On March 11, two explosions took place in northern Moscow about 5-10 minutes apart. The bombs reportedly contained 0.3-0.4 kg of TNT along with fragments of nails to cause injuries. No one was hurt since the bombs detonated early in the evening, when there were few people around. The windows in a multistory apartment block were broken between the fifth and ninth floors. Adding an element of intrigue to the situation was the fact that the apartments belonged to the Federal Security Service (FSB) which, according to a tradition dating back to Soviet times, builds housing for employees (www.lifenews.ru, March 11). Also, Margarita Simonian, the editor-in-chief of the Kremlin’s propaganda TV channel that targets foreign audiences, Russia Today, apparently resided in the apartment block built by the FSB for its employees (www.kp.ru, March 11).
The two blasts were preceded by another similar explosion near the FSB academy in Moscow. The latter explosion, equivalent to 0.5 kg of TNT, also did not claim any casualties, but damaged several nearby cars (Interfax, March 9). The Chechen militant group known as Riyadus-Salikhin claimed responsibility for the explosion near the FSB academy. The group, known for numerous suicide and hostage-taking attacks, especially during the final years of Shamil Basaev, stated the attack was retaliation for Russian policy in the North Caucasus. The statement in particular addressed two recent incidents in the North Caucasus. On March 1, police in Kabardino-Balkaria blew up a suspect rebel’s house under the pretext of a demining failure (EDM, March 7). On March 3, the security services in Ingushetia blew up the houses of a rebel leader’s relatives (EDM, March 9).
Investigators and officials in Moscow were skeptical that the North Caucasus rebels were involved in the attacks. An investigation into the incidents was launched under the article of the Russian criminal code covering hooliganism, even though a source in the Investigative Committee said the incidents might be “reassessed” (Interfax, March 11). The chairman of the State’s Duma committee for security, Vladimir Vasiliev, who has a background in the Russian interior ministry, stated the attacks were meant “to complicate the situation on the eve of the elections.” Vasiliev claimed the attackers did not intend to kill anyone so the blasts took place in “uninhabited areas” (http://www.rusnovosti.ru/news/136491/). However, all the explosions took place near FSB facilities and at least some of the explosive devices were packed with nails, apparently to inflict casualties. So it was hardly the harmless event that officials try to portray.
March 13 was the day that all due municipal, regional and other elections took place throughout Russian Federation. This is the last election cycle before the Russian parliamentary elections in the fall 2011. A number of observers pointed to the recurrent pattern in Russian politics of a tangible increase in terror attacks before elections. Whether the North Caucasian rebels, political opportunists or Russian nationalist radicals were behind the attacks, the bottom line is not affected much since it means in any case an increase in political volatility and the government’s inability to ensure order.
In a special statement on March 11, Russia’s foreign ministry hailed the United Nations Security Council’s decision to adopt sanctions against Doku Umarov, the Caucasus Emirate leader, along with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Moscow regarded this decision as the international community showing solidarity against the spread of terrorism (http://www.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/9DD5ED24F614D501C32578500062C247).
Along with violent attacks, there has been an increase in conventional political protests in the North Caucasus. On March 10, a group of people dissatisfied with the distribution of land in the suburbs of Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, staged a protest in front of government buildings in the city. The protestors rallied under such slogans as “Down with the president of the Russian Federation Medvedev” and “Down with Putin’s government” (www.ndelo.ru, March 11). It is understandable that the protesters were trying to attract as much attention to their problems as possible in order to press the government to decide the case in their favor. But, at the same time, the internal logic of Putin’s power vertical means that every local problem can now be blamed on the central government in Moscow.
Meanwhile, casualties in the North Caucasus are mounting unusually rapidly. In February alone, 59 people died and at least 66 more were injured in the region. Among the dead there were 32 suspected rebels, 15 law enforcement agents, 10 civilians and two members of local governments. While Dagestan suffered 22 deaths, Kabardino-Balkaria lost 17 people and Chechnya experienced nine violent deaths in insurgency-related violence. In terms of the number of arrests, the same regions differed significantly: 22 rebel suspects were apprehended in Chechnya, 14 were arrested in Dagestan and five arrested in Ingushetia. No one was arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria in February (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 7).
Fifty-nine deaths is a large number for a winter month in the North Caucasus, since the militants normally become active in the summer, when it becomes easier for the insurgents to hide. So if February saw such a surge in the death toll in the North Caucasus, the months ahead are likely to become even deadlier. If there is a link between the frequency and scope of terrorist attacks and the Russian election cycle, the coming summer is going to be an especially hot one, since it will be the last warm season in the mountains before the Russian presidential elections in early 2012.