Sunday, February 24, 2019

Russians Struggle with Continuing ‘Tsunami’ of False Bomb Threats, Rosbalt Journalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Russians face a veritable “tsunami” of telephone bomb threats, Dmitry Glebov of the Rosbalt news agency says; but neither they nor officials know precisely what to do against threats that are sometime reported when Moscow feels it cannot do otherwise and often not when it thinks it can get away with that.

            But such on-again, off-again coverage does not accurately reflect either the continuing threats and evacuations Russians now face or do anything about the fears they have about who may be behind these threats, how soon it will be until one of these bomb threats turns out to be real, and what the authorities should in fact do (

                Such “cyberterrorism is ever more often attacking Russian cities,” Glebov says; and his agency decided to try to calm the concerns Russians have especially as ever more of them are evacuated because of the threats but no further information is provided.  Working with retired FSB Maj. Gen. Aleksandr Mikhaylov, he tries to answer the most important questions. 

            “The first wave” of such telephone terrorism began on September 11, 2017. It hit facilities in 75 federal subjects and led to the evacuation of “about two thousand buildings.” More recent waves have been different only in that the threats are now made not by telephone in most cases but via the Internet. 

            The targets in Russian cities continue to be hospitals, polyclinics, universities, schools, theaters, museums, parks, detention centers and, most prominently, shopping centers and entertainment facilities.  Only some of these threats and evacuations are reported, apparently to avoid spreading panic but in fact leading to more suspicions.

            These false threats are costing cities “millions of rubles,” especially in larger cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg where the facilities have more people in them.  And they create problems few report, like the return of money people have paid for tickets to watch films of perfomances.

            The retired FSB general says that “it is difficult to calculate the losses.” They involve lost time at work, lost production, and policing costs. “Don’t forget the service dogs” who sniff for bombs: they also are not an unlimited resource.” The total costs are “enormous” if one adds them up.

            While some say that the authorities should ignore the threats, Mikhaylov argues tha the authorities must respond to every threat because at one point or another, these threats could prove to be anything but fake. Indeed, he suggests, the fake ones may be a cover for a real one that could cost many lives.

            Mikhaylov says that the perpetrators can be found if they are on the territory of Russia, but many of the IP addresses are based abroad, often in Ukraine, Moldova or Syria, an indication that the task will be more difficult but certainly not impossible. If there was more international cooperation, things would be easier.

            At the same time, Mikhaylov says, “I do not exclude that we are dealing with an element of state policy – or the policies of some parties and movements which take anti-Russian positions. It is easy to blame the special services, but one must understand that they can’t block all hooligan actions.”

            New and tougher laws may help but only if those responsible are caught, tried and punished. Otherwise, they will only highlight the inability of the authorities to cope with a situation that is leaving ever more Russians worried about what will happen next.

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