Staunton, September 14 – Thousands of Muscovites have been evacuated in ever more cities, including now the two capitals, in response to a wave of anonymous phone calls claiming that bombs have been planted in various facilities. No explosives have been found, but in the absence of arrests or official declarations, Russians are speculating wildly about who is to blame.
The most-often-mentioned candidates are Ukrainians (or some other foreign force) (x-true.info/60282-idet-evakuaciya-ukraincy-miniruyut-rossiyskie-goroda.html) and the opponents of the controversial film about the last tsar, “Mathilda” (echo.msk.ru/news/2055230-echo.html). But there has also been speculation about some exercise that sparked copycat behavior
Given that the central media have remained quiet while local outlets have given enormous coverage to something few can ignore (themoscowtimes.com/news/thousands-evacuated-in-russian-bomb-scares-but-state-tv-stays-quiet-58941), questions about the calls are spreading (lenta.ru/articles/2017/09/14/telephone/ and thequestion.ru/questions/312449/kto-stoit-za-volnoi-telefonnogo-terrorizma-v-rossii).
This situation continues, but it already offers three lessons that may prove important in the future. First, anonymous callers can provoke enormous actions and fears because the authorities cannot avoid taking action in case the threats the callers make should in one or another case turn out to be true.
Second, the Kremlin’s control of the central media may allow it to set the agenda for most things, but in conditions like these, the experience of ordinary Russians forced to evacuate and the coverage local media and the Internet give mean that the central authorities have far less control over what Russians think and how they may react.
And third, given these two lessons, there is a third: Unless officials bring charges and make arrests quickly, there is a great danger that others than the callers in this case may decide to exploit the situation, either in the case of various groups using such techniques for their own purposes or in the case of the state exploiting this situation to justify new repressions.