Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 64

A hitherto-unknown group–calling itself the “Skif” special forces–has claimed responsibility for the abortive March 28 attempt on the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The group, claiming to be part of a guerrilla unit named after Metropolitan Ioann of St. Petersburg and Ladozh (the late Russian Orthodox cleric), faxed the claim to various Russian media organizations yesterday. The message stated that “employees of the internal affairs organs and the mass media, who are actively persecuting patriots, will be destroyed. Citizens of the United States, condemned for the bombing of Yugoslavia, we ask to leave Russian territory before April 3. The remaining Americans will be the objects of acts of retribution for the U.S. aggression against Yugoslavia. We ask Russian military servicemen henceforth to approach more responsibly questions of material-technical supplying of guerrilla groups” (Kommersant daily, April 1).

Neither “Skif” nor the larger guerrilla organization named in the statement had come before the public eye until now. Various reports noted yesterday, however, that Metropolitan Ioann of St. Petersburg and Ladozh was known for his “Black Hundreds” views–a reference to the Tsarist paramilitary forces behind anti-Jewish pogroms at the beginning of the century (Russian agencies, March 31). The group backed up its claim of involvement in the embassy incident by providing serial numbers for the two grenade launchers left on the street in front of the U.S. embassy after the failed attack. The numbers apparently partially matched.

The March 28 failed attack was caught on an amateur video, which showed a masked person in camouflage getting out of a white jeep and attempting to fire a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). The car sped away after police near the embassy, which has been the site of frequent anti-American demonstrations in recent days, opened fire.

One newspaper today quoted an unnamed Russian Interior Ministry official as saying that those involved in the abortive attack were most likely former Interior Ministry or military personnel. The source said it may have been the same group which in 1995, following NATO airstrikes against the Serbs over Bosnia, successfully fired an RPG into the U.S. embassy. On that occasion, the grenade penetrated the building and destroyed a photocopier, but no one was hurt. The paper’s interior ministry source said that while no one took responsibility for the 1995 attack, it was later discovered to have been carried out by a group of Russian “volunteers” who had fought in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and Moldova’s Trans-Dniester region (Kommersant daily, April 1).

Security around the U.S. embassy has been considerably stepped up since last Sunday (March 29), with more than one hundred heavily armed soldiers from the Interior Ministry’s “internal troops” reportedly guarding the area around the clock (Novye izvestia, April 1). One newspaper, however, reported that law-enforcement officials do not view the threat to Americans from “Skif” as being serious. The paper also cited sources as saying that the attack might have been aimed at damaging the reputations of Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Putin, who was recently appointed secretary of President Boris Yeltsin’s Security Council (Kommersant daily, April 1).