Staunton, December 19 – When telephone bomb threats led to massive evacuations in Russian cities last year, government media at least reported it, albeit without especial prominence. But now they aren’t, sparking fears that the wave of telephone terrorism is even larger than it is and speculation that the government itself is behind it.
Bomb threats continue in Moscow and St. Petersburg and are spreading across the country to areas not hit earlier. In many cases, schools are now the target, forcing authorities to evacuate children and sparking real fears among their parents especially in absence of coverage (sovsekretno.ru/news/volna-minirovaniy-v-moskve-prodolzhaetsya/ and znak.com/2019-12-19/na_dalnem_vostoke_evakuirovany_bolee_90_detskih_sadov_iz_za_soobcheniy_o_minirovanii 19).
During the earlier waves of what Russians call “telephone terrorism,” the authorities often played down the impact of the calls; but they almost always covered them when they affected schools, given the importance of children in Russian society and the certainty that parents would know anyway. Parents and children are frightened, perhaps even unreasonably so.
That is one result of the apparent decision by the Kremlin not to cover these events. But there is another that also was generally absent when their was more coverage of the calls and the evacuations: widespread speculation that the powers are behind the calls to generate support for repressive policies (newizv.ru/news/society/20-12-2019/ugroza-ili-ucheniya-vlasti-strany-ne-kommentiruyut-povalnuyu-evakuatsiyu-shkol).
Writing in Novaya gazeta, Moscow commentator Valery Shiryayev says that at the present time “mass evacuations suit not the telephone terrorists but the organs of state security” and that some or all of the calls now originate not with those the authorities would call terrorists but with the authorities themselves (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/12/19/83227-uchenya-idut).
Shirayev says he has “no doubts” that this is an exercise by the security services to prove their meddle, to intimidate the population or to push repressive legislation. And he says that the targets selected – public institutions that won’t sue – the timing – during the day and convenient for the authorities – and always fitting the local time zone rather than Moscow time all show that.
When he is right or not and whether the fears people have are justified or not, the costs the Putin regime is paying by not covering events large number of people inevitably know about are high, further undermining public confidence in the powers that be and possibly leading them to listen to more radical critics.
If one adopts a sufficiently Machiavellian perspective, that could even be the reason for the exercise, to smoke out “unreliable elements” and then arrest them. Such an action would hardly be unprecedented for the Russian police, but the possibilities Russians have for gaining information mean that it may be more counterproductive than ever before.
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