Staunton, March 24 – Moscow media and following it Western outlets have largely dropped the attention they paid to anonymous telephone bomb threats to Russian schools, trade centers, hospitals, cultural facilities, and government offices earlier. But these bomb threats continue and, in some places, may be becoming an even greater problem than they were.
On a single day last week – Thursday -- the Regnum news agency reports, anonymous and unconfirmed bomb threats were made against 661 facilities, forcing the evacuation of “almost 24,000 people,” one of the largest one day totals ever there or in any other Russian city over the last three years (regnum.ru/news/polit/2597506.html).
“Among them,” the Russian news agency says, “were not only the customary trade centers or universities but also schools and hospitals and also administrative centers of districts, payment offices and business centers.” A day after these calls, an addition 17,000 people were evacuated. And this weekend, “this ‘process’ continued,” Regnum reports.
Among the most prominent “targets” were the Hermitage and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Threats to those came via letter rather than telephone. According to the FSB, “a large share of the threats came from abroad,” although the Russian security service provided no details this time around.
“Officers of the museum’s security service and the Russian Guard for two days in a row closed the Hermitage and ushered people out of the Winter Palace, the Chief of Staff and other buildings. The same thing was done at St. Isaac’s,” Regnum says, thus affecting some of the most popular tourist venues in St. Petersburg.
The authorities have no choice but to empty buildings in response to such calls lest one of them prove to be real. While the practice is becoming almost an everyday occurrence in some Russian cities and is being treated by many with bemusement, it keeps everyone on edge – and it may become the basis, as officials have warned in the past, for real bombers to operate.
One very much hopes that will not happen, but this drumbeat of threats and evacuations is now becoming so large that the possibility is increasing, adding to public concerns among Russians as to what is taking place in their country and why the vaunted security services don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.