Staunton, October 15 – “It is not excluded,” Irek Murtazin writes in “Novaya gazeta,” that the terrorist act blocked by the FSB on Sunday was nothing more than a training exercise organized to boost vigilance among a Russian population that “totally distrusts” the law enforcement agencies and thus can be mobilized only by something like this.
That is suggested, he argues, by the very different versions of events offered by various sources on Sunday and that provided by the FSB on Monday and notes that it raises questions about whether this incident is similar to the one in Ryazan in 1999 which residents exposed what the FSB then said then was a training exercise (novayagazeta.ru/columns/70329.html).
As stories spread online on Sunday about the supposedly vigilance of a Muscovite and the happy accident that there were so many FSB officers around and as it acquired ever more details, Murtazin points out that “the law enforcement organs did not stop the rapidly spreading rumors and did not provide commentaries.”
“Only on Monday in the second half of the day did the FSB put out an official press release about the prevention of a terrorist act,” and its statement did not make any reference to Syria or Hizb ut-Tahrir as had the stories on Sunday. Instead, it said that during an exercise, “it became known” there were real terrorists about and they were then blocked.
The FSB release did not report on the number of people detailed but stressed that some of them had been prepared by ISIS in Syria “and came to Russia long before the beginning of the Russian military operation” there, Murtazin says. These details raise more questions than they answer about why the FSB acted as it did and especially its failure to stop things earlier.
If Russia is to be effective in fighting terrorism, he continues, the experience of other countries suggests that “the efforts of the special services are doomed to failure if the entire population is not mobilized against the terrorist threat. But “mobilizing the Russian population by appeals on television and in the press is practically impossible,” he says.
That is because, he suggests of a particular characteristic of Russians: “total distrust in the law enforcement organs.” Had the organs announced an exercise in advance, people would have laughed at it. Hence one possible explanation is that what happened was an FSB show designed to mobilize people.
In a Grani.ru commentary today, Ilya Milshteyn draws a more detailed comparison with the events of Ryazan 18 years ago and also suggests that Sunday’s events may have been staged to distract attention from the release of the Dutch report about the downing of the Malaysian airliner (grani.ru/opinion/milshtein/m.245009.html).
The apartment building bombings in 1999 helped Putin restart the Chechen war and boosted his standing with the Russian people as the only one capable of standing up to terrorists, but at the same time, the exposure of the Ryazan “training exercise” as it came to be called meant that that measure couldn’t be used again and wasn’t, until perhaps now.
And a terrorist attack in Russia now or even better a terrorist incident that the FSB is able to block can have equally far-reaching effects, Milshteyn implies: They can mobilize Russians again behind Putin, and they can lead the West possibly to an understanding that what Moscow is doing in Syria reflects fears it has about what it faces at home.