Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 59

Russia’s security agencies came under sharp criticism from several newspapers today from what the publications saw as their inability to neutralize Chechen terrorists. Kommersant noted that the explosions took place at a time when law enforcement and security agencies were carrying out a special operation, code-named “Vikhr-Antiterror,” aimed at preventing such terrorist attacks. The bombings in Mineralniye Vody, Yessentuky and Karachaevo-Cherkessia showed that the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB)–the latter was recently put in overall charge of the Chechen counterterrorist operation–“are unable to confront Chechen terrorism,” the paper wrote (Kommersant, March 26). Meanwhile, Izvestia, in a scathing front-page article, wrote: “The terrorist war has already been going on for a long time. Hardly anyone thought that the separatists would refrain from the practice of intimidating the civilian population of Russia: At the moment, it is practically their only means of pressuring the federal authorities. The continuation of terror was expected, the special services were prepared for it and theoretically it could have been predicted. But it seems as if they’ve stepped on the old rakes once again: The fight against terrorism is carried out AFTER explosions ring out… not BEFORE” (Izvestia, March 26). Similarly, it was also said that the special services could have, at the beginning of the military operation in Chechnya, set up a system to warn of and prevent planned terrorist attacks, including those aimed outside the breakaway republic. “Against that backdrop, the explosions of Saturday look like an obvious puncture of the special services: It’s obvious that three simultaneous terrorist acts of such dimensions are not prepared is just a week and require the involvement of a large number of people–professionals, at that” (Vremya Novostei, March 26).

It was not only the media which criticized the shortcomings of Russia’s special services in preventing the terrorist bombings. Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the North Caucasus federal district and a former commander in the Chechen military operation, called the weekend blast a repeat of the Pyatigorsk bombing. He said also that there had been a series of “oversights” by the special services and the authorities in the towns where the blasts took place (NTV, March 25). On the other hand, Roman Kostenko, chief of the analytical department of the Caucasus region anti-organized crime directorate, said he doubted that terrorist attacks could be prevented while the Chechen war was still going on (Moscow Times, March 26). Recent opinion polls have shown growing opposition from the Russian public to the military campaign in Chechnya and growing support for negotiations with the rebels (see the Monitor, March 23).