Is Boko Haram a pawn in the bigger political game?

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By Alexander Nekrassov

Kremlin insiders predict more Western aid and possibly intervention for Nigeria as lessons from Iraq begin to sink in.

The traditional view in the Kremlin on any conflict in different parts of the world, be it social unrest, a popular uprising, an overthrow of government or a rise in terrorist activity, has always come down to one question: What’s in it for the Yanks? Or, if we put it in the language of the statements that have been coming from Moscow in the past several months over Ukraine: What’s in it for our American partners?

The basic thinking behind this is that Washington looks at the whole world as its backyard and pursues its agendas with remarkable determination and ruthlessness, especially when it comes to its economic and financial interests, including energy supply. As in, how this or that country is positioned strategically, whether it has substantial and gas and other resources, has important pipelines running through it or lies along major sea routes.

The old communist concept of rushing in to make life difficult for the US whenever a crisis breaks out has dissipated now, mostly due to lack of money and military muscle. But as the civil war in Syria has demonstrated, when does get involved, things get done.

When it comes to the current turmoil in Nigeria and the dramatic rise of the threat from the armed group Boko Haram, the question, “What’s in it for our American partners?” has not yet provided any real answers for the Kremlin. In fact, the view there is that had US First Lady Michelle Obama not lent her support to the very high profile “Bring Our Girls Back” hashtag campaign after Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in the province of Borno, the US, and the West, would have probably remained indifferent to the crisis in Nigeria.

Rise of Boko Haram

Boko Haram, which had emerged initially as a non-violent movement that promoted Islamic values and rejected western culture and its “decadence”, turned to violence in 2009, and since 2010 has been carrying regular attacks, rapidly growing in numbers as a result of a recruitment campaign, both in Nigeria and beyond.

What adds to the confusion, from the point of view of Russian officials, is that Boko Haram, which is based in the north of Nigeria, is actually fighting for control of the area that has no reserves.

Nigeria is the biggest producer in all of Africa and a big exporter of oil to the US. Incidentally, Russia’s trade at the moment with Nigeria amounts to only around $300m a year, which pales in significance compared to other major players. But the thinking in Moscow is that this situation has to change if is to make a return to Africa.

The interesting angle on the crisis in Nigeria is that it is seen in Moscow as conflict rather than a religious one, even though the country is equally split between Muslims and Christians. As the thinking in Moscow goes, if it was a classic “religious war”, then Boko Haram would not have been indiscriminate in murdering both Muslims and Christians.

Boko Haram fighters are now taking over entire villages in the north, looting and torching them to the ground, killing dozens of people, and then disappearing without trace. The group has mastered the techniques of mobile guerrilla warfare, making it extremely difficult for the Nigerian army to track down its units. Some of the attacks bear the hallmarks of publicity stunts carried out in broad daylight. As a result, a feeling of total chaos is created, with the opposition blaming the government of President Goodluck Jonathan for its inability to the carnage. [eap_ad_1] Opposition benefits

After every attack, everyone is reminded that there is still no trace of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls, although recently, bizarre reports have surfaced that 60 of them have supposedly managed to escape while the terrorists were looking the other way.

Nevertheless, the kidnapping on such a vast scale was obviously intended as a blow to Jonathan’s regime first and foremost, because selling the girls for around $20 each was not really going to enrich Boko Haram. So this was more of a slap on the face of the government in power that could only benefit the opposition.