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In Wake of Suicide Bombing Russians Question Their Security

Volgograd bus explosion caught by a windshield mounted camera. YouTube screenshot.

Volgograd bus explosion caught by a windshield mounted camera. YouTube screenshot.

An explosion aboard a Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) commuter bus caused a stir in Russia’s blogosphere on Monday. Initial reports [ru] stated that the bus exploded because of a faulty natural gas powered motor, and that at least six people [ru] had died. However, within minutes netizens began to speculate that the blast was the result of a terrorist act.

Some Twitter users demanded photos [ru] of the damaged bus, and the popular tabloid LifeNews offered [ru] a 50 thousand ruble reward for a video (indeed, because of the common use of car mounted cameras, video of the blast soon turned up [ru], but not on LifeNews). In the meantime, conflicting photos were released on different television news stations and online news portals, with no clear sources or citations. In fact, some publications used photographs of other burned or damaged buses to illustrate the news — instances that LiveJournal user ljfun picked up on and collated into a post [ru]:

К примеру, Волгоградский ресурс «Всё для вас» распространил новость с фотографией […] автобус[а] взорванн[ого] в Израиле в 2002 году палестинскими террористами. […] Еще один волгоградский сайт опубликовал фото взорванного автобуса в Бургасе (Болгария)

For example, the Volgograd resource “All for you” distributed the news with a photograph of a bus that exploded in Israel in 2002 by Palestinian terrorists. […] Another Volgograd website published a photo of a bus that exploded in Burgas (Bulgaria)

Some of the confusion was created by Twitter users like Vladimir Zolin, who claimed to be a witness, but seemed to be tweeting wildly inaccurate information:

[…] I was driving 5 or 6 cars behind this bus. During the explosion charred bodies were tossed all over the road!!..  

Two hours after the explosion, Russia’s Investigative Committee released a statement [ru] declaring it an act of terror. Although the Committee offered few details beyond this, the announcement opened up the floodgates of speculation. Echo Moskvy's Vladimir Varfolomeyev tweeted referencing recent ethnic violence against Muslim migrants in Moscow's Biruylyovo district: 

It will be very very bad if the blast in Volgograd turns out to be connected with the nationalist/migrant problems. God forbid.

An hour later information surfaced that the bombing was carried out by a woman wearing a hijab. She was allegedly Naida Asiyalova, a young Muslim woman married to an ethnic Russian convert to Islam, who had become a terrorist operating in Dagestan. Asiyalova was apparently seriously ill — two years ago her friends took up a collection [ru] on the social network VKontakte, claiming that she needed jaw surgery.

Russian nationalists were quick, as always, to note that Asiyalova was from the North Caucasus. Nationalist publicist Egor Holmogorov, for example, mocked the old trope that “crime has no nationality”:

Of course the suicide bomber in Volgograd has no nationality. Most certainly it was an ethnic Chuvash trained in Irish terrorist camps.

Some, like the blogger Yuri Pronkou, see [ru] the answer to such acts of terror in giving Russia's security apparatus even more leeway than it already has:

Еще раз о моей позиции по работе спецслужб: в стране должна быть система противовесов, которая позволит (с санкции суда) спецслужбам производить прослушку, прочитку и т.д. подозреваемых лиц. 

Once again, about my position on the special services: Russia should have a system of checks and balances that would allow (with court approval) the special services wiretaping, electronically monitoring, etc. of the suspects.

In the same blog post, Pronkou asked his readers if they would agree to wiretapping if they knew it would make them safer. Only ten percent answered positively.

The rest feel that Putin and Russia's security apparatus have failed to live up to their promises of personal safety. For example, the blogger irlandets01 wrote [ru]:

 Заплатив за безопасность свободой мы купили явно бракованный и тухлый товар.

Having paid for security with our freedom we have clearly purchased defective, rotten goods. 

Many Russians realize that Putin cannot protect them from continued acts of terror. But with the Sochi Winter Olympic Games only 109 days away, it may be that Russia’s security services will not be able to protect visitors either.

9 comments

  • ivonotes

    Interesting that only 10% of Russians would agree to more surveillance if it made them safer. Seems many Russians still feel mistrustful of both government. Here we see demands for photos as evidence, disbelief in initial reporting on the event, and doubt that the terror narrative is correct, laced with fear and mistrust of others as well.

    • Nina Ivanovna

      As I read more and more on the Russian blogosphere, it is becoming clear that cynicism, which is tied in with the mistrust of the authorities, is a dominating feature. Appropriately, OpenDemocracy has begun a new series on cynicism in Russian society (http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lev-gudkov/russian-cynicism-symptom-of-stagnant-society). This quote from Lev Gudkov at Levada Center particularly resonated:
      “People believe that everyone in public life, whether members of the government, politicians, oligarchs, NGOs or even church people, acts from the lowest possible motives.”

      • ivonotes

        Interesting. This reminds me of the continued sharp division between public and private life in Russia. Some of my most trusting relationships are with Russians, but that trust plays out only in private space. The fact of public cynicism and distrust in public life is a symptom of fear and fragility, it seems to me, rather than anything innate or elemental in Russian culture.

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