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Vladimir Putin attends a Federal Security Service collegium on March 6, 2019
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Vladimir Putin says terrorism-related crimes in Russia have declined 110-fold in the past decade. Published statistics say he’s wrong.

Source: Meduza
Vladimir Putin attends a Federal Security Service collegium on March 6, 2019
Vladimir Putin attends a Federal Security Service collegium on March 6, 2019
Alexey Druzhinin / Kremlin Press Service / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

What Putin said:

“I must note that the number of crimes related to terrorism has been decreasing in recent years; the [FSB] director will certainly mention this in his remarks. In general, over 10 years, this figure has declined dramatically, from 997 to nine last year. At the same time, please note that the number of prevented terrorist attacks remains high — about 20 a year. This level has been maintained for the last three years,” Vladimir Putin recently told an audience at the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to the Kremlin’s website.

Where did Putin get these numbers?

The president didn’t clarify what “crimes related to terrorism” he has in mind. Last year, however, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev referred to nine terrorism-related crimes, so we can assume Putin was given similar data.

Publicly available statistics don’t support Putin’s “997” figure, but FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov and Russia’s National Counter-Terrorism Committee previously cited similar data for 2010, though they identified 779 terrorism-related crimes, not 997. There’s reason to believe that President Putin may have simply misread the number provided to him.

Do open-source data support the president’s claims?

No, published statistics actually contradict Putin’s claims directly. Terrorist-related felonies belong to a criminal category all their own, which the Attorney General’s Office defines clearly and presents separately in all statistical reports. Here are how the numbers break down over the past decade.

In similar reports, the Attorney General’s Office also discloses data about crimes registered under specific terrorist-related offenses, but the agency did not register nine instances of any of one crime in this group.

Data about terrorist-related crimes by group

What follows is a list of the felonies classified as terrorist-related offenses. In cases where only part of a criminal statute is regarded as terrorist-related, the numbers below reflect only the terrorist-related data. After each Criminal Code Article, the first numbers that appear indicate how many crimes have been registered under that statute in recent years, while the parenthetical number shows the number of offenses recorded in 2018.

  • Terrorist attack (Criminal Code Article 205) — 31 (18)
  • Attempted terrorist attack (Criminal Code Articles 30 and 205) — 28 (16)
  • Abetting terrorism (Criminal Code Article 205.1) — 316 (74)
  • Inciting or justifying terrorism (Criminal Code Article 205.2) — 204 (52)
  • Terrorist camp training (Criminal Code Article 205.3) — 59 (3)
  • Organizing a terrorist community (Criminal Code Article 205.4) — 25 (6)
  • Terrorist organizational activity (Criminal Code Article 205.5) — 415 (53)
  • Organizing an illegal armed group (Criminal Code Article 208) — 526 (26)
  • Hijacking a plane, ship, or train (Criminal Code Article 211) — 0 (0)
  • Illegal handling of nuclear materials (Criminal Code Article 220) — 12 (8)
  • Theft of nuclear materials (Criminal Code Article 221) — 0 (0)
  • Attempted murder of a public servant (Criminal Code Article 277) — 1 (1)
  • Attacking person(s) or institution(s) under international protection (Criminal Code Article 360) — 2 (2)
  • International terrorism (Criminal Code Article 361) — 1 (1)

Contrary to what President Putin says, the statistics show that the number of registered terrorism-related crimes rose until 2016 and then only started declining marginally. In 2016, half of all these crimes (1,082 offenses) involved the formation of or participation in illegal armed groups (Criminal Code Article 208), which includes cases launched against crimes committed abroad (in Syria, for example). Another quarter of the crimes reported that year (544) were registered as violations of Article 205.5 (terrorist organizational activity), which only appeared in the Criminal Code in 2013, along with another two new statutes (Article 205.3, terrorist camp training, and Article 205.4, organizing a terrorist community).

What about the “prevented terrorist attacks”?

On this score, published statistics confirm Putin’s claim that Russia prevents roughly 20 planned terrorist attacks a year, though the Attorney General’s Office only started reporting attempted terrorist attacks in 2017, when there were 21 cases. A year later, the number fell to 16.

Text by Mikhail Zelensky and Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock