Due West: Pointing fingers instead of pulling levers

I was not surprised to learn that Moscow's Domodedovo Airport resumed more or less normal operations just a few hours after a suicide bomber (or bombers?) killed 35 and injured dozens of people in its arrivals hall.

I was not surprised to learn that Moscow's Domodedovo Airport resumed more or less normal operations just a few hours after a suicide bomber (or bombers?) killed 35 and injured dozens of people in its arrivals hall. Only nine months ago Moscow suffered another attack – a terrorist bombing in the Moscow underground took the lives of 40 people. Living in Moscow today is a bit like living in London or any other major British city in the 1970s and 1980s, where the citizens existed under a daily threat of yet another bombing by the IRA and went about their lives in a state of certain resignation. So does Moscow. Resignation and indifference are in the air.

President Dmitry Medvedev has already blamed the owners and management of Domodedovo for the tragedy. Anyone who in the last year or two has been passing through the airport (which in terms of comfort and cleanliness is undoubtedly Moscow's best) can testify that: a) the terrorists did not have to go via the main entrance - it is not too difficult to penetrate the arrivals area via the exit to the parking lot, with its crowded and chaotic atmosphere; and  b) even if the suicide bombers did use the departures hall to gain access to the building, it was not very difficult either – scanning the passengers' luggage on entry is random at best. By the way, the same generally goes for Moscow's other main international gateway - Sheremetyevo Airport in the northwest of the capital. 

Domodedovo management protests its innocence, passing the buck to the Interior Ministry which, naturally, answers back. FSB, Russia's internal security service, feels lucky to have escaped recrimination from the president so far. One of Russia's leading papers, Vedomosti, printed an editorial saying: the main criterion by which the societies gauge the effectiveness of their law enforcement and security apparatus is the absence of terror attacks.  And here the Russians can hardly feel satisfied – a dozen major terrorist incidents happened outside of the troubled area of the North Caucasus in the last decade. If you count Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan with their low intensity guerrilla warfare, then you will lose count: the sad play on words is intended indeed.

Corruption and economic misbalance, as well as an apparently insufficient infiltration of the terrorist underground are major issues here. This is being heavily discussed both in Russia and in the international media. You cannot protect every bus and subway train in Russia from a madman (or woman) blowing himself (herself) up. Preventing such an occurrence should be the main remedy – and here intelligence gathering and infiltration of terror networks continue to be the unfulfilled prime tasks.

Also, the bombings of January 24th have yet another time revealed the bitter truth: Russia is and will remain the target of Islamist terrorism, born and bred mainly in its troubled southern provinces. An international connection is not excluded either; despite its repeated overtures to Hamas and Hezbollah and Ramzan Kadyrov's hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in full glare of TV cameras, Russia is viewed with hatred by Muslim fanatics all over the world because of the two wars in Chechnya, its support for the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as for alleged discrimination against Muslims.

No matter who was the specific mastermind behind this suicide bombing, its connection to what goes on in the traditionally Muslim areas of Russia is a reasonable assumption. And here a sad paradox emerges. Looking back at the first war in Chechnya in 1994-1996, I remember very well how then Russia's democrats were resolutely anti-war and blasted at the Yeltsin government for not letting Chechnya, and if need be, other autonomies in the North Caucasus, go. The nationalists and the army, traumatized by the collapse of the USSR, were staunchly opposed to this idea: “Not a square inch more of our sacred land will be ceded!” Today, the roles have reversed: a new generation of nationalists demands forcible separation of the North Caucasus from Russia, while the liberals and human rights activists call on renewed efforts at integration of the region's population into Russian life. So who was right and who was wrong 15 years ago?

The North Caucasus with its tribal customs, corruption as a way of life, low education level, 80% unemployment rate and distinctly separate identity, has become what the Russians call “a suitcase without a handle” - you cannot throw it away, but it is impossible to carry. Expect more Russian nationalist demos, more killings of the innocent migrant workers, more pronouncements against extremism from the mullahs, more promises from the politicians and the generals to root out terror, more demands for more money from the North Caucasus leaders – and expect everything to remain as it was at 4:00 p.m. on January 24th, half an hour or so before the suicide bombing. If something changes, I will be the first to write a repentance column. And yes, expect the taxi drivers to jack up the fares tenfold again next time the bombers strike somewhere.

There is though a ray of light in this tragic story. It is those many private citizens who rushed to Domodedovo in their cars to offer free rides to the distressed passengers. They proved that human solidarity in Russia exists and remains the only way each of us can overcome indifference and cynicism, no matter how warranted they may be.

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What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

Konstantin Eggert is an independent Russian journalist and political analyst. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

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