My condolences to all those who lost their lives in today’s terrorist atrocity in Domodedovo Airport in Moscow. My condolences as well to their families and friends, and to Russians generally who have to live under greater threat of terror attack than to I do in the US.
As to the attacks themselves and their likely perpetrators I have little to add beyond what is in the press reports. But one thing struck me as very weird (h/t rtyb).
Specifically, almost immediately after the blast, there were news reports linking the bombing to an accidental explosion on December 31. This led authorities to the husband of a woman killed in the blast. This man, apparently associated with a Chechen separatist group, fingered another woman who disclosed a bomb plot and named three men who supposedly trained the Domodedovo bomber.
How this could be stated so definitively in minute detail so soon after the attack is something of a mystery. In the US and Europe, the first reports in the aftermath of any event like this are usually confused, contradictory, and maddeningly imprecise. And if the initial report is true, it casts the competence of the security forces in a very poor light. If they had the names of suspects in the cell weeks ago and couldn’t stop the attack, it doesn’t look good.
And maybe that’s the point: maybe this story was planted to make some elements of the security forces look bad–and most likely planted by a rival security force. For minutes after the first story, The Moscow Main Directorate of Internal Affairs denied having any foreknowledge and called into question the veracity of the earlier reports.
This suggests: (a) some element in the security forces (e.g., FSB, as a wild guess) wants to make another element look bad in order to enhance its own power, (b) there is a lot of CYA going on, or (c) both. I’m guessing “both.”
There was also confusion over whether the airport shut down after the bombing. Given that trains on the Metro ran in the immediate aftermath of the Moscow subway bombing, it wouldn’t surprise me if the airport did continue to operate.
The attack illustrates that you can’t defend everywhere; every place where large numbers of people congregate is a tempting target, and it is impossible to defend them all. Instead, stopping terrorist attacks requires intelligence and aggressive efforts to identify, find, disrupt and disable would be perpetrators. That obviously didn’t happen here. If the disabling didn’t occur even though the terrorists had been identified weeks ago, that’s a real problem.
A primary source of Putin’s popularity, and a major justification for his strangulation of political and civic freedoms in Russia, has been his alleged success in combating Chechen terrorism. Given the regularity of major attacks in the heart of Russia, it’s rather difficult to fathom just what the basis for Putin’s reputation as the vanquisher of terrorists might be. Yeah, he talks a good game, complete with prison slang about killing terrorists in outhouses, but even with a pervasive security apparatus operating with little constraint, the performance hasn’t matched the words. (And, pathetically, to keep up with Putin the elfin Medvedev feels compelled to talk tough, e.g., his expressed desire of ripping the heads off the attackers of the reporter Oleg Kashin. Embarrassing.)
The coming days are a time for mourning in Russia. But after Russians mourn their dead, I hope they question more aggressively and critically the yawning gap between gangster bravado and less than bravura performance. I hope they start asking whether Putin and the government are holding up their end of the security-for-liberties bargain. If they do, the victims of Domodedovo will not have died completely in vain, and Russia will have a chance to become a more humane place—and, ironically, a safer one.