It’s pretty difficult to add much of value to the excellent reporting on today’s attacks on the Moscow metro. I will try to just sum up the salient facts, analysis, and inferences for any readers who were unable to follow today’s events (apologies for my disjointed approach – some of this is stream of consciousness).
- Two Bombs Separated by 39 Minutes: at 7:57am, the first bomb (4kg of TNT) exploded at Lubyanka station, located just northeast of the Kremlin and home to the Federal Security Service HQ. 39 minutes later, at 8:36am, the second bomb (2kg TNT) exploded at Park Kultury station, just three stations southwest of Lubyanka (details in Russian here).
- Early Warnings, Additional Details: reports indicate that the Moscow police had received tips regarding an impending attack over the past few days. I’ve confirmed with several friends living in Moscow that there has been a noticeably increased police presence at particular stations. News outlets also reported that police searched Konkovo station on Sunday. This is more interesting in light of other reports that CCTV caught the attackers boarding the metro at Yugo-Zapadnaya station, which is geographically close to Konkovo, though on a different line. The latest reports are that the Moscow police are seeking three accomplices – two Slavic[!] women and a man – one possibly by the name of Mataev. There are also unconfirmed reports that police found one or two unused explosive belts outside Park Kultury. This raises another question – why the difference in blast size between Lubyanka and Park Kultury? I.e., were there two bombers at Lubyanka, and only one at Park Kultury, with one would-be Park Kultury attacker having a change of heart.
- Response, Reaction, Retaliation: by Russian measures (e.g., Beslan, Moscow theater siege, Kursk), the response to the tragedy was exemplary. Virtually all reports stated that the evacuations were orderly, swift, and effective. Medics were quickly dispatched and information apparently came out in short order. A big kudos is due to Shoigu and the entire Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS). It remains to be seen what the reaction and, more importantly, retaliation will shape up to be. There were reports of mob retaliation against Muslim women wearing headscarves and I heard a first-hand account of police firing into the air at Komsomolskaya station to end a fight between Russians and ‘Caucasian’ people. The broader question, however, is how Russia will retaliate. The latest analysis is that the group responsible for the attacks today was the so-called ‘Black Widows’ in response to the FSB’s assassination of Said Buryatsky last month.
- International Support: it was nice to see the international response as measured and good-natured as it was. Pres. Obama released a statement from Afghanistan and later called Medvedev to extend the USA’s condolences. The two reportedly agreed to discuss this issue at their meeting in Prague next month. Undoubtedly, as the bloody faces and the sorrow washes away from our consciousness, we’ll hear all sorts of ‘analysis’ about how this is a ‘normal’ response to Russia’s actions in the Caucasus or that Putin ‘planned’ the attacks to stage a presidential comeback. I won’t even address this second point. As to the first, note that Russia has gradually been withdrawing its forces from Chechnya, leaving most security operations up to local strongman Kadyrov. If anything, Russia is guilty of letting the region grow increasingly out of control. But just think if Russia employed a more ‘hands-on’ strategy and the same tragedy occurred – we would hear the same people stating that this is a result of Russian human rights abuses in the region. Ultimately, we can only conclude that Russia faces a peculiar sort of ‘home-grown’ terrorism, where the terrorists control vast tracts of territory, as opposed to the London and Spain scenarios, where they must blend in among urban ethnic communities.