Caucasians Targeted in Wake of Moscow Blast

The attack on the Moscow metro spreads anxiety, xenophobia and uncertainty on the eve of the presidential elections.

Caucasians Targeted in Wake of Moscow Blast

The attack on the Moscow metro spreads anxiety, xenophobia and uncertainty on the eve of the presidential elections.

The deadliest act of terror yet perpetrated in Moscow appears to have toughened the Kremlin’s policy on Chechnya – even though no one has yet claimed responsibility for the slaughter.

The bombers picked their target to cause the maximum amount of terror, as nine million people ride the Moscow metro every day to get to their places of work or study.

The bomb, which exploded on February 6 on a train between Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya stations, killed at least 39 people and wounded more than a hundred. The death toll is expected to rise, with Moscow’s mayor Yury Luzhkov saying it is expected to reach around 50.

Since the blast, Caucasus-phobia has gained strength in the capital. Demands to forbid people from the region to enter the capital now fill the airwaves and newspapers. This is the case even though most Caucasians in Moscow are Russian citizens and protected by the constitution – and indeed three of the passengers killed were from Armenia and Georgia

This did not stop prominent Communist politician Nikolai Kharitonov declaring it was time to “clear up” Moscow, as happened before the 1980 Olympic Games, while the well-known nationalist journalist and parliamentary deputy Alexander Nevzorov posed a straightforward question live on the NTV channel, “Where have you ever seen ordinary Chechens?”

Although he did not directly call the people of Chechnya bandits - as Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky occasionally does - the thrust of Nevzorov’s comment was clear to all.

President Vladimir Putin himself was quick to blame Chechen pro-independence leader Aslan Maskhadov for the attack. “We don’t need any indirect proof, we know for sure that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terror,” Putin said angrily.

He also lashed out at “calls from abroad” for negotiations with Maskhadov - a clear reference to the recent letter signed by 145 members of the European parliament backing the idea of a United Nations administration for Chechnya.

“It’s not the first time that we encounter a synchronization of crimes committed on the territory of Russia and calls for negotiations,” Putin said.

However, Maskhadov’s envoy in London, Akhmed Zakayev, condemned the attack and said that his leader had nothing to do with it.

There is speculation that the radical Chechen warrior Shamil Basayev may claim responsibility for the blast – as he has done with a series of other attacks in Moscow and the North Caucasus, including the Nord-Ost hostage-taking incident in October 2002.

Nothing has been heard from Basayev as IWPR went to press, although an article on the extreme Islamist website - written by someone under the name of Boris Stomakhin - suggested that it was “very likely” Basayev may claim responsibility.

If Basayev did indeed order the attack, it marks a change of tactics for him. Usually suicide bombers record themselves on video so as to prove that they were responsible and pass it to an organisation such as Al-Jazeera television. This did not happen after the Moscow attack, although such a tape may yet turn up.

For most Russian citizens these finer points are irrelevant, and they have no qualms about blaming Chechens for the attack.

The growing Caucasus-phobia is also accompanied by a total silence on the part of Chechens themselves. No Chechen took part in the many televised live debates and other programmes on television. It is true, Chechnya President Akhmad Kadyrov pleaded publicly for people not to blame the whole Chechen nation for the acts of terrorism in Moscow, but it was the only such declaration.

“We will avenge you!” wrote desperate relatives of those who died after the theatre centre outrage in Moscow in 2002. The same inscription has now appeared at metro stations.

An influential representative of Chechen intelligentsia who lives in Moscow said he believed Russia was “moving towards fascism” - a dangerous development for a country with 200 nationalities.

Some Muslim spokespersons believe that the ultimate aim of the bombers and their masters is to start a civil conflict within Russia, and suggest that the organisers are more likely to be Putin’s opponents or exiled oligarchs than Chechen extremists.

Sergey Glazyev, State Duma deputy of the Rodina bloc and a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, supports this particular theory, calling these groups a “third force”.

Speaking live on television, the deputy claimed, “A third force is trying in such a way to become an intermediary between the Chechen fighters and Russian authorities.” However, Glazyev would not give any names when asked who he was referring to.

An even more extraordinary version emerged in Georgia this week, which few people have taken at face value.

Georgian security minister Valery Khaburdzania claimed that his agency had detained a man from the North Caucausian republic of Karachai-Cherkessia named Nazir Naidaborov in Tbilisi.

Khaburdzania claimed that Naidaborov had been recruited by the authorities in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia to go to Georgia and visit the Pankisi Gorge, home to thousands of Chechen refugees. He was then supposed to visit the Russian embassy on February 5 and warn them about a threatened extremist attack in Moscow - which he had supposedly learned about from Chechens in the Pankisi - and also about another planned assault on the Lyudmila market in Stavropol in the North Caucasus.

Khaburdzania thus indirectly linked the Abkhaz authorities to the bomb blast in Moscow – an allegation that was angrily denied in Abkhazia. So far there has been almost no reaction in either Georgia or Russia to these extraordinary claims.

As a result of the bombing, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov has called for a series of changes in the city’s security provisions.

He said it was necessary to tighten registration regulations – even though it is well known that these can be easily bought – and instructed the Moscow police to step up its patrols of the metro. A more senseless order is hard to imagine, given that any criminal suspect can avoid an unpleasant trip to the police station by giving the guards from as little as 50 rubles - a significant contribution to the modest wage of a policeman.

With no clear culprit identified and the presidential election only a month away, Russians are now fearful that the metro attack will not be the last.

Sanobar Shermatova is a reporter with Moscow News.

Support our journalists