Today’s attacks in the Moscow metro appear to have killed about forty people. As many people died a little more than six years ago in the tunnel near Avtozavodskaya station in a similar suicide explosion.
Today and tomorrow are days of mourning, but the smoke had hardly cleared before the speculation and accusations started. The two perpetrators were apparently women, and the consensus seems to be that they are linked to the North Caucasus, despite any proof, so far. This would certainly fit the pattern, though many in America could possibly be confused if this is traced back to Ingushetia, Cherkessia, Kabardino, or somewhere else in the region that isn’t Chechnya.
Cartoon pictured right: “The MChS dealt quickly with everything, the police cordoned it off, and ambulances ferried all away. After the the funeral, we’ll get to burying — and everything will be okay!”
The New York Times asked if this will benefit Putin, actually disseminating the comments of Paul Goble, whose appearance on the NYT’s website marks perhaps his first ever publication with paragraph breaks. The consensus seems to be that, yes, it will help Vova insofar as he can make the resultant fear work to his advantage. Katheryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University thought the terrorists somehow echoed the protestors from recent weeks (“The subway bombings, like the protests last week, are a reminder that Mr. Putin’s autocracy has not worked for ordinary Russians”). This is probably not the word association (terrorist — protests) that most demonstrators would like, but — hey — the expert has spoken.
Gazeta.ru published an editorial that is also critical of Putin (‘promises to protect us have proved to be empty words,’ etcetera), though it concludes on a less confrontational (“You can argue all day about the successes versus the failures of the Kremlin’s Caucasus policies”), slightly more philosophical note about the need for the authorities and society to both recognize the internal national problems that cause terrorism.
Ilya Yashin, favorite jester of the liberal movement, called on Vladimir Putin and several key members of his entourage to resign for failing to prevent today’s attacks. Maksim Kononenko, not to be outdone and unafraid of taking this logic to its extreme, called on God and several key Christian saints to resign from their posts, as well.
President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin were featured heavily on channel Вести 24. Putin has been widely credited with the “we will destroy the terrorists” line, though Medvedev has grumbled the words himself more than once today on TV, seemingly trying out a new jaw-flexing exercise in an effort to prove his seriousness.
Because today’s terrorist attacks were unexpected, our media produced some very awkward spin, and I’ve no doubt there is more to come. Bear in mind that career Russia Watchers were previously working on other, generally unrelated topics before the bombings today. Suddenly, however, the entire world for a day is talking about terrorism in Moscow, and the press calls its go-to experts. At such moments, these people face a challenge: almost none of them are North Caucasus experts (name me one prominent U.S.-based Russia expert who speaks Chechen, for instance), so they must steer the conversation in a more comfortable direction. For that reason, we see two basic approaches: first and most common, experts play a familiar card and explain how Putin is somehow to blame, and that his final days are near; and, second, experts try to tie in whatever they were working on before they got the reporter’s phonecall. We’ve already seen a lot of the former, and I predict more of the latter to come in the following weeks.
Don’t be surprised either to see hordes of “terrorism experts” kicking in their two cents, too.
The result, though, is the same no matter who’s doing the talking: analysis without context. We live in a world where opinion-makers for Russia news are focused either on the narrow politics of the core (like the squabbling of the liberal opposition), or on phenomena so broad that no regional expertise whatsoever is required of many experts (consider the countless neocons who have taken up the Middle East in recent years, without mastering any Middle Eastern languages).
The metro has already reopened — even at the targeted stations on the Red Line. Muscovites will march back to work tomorrow, millions trampling in and out of the subway, like any other day, save perhaps a little nervousness. The authorities have yet to identify the organizational sponsors of these two suicide bombers, but the Russian Internet is abuzz with rumors that there will be more attacks in the coming days. And while Russians hope for a breakthrough in the investigation, Washington’s spin doctors twiddle their thumbs over blank document templates, contemplating ways to make today’s events conform to yesterday’s.