Last week’s terrorist atrocity on the Moscow subway system, in addition to killing dozens of unsuspecting civilians, underlined an ugly reality of Russian politics. The Putin administration has now created, or at least thinks it has created, an emotional atmosphere such that it can blame terrorist acts on Chechens even when there is no specific evidence or claim of responsibility.
The investigation into the February 6 attack is only a few days old, and Chechen terrorists may indeed turn out to have been responsible. But Vladimir Putin did not wait for the evidence: He immediately linked the bombing to Aslan Maskhadov without even pretending to have specific facts substantiating that accusation. As quoted by Interfax on the day of the attack, Putin said that “we do not need any indirect confirmation. We know for certain that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terrorism.”
Spokesmen for Maskhadov, however, promptly condemned the attack and denied that he or his underground government had been involved. They declared that “the use of terror against peaceful citizens cannot be justified by any ends.”
Putin’s demagogy was especially striking in light of the statements of his own security officials. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB), Sergei Ignatchenko, told the Russian news agency Novosti on February 8 that it was too early to suspect any particular persons, and that what happened might even have been a case of illegal explosives blowing up by accident.
Predictably, the Putin administration is using this latest tragedy to justify its refusal to conduct any kind of peace negotiations even with moderate Chechen leaders. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told a Munich press conference on February 8 that “we will not negotiate. We will destroy these people calmly and systematically.”
The Moscow city government, already notorious for its police harassment of ethnic minorities, is apparently poised for even tougher measures. According to Interfax, Mayor Yury Luzhkov said that heads of his security agencies had decided on February 7 “to sharply and powerfully strengthen the work [of officials] that decide who are illegal guests.”
Pro-Kremlin nationalists in Russia’s parliament are now launching trial balloons for even harsher domestic repression. According to Interfax, Dmitry Rogozin of the Rodina (“Motherland”) Party said that the country now needs a formal state of emergency because “the enemy is here, inside. This is an ethnic criminal community that evidently supports the terrorists coming to Moscow, owns property in Moscow and imposes its will on authorities.”