Russian regional leaders reacted strongly to the terrorist acts in the United States on September 11, most following the line of the federal authorities in Moscow and denouncing the attacks as a threat not just to the United States but to the entire world. Prominent local politicians and those who see themselves as actors in the international political arena rushed to condemn terrorism and express their condolences to America’s citizens. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, governor of Orel Oblast, compared the attacks with the bombing of apartment buildings in Russian cities in the fall of 1999 and repeated President Putin’s appeal to the international community to join forces in the struggle against terrorism (Russian agencies, September 13). Expressing shock at what had occurred, Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, who heads the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, said: “We [Russians] understand better than others and share the pain of the relatives and loved ones of the victims” (Polit.ru, September 12).
Regional leaders appeared, moreover, to take their words literally. Local police forces were ordered onto round-the-clock alert. Law enforcement officers were placed on twelve-hour shifts, strengthened patrols of population centers were ordered and special measures were introduced to ensure the security of transportation, especially air travel (Russian agencies, September 11).
In some regions, the authorities took additional precautions. These tended to have little to do with any real threat and regional leaders appeared to be using the situation for their own purposes. Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin declared, for example, that the attacks in the United States might “inspire home-grown radicals.” He set up a special commission to repel any possible threat and ordered the police in Tyumen to hold “prophylactic conversations” with leaders of the local Caucasus diaspora (Regions.ru, September 12). Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin also set up a regional antiterrorist commission and conducted a series of special consultations. The local military garrison was ordered to introduce special security measures in all factories working with explosive materials and to place weapons and ammunition under special guard (Polit.ru, September 12). In Krasnoyarsk Krai, access to airport runways was restricted. In the industrial city Norilsk, only the mayor, the head of the Taimyr Autonomous District and the director of Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Combine were allowed to retain the privilege of traveling directly onto the runway. Even Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed was stripped of this right, though the Taimyr district falls within his krai’s jurisdiction. Some of the antiterrorist measures seemed a mite exaggerated: Aircraft crews were recommended to remove hatchets from fire protection kits and flight attendants were urged to keep an eye on passengers through the peephole on the cockpit door (Regions.ru, September 12).
Most regional leaders do realize that, in the absence of a real threat, the fight against terrorism is little more than ritual action. Despite all the security measures taken in Chelyabinsk, for example, celebrations of the 265th anniversary of the city’s founding were not cancelled (Polit.ru, September 12). And in Omsk Oblast, no antiterrorist measures whatsoever were introduced: Governor Leonid Polezhaev said he did not want to frighten the population (Regions.ru, September 12).
Underlying the words and actions of many governors was a subtext which Tyumen’s Governor Sobyanin expressed openly: “I think,” he said, “that now the hounding of Russia [and] of our antiterrorist operations will cease. We fought in Afghanistan, now we are fighting in Chechnya. One should pay homage to the Russian soldiers who died and stop trying to put a civilized appearance on Albanian and Chechen terrorists. No peace talks [or] compromises will solve this problem” (Regions.ru, September 12).
It was left to Mukaddas Bibarsov, Imam of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the Volga Region, to sound a dissenting note. “Politicians,” he said, “have exploited the tragic situation to declare that Muslims are behind the terrorist attacks. Muslims do not have such large amounts of money that they can afford to organize explosions…. The terrorist acts benefits Muslims least of all” (Regions.ru, September 12).
PRIMAKOV BEING KICKED UPSTAIRS?