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Minsk Bombing Has Everyone Asking: Who Could Benefit?

Belarusian police officers check commuters at the entrance to the Kamennaya Gorka subway station in Minsk on April 12, one day after the deadly explosion at the Kastrychnitskaya (October Square) station.
Belarusian police officers check commuters at the entrance to the Kamennaya Gorka subway station in Minsk on April 12, one day after the deadly explosion at the Kastrychnitskaya (October Square) station.
With the investigation of Belarus's deadly subway tragedy still in the early stages, it is impossible to say who might have been responsible for the rush-hour attack that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured.

But everyone is asking the question that Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka posed to his security advisers at an emergency meeting hours after the blast: Who stands to gain from the terrorism and bloodshed?

Lukashenka said he wouldn't "rule out that this 'gift' was from abroad," but added, "we must also look inside."

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Internet and blogosphere are nearly unanimous in their opinion: the main beneficiary of this tragedy is likely to be Lukashenka himself, who can use the security crisis as a pretext for any number of political moves.

In recent weeks, the government has been shaken by a profound economic crisis and forced to ask Russia for up to $3 billion in emergency stabilization funding as the public has been queuing to buy up hard currency and durable goods. The latest security crisis could be used -- as similar ones in the past have -- to crack down on the opposition or to justify austerity measures.

Investigators have confirmed that the explosive packed the force of 5 to 7 kilograms of TNT and was detonated by remote control, indicating a fairly high level of preparation and sophistication.

Vladimir Lutsenko, a colonel with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), is certain -- "100 percent" -- that the Minsk bombing was the work of international Islamist terrorism targeting peaceful civilians.

"When they murder innocent women and children on the streets of a peaceful city, everyone is terrified and everyone is hurt," Lutsenko says. "They blow up mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. They blow up apartment blocks in Moscow. They blow up skyscrapers in America."

Lutsenko adds that speculation that the explosion was organized either by the Belarusian authorities or by the country's weak and fragmented political opposition is "stupid."

"They said the same thing about Moscow -- that the FSB is blowing up Russia, that Putin blew up the homes of civilians in order to come to power," Lutsenko says. "We've heard this nonsense before and I won't be surprised if we hear it now, too."

The Official Response

But despite Lutsenko's certitude, Belarus has no history of Islamist terrorism. In 2005, a bomb in Vitebsk injured 40 people. An unknown anti-Lukashenka group reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, but no one has been convicted. In July 2008, an explosion injured about 50 people at an Independence Day concert attended by Lukashenka. That attack was never solved either, despite a massive investigation led by a high-profile investigator.

Belarusian political scientist Yury Chavusau recalls those incidents and predicts a familiar response this time from authorities.

"I still remember the explosion in Vitebsk in 2005," Chavusau says. "Like the July 3 [2008] explosion, it was accompanied by, you might say, thorough, mass arrests of representatives of the opposition. Therefore you can suppose that -- regardless of the strength or weakness of the security structures -- the reaction to this terrorist act and the activities of the investigation will be similar -- irrationally massive. They simply don't know any other way, our security forces."

In fact, police have announced the detention of "several" people in connection with the latest attack. In addition, police press secretary Alyaksandr Lastovsky warned the media not to spread "stupid rumors" or foment panic in society. He warned that the police have the power to "make the strictest warnings to those who make up rumors or spread them."

Redistributing Influence?

Belarusian state media have given the incident blanket coverage, focusing on the solidarity being shown by the nation and showing images of ordinary citizens helping one another in the time of crisis.

In addition to using the security crisis to defuse discontent prompted by Belarus's fiercely disputed presidential election in December 2010 or the current economic panic, Lukashenka could use the opportunity -- as he did following the 2008 bombings -- to reorganize his security team.

"I think there could be a redistribution of influence within the ruling elite, and it isn't certain that this redistribution will be to the advantage of the security structures," analyst Chavusov says. "They have become too strong in recent times and the regime is too dependent on them."

Removing key security officials who carried out the postelection crackdown on the opposition could even help Lukashenka mend his fences somewhat with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Belarus over this issue.

written in Prague by RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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