The bombing of the Nevsky Express, en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, caused a crash that killed 26 people and injured more than one hundred. The alleged blast ruptured the tracks under the locomotive as the train was traveling at approximately 200 kilometers per hour with over 600 passengers onboard. Only the two last carriages derailed, where all the fatalities and most of the injuries happened (Kommersant, November 30).
The authorities announced that traces of explosives were found at the site of the crash. Russian bloggers questioned the terrorist-connected train crash assumption (www.lenta.ru, November 30). But on November 28 –the next day after the crash– a second bomb exploded near the site of the first, aimed apparently at the investigators, led by the chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor’s office Alexander Bastrikin, who arrived at the scene by helicopter from Moscow. It was first reported that the second explosion did not injure anyone (Kommersant, November 30). It was later disclosed that Bastrikin was admitted to hospital in St. Petersburg and diagnosed as having sustained “a head injury and concussion” (RIA Novosti, December 2). Apparently, the bombing of the Nevsky Express was a sophisticated terrorist attack, and calculated to intimidate the St. Petersburg-connected establishment.
Russia is today ruled by a KGB-connected group from St. Petersburg led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. This St. Petersburg clan maintains close connections with their home city. The luxury Nevsky Express is popular among officials and business commuters: it leaves Moscow just after business hours and travels at 200 km/h, arriving in central St. Petersburg before midnight. Two top officials commuting from Moscow for the weekend to St. Petersburg were among the 26 killed on the Nevsky Express on November 27.
Sergei Tarasov, 50, the former deputy governor of St. Petersburg and federal senator representing the city, at the time of death was the chief of the state-owned monopoly Rosavtodor that builds and operates Russia’s federal highways. Last week Rosavtodor announced a scheme, highly unpopular with citizens, to use some $30 billion from the public budget to build toll highways and then use the collected charges as profit (Vedomosti, November 30).
Boris Yevstratikov, 51, was the chief of the secretive Rosrezerv federal agency. Yevstratikov served for 26 years in the KGB and its successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB). Rosrezerv is an organization of Cold War origin that stockpiles in regional centers essential food supplies, blankets, different commodities, trucks, tractors, armor to make tanks –everything that is needed to supply the entire nation and its essential defense industry to function for 90 days in the event of all-out nuclear war with the U.S. or some massive natural disaster. The emergency supplies of Rosrezerv are reported to be of the best quality and are constantly renewed, while outdated equipment and goods are either given away as humanitarian aid, or sold at hefty discounts. The massive financial operations of Rosrezerv to buy and dispose of supplies, commodities and equipment are classified as a top military state secret (www.nakanune.ru, August, 7, 2006). The combination of state secrecy and huge trading operations are fertile grounds for massive corruption. Tarasov and Yevstratikov were buried in St. Petersburg on December 1, with state honors.
Putin and Medvedev have moved the Constitutional Court from Moscow to St. Petersburg and plan to move the Navy headquarters and other governmental institutions to create a “two capital” system, restoring their home city’s former imperial glamour. The Nevsky Express bombing has clearly undermined this strategic goal by exposing the security threat posed to the drastically increasing regular intercity commuting by top officials.
The attack by unknown terrorists on the Nevsky Express and the ineptitude of the Russian security agencies has unnerved the Kremlin. Explosives experts had not secured the scene of the crime in time and only a coincidence –the homemade second bomb going off partially– saved Bastrikin and other top brass. Security officials assume that a terrorist was in fact waiting for many hours somewhere in the countryside, within visual distance of the scene of the train crash after the first explosion for Bastrikin to arrive. The unknown terrorist activated a second radio-controlled bomb and safely disappeared (RIA Novosti, December 2).
The ruling United Russia party organized rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Official speakers declared the Nevsky Express bombing an attack aimed at destroying the Russian state and demanded that “the terrorist rats are sent to hell” by the security services (www.newsru.com, December 2). A governmental commission chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Victor Zubkov has been formed to deal with the attack. On his way to Rome, Medvedev chaired a special security meeting in a Moscow airport and demanded swift action. Bastrikin and the FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov told Medvedev that they are following leads (RIA Novosti, December 2). In fact, the authorities do not seem to know who the terrorists are. A little known Russian nationalist group Combat-18 Nevagrad claimed responsibility as well as Islamists of the “Caucasian Mujahedeen” connected to the Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, but there is no proof that the claims are genuine (EDM, December 2).
However, confusion is overwhelming. St. Petersburg emergency chief Major-General Leonid Belayev told the St. Petersburg legislature: “The terrorists were planning to derail with the same bomb another high speed ER-200 train that was scheduled to pass the explosion spot at the same time in the opposite direction, but that mega disaster was avoided because the Nevsky Express was one minute off schedule.” Belyayev added that this was his personal theory (Interfax, December 2). In fact both ER-200 trains have been decommissioned earlier this year and there was no other incoming express (www.newsru.com, December 2). General Belayev was publicly daydreaming, apparently inundated by events. With such a security organization, no one in the Kremlin or within government is safe.