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Analysis From Washington -- Who's Behind Moscow Bombings

  • Paul Goble



Washington, July 15 (RFE/RL) -- Many in both Moscow and the West have immediately blamed the Chechens for the two attacks on Moscow trolleys this week. But several senior aides to President Boris Yeltsin performed a useful service when they suggested on Friday that there is no evidence yet to link the Chechens to these terrorist actions.

In fact, a careful consideration of what has been reported so far suggests that the range of possible perpetrators is actually quite large and that the Chechens, while the most politically convenient group to blame, are probably not behind these attacks.

There are in fact three reasons for doubting that the Chechens are behind these attacks, all having to do with what has been their typical mode of operation:

First, while the most famous Chechen attacks beyond the borders of their republic--Budyonovsk and Pervomaiskoye--did result in hostage taking and civilian deaths, neither was planned as an attack on civilians. Instead and in keeping with their military style inside Chechnya, the Chechen fighters have focused on Russian military targets and personnel.

Second, the size of the bombs that have gone off so far is much smaller than the Chechens have used on other occasions.

And third, the Chechens now under serious Russian attack in their homeland certainly recognise that attacks against Russian civilians in Moscow would not only cost them the sympathies of many Russians but ensure that the Russian government could launch a war of extermination against them without having to worry much about international criticism.

But if the Chechens did not do it, then who might be responsible? At least five other groups are possible suspects:

First, Russian criminal groups who are upset by Yeltsin's anti-crime decrees and who want to take advantage of the period between the second round of the elections and the inauguration to create instability and to highlight their own impunity. Yeltsin aides, for example, have indicated that they believe the "mafia" may be behind these attacks.

Second, extreme communists who are not prepared to live with the results of the Russian elections and who may now believe that their party can come to power only in the context of chaos and disorder. Several leaders of this group, such as Viktor Anpilov, earlier said publicly that they continue to see Lenin's seizure of power as a model.

Third, some in the Russian army who may want to stir up antipathy toward the Chechens in order to justify an even more brutal attack on the Chechen opposition. Obviously, if the Chechens were responsible or in this case could be presented as responsible, the army would be given a free hand to "solve" the Chechen problem.

Fourth, certain Russian politicians both in the security services and outside who may want a harder line against crime than even Yeltsin is prepared to support and who are taking advantage of what more than one analyst has called the "power vacuum" in Moscow in the days before the inauguration.

And fifth, and unfortunately, some in the Yeltsin government itself who may have been looking for a way to distract attention to what the Russian army is now doing in Chechnya, to further muddy the waters about the conflict, and to forestall Western criticism of Russian behaviour there.

Some of these groups as well as others may have a vested interest in a rush to judgment, but should that happen, the tragedy of these bombings would only be compounded.
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