By Paul Goble
Over the last 12 days, 400,000 Russians have been evacuated from approximately 1,000 facilities in 80 cities after anonymous callers had warned that bombs were set to go off in them. Officials, who so far haven’t identified let alone arrested those responsible, say there are no signs the bomb scares are letting up (tass.ru/proisshestviya/4583551).
The central government media have devoted relatively little attention to this wave, although a Duma committee is considering tougher penalties for what has now come to be known as “telephone terrorism” and the Kremlin has been forced today to say that it is too early to say anything about what is going on (fedpress.ru/news/77/policy/1861027).
What makes this such a big and serious problem as the emergency services minister said (themoscowtimes.com/news/the-mass-evacuations-in-numbers-59017) is that the authorities have little choice but to evacuate buildings if they receive warnings and that whoever started the calls, others may join in a kind of copycat crime.
Consequently, even if the authorities do identify one or another of the callers or those behind that individual or group, others are likely to make use of the same tactic, against which at least for the time being the Russian authorities appear powerless to stop, however much economic damage these evacuations may cause.
But far more significant than any economic costs, of course, are the political ones. Vladimir Putin has sold himself to the Russian people as a guarantor of order, as someone who ended the “lawless 1990s.” If Russians conclude that he is no longer able to do that, they may conclude that their version of “the mandate of heaven” has passed from him.
And that in turn suggests that some opponents of Putin and his regime may continue to make such calls, even if the risks of engaging in “telephone terrorism” are increased, as Russia edges closer to the presidential elections early next year and enters a new and more complicated political season.