Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 166

It is hard to know why terrorists would target an ordinary apartment building in a working-class Moscow neighborhood. But the fact that officials are calling the explosion a terrorist bombing is–regardless of the accuracy of the claims–a measure of how politically charged Russia’s atmosphere is at the moment, with the electoral campaign heating up and a fight raging in Dagestan between Russian forces and radical Islamists.

Indeed, a Russian website which reports and analyzes the news, quoted Viktor Ilyukhin, the radical communist who heads the State Duma’s security committee, as saying yesterday that all the recent blasts in Moscow have been part of a Kremlin plot to thwart Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s political ambitions (, September 9). Luzhkov, however, dismissed this conspiracy theory, saying that Ilyukhin “should contact the city health department” (Moscow Times, September 10) and that there was no reason to impose a state of emergency in Moscow because of the apartment building explosion (Russian agencies, September 9).

But if Ilyukhin is, as Luzhkov suggested, not fully rational, more credible sources are hinting that the rising political tensions may yield extraordinary developments. Sergei Sobyanin, chairman of the Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) committee for legislation and judicial and legal issues, said yesterday that the “real preconditions” now exist for the impostion of martial law or a state of emergency, with a subsequent cancellation of elections. According to Sobyanin, martial law can be introduced not only in response to aggression by a foreign state, but with the appearance of armed conflicts domestically and the threat of the country’s break-up. He said that all of these conditions–given the conflict in Dagestan–currently exist.

Sobyanin also said that Russia’s law on states of emergency does not allow changes in the constitution or in electoral laws, or for elections for “higher organs of power” to be carried out during a state of emergency. A state of emergency, he said, is a “direct pretext for canceling elections,” but does not permit power to be concentrated in such institutions as the military, police of special services. Sobyanin added that Russia’s law on terrorism would allow the authorities to do basically the same things that the state of emergency law would allow them to do. These would include mobilizing the armed forces and Interior Ministry units, as well as limiting the movement of citizens and other similar measures “within the framework of the boundaries of carrying out counterterrorist operations” (Russian agencies, September 9).

It should be noted that the Russian president requires the endorsement of the Federation Council to impose a state of emergency. This underscores the importance of Sobyanin’s comments, and suggests that the option is being seriously considered in high places. On the other hand, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of Russia’s Central Election Commission, said yesterday that elections in the country will take place as planned. He called the carrying out of free, democratic elections at their scheduled time “the main task of the authorities” (Russian agencies, September 9).