Twin Acts of Terror for Russia's New Year

Volgograd's central train station billowing smoke after Sunday's deadly explosion. The iconic white fountain in the front was destroyed during the battle for Stalingrad (Volgograd's former name). The image is reminiscent of a war movie. YouTube screenshot.

Volgograd's central train station billowing smoke after Sunday's deadly explosion. The iconic white fountain in the front is a replica of the one that was damaged during the battle for Stalingrad (Volgograd's former name). YouTube screenshot.

Two terror attacks in Volgograd within less than 24 hours have put a dampener on Russia's New Year celebration. These twin bombings follow an October attack that killed 7 [Global Voices report]. The first bomb went off inside the doors of Volgograd’s main train station on Sunday afternoon, and killed 17 people. The second destroyed a trolley bus on Monday morning, as people were commuting to work, and killed at least 14.

Little information about the perpetrators is known, but as usual the RuNet is rife with speculation. After Sunday’s suicide bomber was identified as one “Aksana Aslanova”, the wife of a dead Dagestani warlord, some bloggers claimed to have found her Vkontakte page and spammed it with hateful comments. Of course, it turned out to be the wrong Aslanova — leading her to post a status update [ru]:

Уважаемые россияне, я не понимаю зачем вы мне пишете всякую ерунду, я жива и здорова, никакой терак не совершала, оставьте меня в покое.

Dear Russians, I don't understand why you keep writing such nonsense to me, I am alive and well, haven't committed any acts of terror, leave me alone.

After the second explosion, many bloggers compared the attacks to the multiple acts of terror which took place prior to Vladimir Putin first coming to power in 1999. The writer Sergei Minaev tweeted:

The atmosphere reminds me of that autumn when they were blowing up apartment buildings in Moscow. It seems as if war has been declared again.

Publicist Dmitry Olshansky similarly wrote [ru] in a Facebook post:

Итак, новая осень 1999 года наступила.

And so, the new autumn of 1999 has come.

Olshansky went on to blame Saudi-funded groups resentful of Putin's foreign policy successes in Syria for the attacks.

Oddly, President Putin did not address the nation either after the first or the second bombing, leading to much online speculation and criticism. Natalia Shavshukova, for example, thought [ru] Putin’s refusal to speak to the nation’s citizens showed a distinct lack of leadership:

Почему молчит Путин? Где он? Где обращение к нации? Если он не хочет портить всем новогоднее настроение, то за кого он он нас держит, за кого он держит граждан страны? За зажравшееся быдло? Он президент или кто?

Why is Putin silent? Where is he? Where is his message to the nation? If he doesn't want to spoil the New Year holiday mood for everyone, then what does he take us for, what does he take our citizens for? Does he take us for pigs with our faces in the trough? Is he the President or what?

President Putin's actions took place behind the scenes — he met with Prime Minister Medvedev and sent the head of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, to Volgograd. 24 hours after the first attack, the Kremlin’s website posted a statement [ru] saying Putin “would receive daily reports from the National Anti-Terrorism Committee about the measures being taken, along with regular reports about the situation.”

This was small solace for Mikhail Roskin, who wrote a blog post [ru] on Echo of Moscow’s website, noting that Russia now ranks 9th in The Global Terrorism Index, alongside countries like Iraq and Afghanistan:

9 место в мире для страны с самым высоким в мире соотношением силовых структур к гражданскому населению – это провал.

9th place in the world for a country with the world’s highest ratio of security forces to the civilian population is an utter failure.

Detective novel writer Boris Akunin also thought [ru] that the twin incidents spoke of a complete failure of Putinism. He urged an overhaul of the system, with a real division of power between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, and an independent media. While as a long term plan Akunin’s prescription may solve the problem of terrorism, it is unlikely that anything can be done before the the Sochi Winter Olympics, less than a month and a half away.

Olympic authorities, however, appear to be unconcerned. The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying “all necessary security measures are provided for, and extra security measures in light of the act of terrorism in Volgograd will not be taken, because everything needed is done.” The International Olympic Committee Chief, Thomas Bach, also expressed confidence “in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure games in Sochi.” 

In the meantime Russia has ushered in the New Year with no further incident — with a traditional fireworks display on the Red Square.


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