The attacks, as well as showing up Putin's failures, highlight the fact that this problem will not go away until a political solution is found in the Caucasus.
Firstly, let me make it clear that no government can completely protect those who use a mass transit railway network, such as Moscow’s, from terrorist attack. However, they can take steps to prevent these attacks occurring, and given the threat to Moscow from dissident groups in the Caucasus, it seems those running the Metro at least considered preventative measures before yesterday’s explosions ripped through their trains.
Sniffer dogs employed on the underground railway were withdrawn due to their dubious utility, whilst metal detectors at station entrances were considered but ultimately rejected due to the fact that they would not detect explosive devices. Such considerations and the ultimate failure to prevent the atrocity highlight the quandary security services around the world face when dealing with terrorism in cities. Ultimately, these modes of transport cannot be protected.
The Moscow emergency services seem to have evacuated the wounded quickly and efficiently, but this is about the only thing the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations did right in the crisis. Amazingly, it appears that the Metro line kept running after the first explosion at Lubyanka station in central Moscow during morning rush hour. Normal emergency procedures would dictate the total shut down of all networks until the crisis had been dealt with. This did not happen.
That it did not is even more incredible given the fact that Russian officials paid close attention to the British response to the 7/7 London Underground bombings, in which total shut down was implemented. In Moscow yesterday morning trains continued to run on time despite the explosion and this gave another suspected suicide bomber the chance to strike 40 minutes later at the Kultury Park station, closer to the suburbs. Questions should be asked of the state Ministry why such an obvious security procedure was not implemented.
And what of the Russian security services? What of their counter- terrorist efforts? Indeed it appears the targeting of Lubyanka station, very close to the FSB’s headquarters, was designed to send a message to the very spooks who had failed to stop the attack. Just as they have failed to foil most of the attacks that have occurred on Russian soil in the last decade, from the recent bombing of the St Petersburg – Moscow express, to the Moscow theatre hostage drama, to the Beslan school murders.
Of course a security service cannot stop all attacks, and by their very nature we often do not know their successes, but by comparison it seems the Russian security services are neither adept at infiltrating the terrorist organisations that threaten the state nor at intercepting those sent to carry out attacks. And once these attacks are successfully made there seems to be no apprehension of suspects and no public enquires into why these incidents occurred. Questions need to be asked; why are these attacks getting through?
However the biggest questions will be political. Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, was originally elected on a mandate that he would tackle the Caucasus problem. Throughout his political career he has been sold to the Russian public as a strong man who would ‘smash’ the terrorists. This has not happened. The suicide bombers who struck today were allegedly female, perhaps members of the ‘Black Widow’, a Chechen group that has carried out previous suicide attacks. Not only are the attacks a reminder of Putin’s failure to eliminate Chechen terrorism, they also highlight the fact that this problem will not go away until a political solution is found in the Caucasus.
UPDATE 3:30 – The Russian media have joined in the criticism of the authorities’ response.
Vadim Rechkalov, of the popular daily Moskvosky Komsomolets, wrote:
“Why didn’t senior officials … talk to people through one of the main federal channels to stop them from going into the Metro and to prevent panic? Instead, from the moment when the first blast took place and till 0900, the leading federal channels showed people singing, dancing, making breakfast and relieving pain with their hands.“
Journalist Moskovsky Komsomolets said:
“The main lesson that ordinary Russians should draw from this tragedy is that the authorities and the people exist separately from each other. If you are not prepared to die like cattle, be ready to defend yourself. Rely only on yourself. In this way, you will be able to save your own life and the life of your country.”
And online newspaper gazeta.ru said citizens remained:
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“Defenceless in the face of terrorist attack despite all the promises of the authorities to ensure their safety.”