After Bombings, What Next for Russia?

Putin's reputation may be at stake

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After two suicide bombers killed 38 in Moscow's subway system on Monday morning, the world's eyes immediately turned to Chechnya. Russian officials claim the Chechen separatist movement was behind the attack--an assumption shared across much of the globe. What will the attacks mean for Russia? The complexity of Moscow politics must be factored in. Former President Vladimir Putin retains significant influence as Prime Minister, and current President Dmitri Medvedev has yet to fully demonstrate whether he answers to Putin or is an independent leader. During the worst Chechen violence, Putin greatly expanded the power of the state. Will Russia once again inch toward authoritarianism? Will it renew military actions in Chechnya?

  • Russians Demand Tough Leadership  Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell posits, "Ever wonder why Vladimir Putin is so much more popular in Russia than his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev?" Just look at their actions in the wake of the attacks. "Putin said he'd like to "drag out of the sewer" the organizers of the attacks. And Medevev? He'd like the Supreme Court and the High Court of Arbitration to come up with some ways to improve counterterrorism laws."
  • But Putin Could Take The Blame  The New York Times' Clifford Levy explains, "Mr. Putin, the former president and still Russia’s paramount leader, has built his reputation in part on his success in bottling up the Muslim insurgency in southern Russia and preventing major terrorist attacks in the country’s large cities in recent years. If the bombings on Monday herald a renewed campaign by insurgents in major cities, then that legacy may be tarnished."
  • Russians Will 'Call For a Terrible Revenge'  The Guardian's Catherine Merridale, recalling her years in Moscow, predicts "that the sounds of human grief will soon be swallowed by the strident noise of patriotism." In short time, "A nation, encouraged to think itself mistreated abroad and embattled at home, will soon call for a terrible revenge. If that takes the form of yet more brutality, of mass arrests and moves against the dark-skinned immigrants who work in Moscow, it will be difficult not to point accusing fingers at a chauvinistic state."
  • Could Complicate Putin's Popularity  Politics professor Mark Katz writes in the New York Times that Russians will rush to Putin's tough, authoritarian stance, but that in the long-term they may become increasingly wary of Putinism. "The fact that these bombings occurred may increase the public’s growing dissatisfaction caused by corruption, police brutality, economic stagnation, and general malaise all of which they increasingly see as due to Putin’s style of rule."
  • Russia Faces Chechen, Not Global Threat  The Guardian counters claims that global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda could be behind the attack (made by the National Review and others). They warn that failure to recognize the local problem--Chechen violence--risks missing the local solution, which is Chechen peace. "Most terrorism has local not global roots and most solutions are local too. The logic, if that is the right word, of the bombings lies in several previous attacks over the past decade and in Moscow's often ruthless and occasionally incompetent responses to them."
  • Russian Media: This Is Kremlin's Fault  According to the BBC, independent Russian media have scathingly attacked Russian leadership and the government-controlled media. Independent outlets have blamed security services for not learning from past attacks and for failing to grasp the decentralized threat of terrorism. They also accused state media of whitewashing over the brutality of the attacks.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.