US President Barack Obama today expressed his profound solidarity with Russia’s people and pledged support in investigating the terrorist attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport.
At least 35 people were killed and 180 others injured when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device on Monday. Many of the 110 hospitalized victims are in a critical condition.
While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the outrage, the exact provenance of the perpetrator is almost incidental, analysts suggest.
“It is senseless to discuss whether this was Dagestanis or Chechens,” said Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Centre think-tank. “It is an answer to the complete failure of Kremlin policy in the Caucasus.”
Surprisingly, such sentiments are shared by Sergei Markov, a leading pro-Putin political technologist and a Duma member for the ruling United Russia party.
The Kremlin had “lost” as soon as its adversaries were no longer “separatists it was possible to fight with military methods,” he said.
“Now the enemy has been replaced with the rise of radical international Islam, which has been able to penetrate deep into the region and use the social situation where the youth is without work, without education and without a future,” Markov said.
The Russian authorities were complacent and arrogant in assuming that the Caucasus had been pacified, observers suggest.
Repression had bought not a durable peace, but a fleeting passivity. As with most forms of authoritarian rule, superficial acquiescence masked an underlying cauldron of resentment and resistance.
“Russia cannot cope with the continued explosion of the Northern Caucasus. The so-called stability there is a myth,” said Moscow-based Carnegie analyst Lilia Shevtsova.
“Somehow we came to a very colonial mentality that we shouldn’t care about the Caucasus because nothing can be done,” she said. “But the Moscow bombings logically imply that Russia has lost the war with terrorists.”
If Putinism was based on the regime guaranteeing order and stability in exchange for the consent to authoritarian rule, opposition figures suggest, it has failed to deliver its side of the bargain.
“The battle against terrorism is clearly not among Putin’s priorities, unless, of course, we discount his daily demagoguery on the subject,” said liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
It would be unreasonable to blame the Kremlin the bomb attack, writes Owen Matthews. “But it’s equally clear that Putin has built a police state that’s good at cracking down on dissent but bad at delivering security,” he writes, “not to mention honoring its basic contract with the people who surrendered their freedoms in exchange for a quiet life.”
In short, Putinism has delivered neither security nor stability, despite the centralization of authority in his power vertical.
“We were instilled with the idea that we were obligated to sacrifice freedom and democracy for the sake of safety,” writes liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. “We sacrificed. Now there are many more terrorist attacks and much less safety.”
Some Russian democrats believe the outrage could be used as a pretext for a further clampdown on democratic rights, including freedom of assembly, the subject of the opposition’s Strategy 31 campaign to defend the constitutional right to protest.
But former Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov believes the authorities have done as much as they need to stifle the opposition. The problem is that they won’t act on the terrorist threat either.
The Kremlin’s failure has created an opportunity for jihadist groups to expand their violent attacks in pursuit of an Islamist caliphate across the region. It has also undermined the viability of an alternative strategy by compromising the legitimacy of local state actors and institutions.
The Russian government is “facing a bleak calculus,” some suggest.
“None of its strategies for stamping out the long-running insurgency in southern Russia — neither the harsh measures favored by some in the security services nor the social programs and infrastructure projects supported by many policy experts — have yielded much success,” The New York Times reports.
Investments in development and social programs have been unproductive because the Kremlin failed to relax the security services’ control in the highly militarized region, said Grigory S. Shvedov, editor in chief of the Caucasian Knot news service.
“They are trying to implement two different approaches that absolutely contradict each other,” he said. “The bombing of Domodedovo shows the results of this contradiction.”
The local rulers’ endemic corruption and the resulting political cynicism make governance completely ineffective, says Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya (right) of Memorial, a human rights watchdog active in the region.
As a result, the appeal of the secular state is dwindling across the region:
State services are deteriorating and the government is increasingly unable to provide prosperity and security for its citizens. Corruption has undermined the reputation and authority of government institutions. Police officers stationed on the main road across the North Caucasus regularly demand expensive bribes. And the pyramid of sleaze even goes as high as officials in Moscow ministries.
Memorial and Caucasian Knot are both grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.