico on their south, or a Canada, or something like that. They have a reason, they think, and if we had any empathy, we would think with them, at least along similar lines, that they have a problem. And this problem has manifested itself as the Soviet Union’s buffer states disappeared, and as Russia became a weaker geopolitical reality. And Chechnya sort of stands out as the big example of that, although surrounding areas have contributed. And one of the things that has happened is that ISIS, and Al Qaeda, and other groups like that, have been able to recruit rather well in those areas. And there’s always been the fear that some of those recruits once trained and bloodied, if you will, would return and bring turmoil to Russia, and that might just be what has happened. I understand they found another bomb. It was of similar construction, I understand. They defused it, made it safe, so it did not go off, but this is something I think Russia has always feared, and we’re seeing that there’s reason for them to fear that. And as they use military force in places like Syria, they’re probably going to be, as we have seen for ourselves, incurring more wrath, and potential attacks, within their own borders. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And what are the implications of these types of attacks, whether it is in St. Petersburg, Boston, Paris, wherever it might be? What are the implications, and how do we begin to really address the causes of the attacks like this? LARRY WILKERSON: I think the first thing we have to realize, if we’re thinking rationally about this -– and let me hasten to add, I don’t think either Russia, or us, are thinking rationally about it, or for that matter, Europe –- you have to consider that this is going to be with us for a long time. Terrorism is not some new phenomenon. It’s been around for at least 2,500 years, some would argue 5,000 years. It is finding very fertile ground right now, as you suggested in your question, by the fact that the peer powers, the powers with the money, the powers with the lifestyle, the powers that can go get a clean drink of water out of a faucet in the kitchen. The powers that have plenty to eat, and so forth and so on -– regardless of our poverty, we’re a lot better off, say, than many people in the world –- they’re going to start looking at us increasingly with jealousy, with fright, even, and with covetousness that’s going to send them across our borders and send them to do things against us. It’s not so much because they hate us, as George W. Bush said, or they hate our freedom, it’s because of our actions in the world. In particular, our actions against them, whether they be Al Qaeda, … or any other -– Abu Sayyaf, in the Philippines, for example, it’s just a cost of doing business in today’s globalized world. They have a lot of capability. We now have two non-state actors, as I understand it, that have drones, for example, RPAs, remotely piloted aircraft, that are armed. One of them, Hezbollah, has actually used them on the battlefield. But let me hasten to add, too, that we are spending billions of dollars collectively, and the United States leads the way, on a threat, that very arguably -– the data supports it completely -– is not only not existential, it has the potential to actually harm one of us, kill one of us, for example. About like a lightning strike does, and yet we are spending trillions of dollars, and we are giving the military-industrial terrorism complex, a new lease on life, an incredible lease on life. And the secrecy, and the civil liberties usurpation, that we are accomplishing along with this huge expenditure of money, is undermining our democracy. Whether we’re in Europe, or in the United States, or even in an authoritarian state, increasingly like Moscow is. We are undermining the state, as it currently exists. And let me also add, that is the purpose of the Zawahiris of the world, of the formerly Bin Ladens of the world. That is the purpose of some of these more clever organizations that are taking on peer powers -– in our case, a super-power — and doing damage to them. They want to undermine our democracy. Not because they hate our freedom, not because they hate the way we live, but because of our actions in the world, and because they feel like that if they were take over and impose whatever code it is, take ISIS for example, on the world, it’d be a better place, certainly a better place for them. Now, I’m not condoning any of this. I’m just saying that we are playing into the hands of the people who are trying to do damage to us, by this incredible expenditure of funds, dedication of energy and time and money and people and treasure to defeating them. When we should be just looking to manage this phenomenon, until it recedes back into the woodwork, from whence it came. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, many thoughts there. I thank you so much for joining us today, Larry, and looking forward to our ongoing discussion on the issues of undermining our democracy. Thank you so much. LARRY WILKERSON: Take care, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network. ————————- END

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.