Yesterday saw the continuation of what is unquestionably a well-planned terrorist bombing campaign in Russia. Early in the morning, a car bomb in the southern town of Volgodonsk destroyed several apartment buildings, killing seventeen people. Late yesterday evening, another blast in a St. Petersburg apartment building killed two people. While officials initially thought that this incident was a gas explosion, the media later quoted St. Petersburg police as saying that the blast was caused by 10-13 pounds of dynamite. Four people were injured, including a child. Police officials also said that they found and defused various explosive devices in Moscow yesterday (Russian agencies, NTV, September 16).
Earlier this week, a bomb destroyed an apartment building in southern Moscow, killing 119. Last week, a similar blast in a southeastern Moscow apartment building killed ninety-four. On September 2, a bomb at an apartment complex housing military personnel in Buinaksk, Dagestan, killed sixty-four. On August 31, an explosion at a shopping mall in central Moscow killed one and injured more than forty. Russian officials have blamed Islamic radicals fighting in Dagestan for the attacks, but one of their leaders, the radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, has denied responsibility. Russian law enforcement said that the suspects in the Moscow bombings may have been responsible for today’s blast in Volgodonsk and has launched a manhunt for them (Russian agencies, September 16).
The bombing campaign is clearly further destabilizing Russia’s political atmosphere, which had already been made increasingly tense by the ongoing conflict in Dagestan and the impending December parliamentary vote. With each new bombing, the possibility increases of a violent backlash against Chechens and other Caucasian peoples living elsewhere in Russia. Meanwhile, the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, has scheduled a special session today to discuss security measures. This decision followed a report in the Western press quoting Yegor Stroev, the Federation Council’s head, as calling for President Boris Yeltsin’s resignation (New York Times, September 16). Stroev said yesterday that some of his words may have been misinterpreted (it was not a complete retraction) and that it was up to Yeltsin alone to decide whether to finish his term in office (Russian agencies, September 16).
In any case, some observers continue to believe that the terrorism is not strictly an act of retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalist rebels for attacks carried out against Chechen and Dagestani villages. State Duma deputy and radical democrat Konstantin Borovoi, for example, was quoted as saying that he was warned by an officer in the GRU (Russian military intelligence) that there would be explosions in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Borovoi claimed that Russia’s special services had received information about planned terrorist acts but had not warned local authorities so as not to “sow panic” (Obshchaya gazeta, September 16). Earlier this week, Borovoi was quoted as saying that Russia’s special services had a hand in the Moscow apartment building bombings, “though the direct executors, possibly, were Chechens.” As to motive, Borovoi said that “today instability is to the advantage of the authorities” (www.polit.ru, September 14).
…PUTTING PUTIN IN PRECARIOUS POSITION.