Today’s attacks in the Moscow metro were the first ones since 2004, but before that, the Moscow underground was hit in 1996, 1998, and 2001. Apparently the suicide bombings are meant as a retaliation for the killing in the last few weeks of several leading figures among the terrorists and militants in the North Caucasus, in particular Anzor Astemirov, an associate of Shamil Basayev’s, and Sayeed al-Buryati, a fiery ideologue. It is evidently symbolic that the first suicide bomber detonated herself at Lubyanka station, right under the headquarters of the FSB, the Russian domestic security service. Another reason for this attack may be an attempt to undermine the Kremlin’s latest policy initiative in the North Caucasus, which created a new federal district in the area and proclaimed a set of measures to stabilize the area.
The bombings have shocked Moscow and have been a major embarrassment to the authorities. Yet, beyond a few symbolic and demonstrative steps, it is hard to expect major changes. The world of Islamist militants is too tight for outside penetration, security in Russia continues to be generally lax, the police are largely non-professional and admittedly corrupt, and the army is useless. The next few years may actually see an intensification of terrorist activity. Already now, calls are being heard to attack Sochi, the seat of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which sits on the territory conquered by the Russian imperial army from the hill tribes in the 19th century. However, what lurks behind these attacks is not separatism, but jihadism.
Having taken the blow, Moscow will soon pick itself up and move on, and today’s attack will be simply the latest in the long series of equally bloody episodes. The most recent of them, the bombing and derailment of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, which happened last November, is all but forgotten now. Today, after the explosions, the Moscow Metro may ironically be at its safest, with so many police and investigators down there. By next week at the latest, it will be back to normal. The threat of terrorist attacks will remain real for some time here, and the subway will continue to be the target of choice.