Terrorism in Russia, useful to Chechen rebels, ultra-nationalists and Putin
Officials investigating the bloodbath on the Nevsky said that the incident was a terrorist act and are following that lead, but they have not said who was behind it.
The Nevsky Express had already been targeted in 2007. An explosion damaged the railway tracks, and the train derailed hurting about 30 people. Two Ingush are on trial in the city of Novgorod in that case. Both claim to be linked to Chechen rebel leader Doky Umarov, who is known for attacks against public transit.
Islamists did claim responsibility for the 27 November bomb in a statement posted on Kavkazcenter.com. A self-styled Islamic group calling itself the “Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Caucasus Emirate” announced that it acted on orders of the Caucasus emir Umarov. The group also announced that “more attacks” would follow.
Russian police is not convinced by the claim. Caucasian extremists tend to stick to their home turf and often claim responsibility in other incidents in which they are not involved, like power failures or accidents in hydroelectric plants.
What is certain though is that extremist groups have expressed on several occasions a desire to attack Russia, broadening their terrorist action with diversionary actions and acts of sabotage outside the Caucasus.
Another possibility is that Russian ultra-nationalists might be behind the attacks rather than Chechens. The Gazeta newspaper said that ‘Combat 18’, a militant racist group, claimed responsibility for the attack against the Nevsky Express. Founded in England, the group is particularly active in Russia with a long series of crimes against Gypsies, Muslims and immigrants. However, striking bureaucrats and managers who favour the Nevsky Express might be a radical shift in the group’s strategy. For this reason, investigators remain sceptical about such hypothesis.
For two days after the Nevsky attack, Vladimir Putin did not speak. This has been his modus operandi in other serious incident of terrorism, like the Dubrovka theatre siege and the Beslan school affair.
When he did speak, he appeared on ‘question and answer’ TV show in which he said that the country’s intelligence services and police must be strengthened because terrorism had not yet been defeated.
Notwithstanding who might be the actual perpetrators of the Nevsky Express outrage, many in Russia are concerned about the political consequences that this apparent strategy of terror might cause. For example, a series of bombings in Moscow in 1999 increased popular support for then Prime Minister Putin who rode the wave to the presidency in 2000. In 2002, in the aftermath of the Dubrovka attack, the authorities threatened to shut down the NTV network and introduced the existing system of TV censorship. With the Beslan massacre of 2004, the direct election of governors was abolished. Now, some think that the latest attacks might lead to internet censorship.