A pair of bombings over the last several days-one targeted at people, the other at infrastructure-would seem to highlight the ongoing terrorist threat that Russia is facing. Yet investigators are reportedly leaning toward the theory that the blasts were the result of criminal-commercial disputes rather than attacks by Chechen rebels. Thus the bombings may turn out to be more illustrative of the Russian authorities’ inability to tame the country’s wild business environment or impose law-and-order more generally than of the problem of terrorism carried out by political extremists.
The first of the two blasts took place at a market in the city of Samara on June 4, killing 10 people and injuring more than 50. While local law-enforcement officials initially speculated that the accidental explosion of two gas cylinders caused the blast, they subsequently identified the cause of the blast as a kilogram of plastic explosives that had been attached to a metal container in the open-air Kirovsky market. Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Gerasimov said on June 5 that investigators have three main theories for the bombing-a criminal turf war, a terrorist act or an attempt to kill a specific person or persons (Russian agencies, June 4-5).
However, as Vremya Novostei reported on June 7, investigators are leaning toward the theory that the blast was part of an ongoing battle for control over the market. Indeed, the Regnum information agency reported that two companies-Vega-S, a local firm, and Samos, based in Moscow-had been feuding for several years over which one of the two had the right to lease the land on which the market is located from Kuibyshev Railroads, which owns the land. The dispute made its way through local courts-apparently without resolving the dispute-and traders from the market held protests when Samos tried to collect rent from them after they had already paid rent to Vega-S. Regnum also cited a report by the Samara weekly Reportyor that the market had long ago been carved up between a well-known Samara “thief-in-law” Yuri Teshin (a.k.a. “Tesha”) and Dagestani crime boss Isa Magomedov (a.k.a. “Isa”). The market has been the scene of other criminal violence: According to Reportyor, back in September 2002, someone shot up a jeep owned by a member of yet another crime group that controlled some of the Kirovsky market’s stalls (Regnum.ru, June 4).
In the early hours of June 5, a bomb blew up beneath a 5,000-ton oil tank at a refinery owned by Chernomorsktransneft in the Stavropol Krai city of Neftekumsk. The explosion made a half-meter hole in the tank, which was one-third full of oil at the time of the blast, and caused a blaze that took firefighters four hours to extinguish. Bomb-disposal experts found and defused a second explosive device that had been placed under a second oil tank (Interfax, June 5). Following the refinery blast, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Vladimir Yakovlev referred to it as a “terrorist act.” However, according to Vremya Novostei, Stavropol law-enforcement officials subsequently “categorically rejected” the version involving a “Chechen trail,” saying rather that the bombing was most likely strictly business-related-the result of a dispute between competing local oil producers or oil traders (Vremya Novostei, June 7).
Still, some officials and politicians in Moscow were quick to link both the Samara and Stavropol blasts to the Chechen conflict. President Vladimir Putin’s aide on issues related to the North Caucasus, Aslambek Aslakhanov, said it could not be ruled out that the bombings’ “trail” would lead back to Chechnya. Likewise, Anatoly Kulikov, the former Interior Minister who is now deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Security Committee, said that such bombings would continue until Chechen separatist leaders were “neutralized” (Ekho Moskvy, June 5).