Staunton, August 2 – The USSR like all large countries suffered from technogenic disasters of various kinds throughout its history, but in the final years of its existence, their number and violence appeared to grow, sparking speculation that these weren’t just accidents but rather terrorist acts designed to undermine public confidence in the regime.
In all cases, the Soviet authorities insisted that these were accidents; but even when extensive investigations were conducted, some of which lasted into the mid-1990s, the expert community and the powers that be were unable to specify beyond reasonable doubt what the actual causes were and who might have been involved.
Relatives of the victims and officials on the scene have continued to worry about the question of cause, but in general, as time has passed, the issue has receded, overwhelmed by other concerns about the present and the past. Now that may be about to change with potentially serious consequences for how Russians will view the end of the Soviet regime.
If those who worked to promote political change in the late 1980s and early 1990s are about to be linked not just to what the Kremlin views as a political crime but also to actual acts of violence that left hundreds of Soviet citizens dead, that opens the way for new and far more serious criminal charges to be brought against them.
On Odnarodyna, a portal that promotes Putin’s view that the end of the Soviet Union left Russians the largest divided nation on earth, Andrey Nazarenko has raised the question again: were these “accidents” or were they “diversions” designed to destroy the USSR? (odnarodyna.org/article/kak-razrushali-sssr-avarii-ili-diversii-konca-80-kh).
In the course of his discussion of several accidents in Gorbachev’s time, the commentator leaves little doubt that in his mind, these events were not accidents but actions by opponents of communism who carried them out to undermine public confidence in the Soviet regime and to spread concerns about the present and future.
Nazarenko focuses on three such “accidents” in particular, a massive explosion at the railroad station of Arzamas-1 which carried off nearly 100 lives in June 1988, a similar explosion at a station in Sverdlovsk Oblast a month later, and a train collision in Bashkortostan in June 1989 which may have killed more than 750 people.
Because of glasnost, he continues, all three received extensive coverage in the media; but so too did the fact that despite massive efforts by officials, the authorities were not able to present an explanation of any of them that was accepted by the population – and that failure may have been the reason some might have had for causing the disasters in the first place.
The first of these explosions took place near a closed city where the Soviets produced nuclear weapons and it occurred on a day when there was a large gathering of scientists there, ensuring that they would spread the word, Nazarenko suggests, a possible indication of planning by opponents of the Soviet system.
He quotes Gennady Khodyrev, the former governor of Nizhny Novgorod oblast, as saying that “it was useful for someone to form in the population the sense that the authorities of those years were incapable of running the state and ensuring the security of the population.” And the fact that no convincing explanation was offered means that the case is still open.
The second case, in Sverdlovsk Olast, was less deadly – only four people succumbed, although there were “about 500 wounded” – but if anything even more destructive of property and located in a place that it was far easier for journalists to cover, something that made it even more the subject of media attention than the Arazamas explosion had been.
And the third, Nazarenko says, was a June 1989 disaster in Bashkortostan involving both a pipeline explosion and the collision of two trains. Officially, 575 people died in the explosion and fires; but according to unofficial counts, at least 780 did – and the number may have been much larger because young children on the train were travelling without tickets.
When this disaster happened, the First Congress of Peoples Deputies was taking place in Moscow, during which was formed the Inter-Regional Deputies Group “which took a most active part in the destruction of the USSR,” the commentator continues. Gorbachev and others suspended the meeting and visited the victims at an Ufa hospital.
One of the hospital employees challenged Gorbachev on television, “asking if this negligence and carelessness was not costing the population too much.”