Russians and Terrorism in the Middle East

The depth of Russian immersion into the La Brea tarpits of Middle Eastern fanaticism and polarization is graphically illustrated by the level of Soviet/Russian involvement in terrorist activities in the Middle East. As the flip side of Russian counterinsurgency, which the Russians always linked with anti-terrorism, it should be of little surprise to note that the   Russians were up to their necks in subsidizing, training, and organizing terrorist groups. Nor given the CIA’s predilection for making poor intelligence assessments, should it be a surprise that the CIA in 1981 rendered a judgement that the Russians did not support terrorism.  This facile judgement was based on the theory that while the Russians trained and financed them, they eschewed acts of terrorism against civilians. It is an early indicator of the present U.S tortuous attempts to find the hair -splitting separator between the terrorism and political aims of Hezbollah and the PLO. See a complete exposition of the Russian attitude to terrorism in Walter Laqueur’s The Age of Terrorism.

Russians initially used Arafat and he was enthusiastic to do Russia’s bidding the Russians but soon realized that as a factor he was pretty much useless.


Cristopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin ( The World was Going our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World) found immense amount of materiel linking the Russian KGB to PLO terrorism, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PFLP) the Popular Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PDFLP), the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) and the Black September Organization. Much of this was done through the good offices of Wadi Haddad, the chief of operations of the PFLP and the primary link between the KGB. And the various terror organizations of the Middle East. Those who have closely examined the Russian link to terrorism found that the Russians were fully aware of the operations targeting civilians.  The Russians also cultivated Yasir Arafat, ( Aka Abu Ammar) Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) but apparently the Russians considered him as a poseur and not useful to the Russian objectives. The Russians loved having Israel  intact in the Middle East. It gave them access to the “right side” of the Palestinian question. They played both ends of course, as they always have, but integral to their intervention in the Middle East an engrained and easily aroused  and popular anti-semitism among the people.  From the times of the Czars till now anti-semitism has always been a popular meme among the Russian intelligentsia. This is true despite the large percentage of  Jewish leaders among the Bolsheviks. The term “rootless cosmopolitans”  were generally applied to Jewish writers, and the Jews in general were always assumed to be a fifth column. Moreover their exodus from Russia, when it became possible to do so, was seen by many  patriotic Russians as a sign to the world that Russia was a poor place to live. They did not want them in Russia but were angry when they had the effrontery to leave… other symptom of the Russian split personality.

Wadie Haddad

In consonance with the normal state of internecine warfare, murderous rivalries, and general chaos which characterizes much of the Middle East, the terrorist groups and individuals cultivated by the Russians warred on each other and the Russians were unable to stay aloof. Much of the history of Putin’s rise to power and his decision to invade Chechnya was based on the alleged terrorist acts of the Islamist Chechens but many observers have concluded that Putin used these false flag atrocities to create fervor for another war in Chechnya. The biographies  on Putin ( The Man Without a Face) by Masha Gessen, squarely point to his involvement in the terrorist attacks imputed to Chechen terrorists giving Putin the reason to invade Chechnya. As a former KGB officer Putin was reared on the efficacy of terrorism. In fact the present Russian way of war could be termed “terrorism as  conventional war.” The destruction of  Grozny and Aleppo are two examples to compare to the destruction inflicted on Ukraine.

Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Aleppo University campus in the Syrian city on March 10, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The Russian prepossession with terrorism, which in the final analysis, was of little value to the Russians, can only be seen as one more piece of evidence illuminating the Middle Eastern moral and spiritual  rot the Russians inflicted upon themselves. They came. They Stayed (too long) and they degenerated.


About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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