Will Petersburg terrorist act stabilize or destabilize Russia?

Subway bombing in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 4, 2017 (Image: cont.ws)

Subway bombing in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 4, 2017 (Image: cont.ws) 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Just as he has in the past, Vladimir Putin is counting on being able to exploit the latest horrific terrorist attack in Russia to boost his authority, to tighten the screws on Russian society, and to try to convince Western leaders that they should overlook his actions in Ukraine in the name of fighting international terrorism.

But the big question now and in the coming days is whether he will succeed in these efforts or whether the precedents from his own past will combine with the fact that this is the first major terrorist attack in central Russia in seven years and have exactly the opposite effect, undermining Putin’s power by raising more questions and thus contributing to destabilization.

Many commentators yesterday and today are arguing that the Petersburg metro attack which has already killed 11 will generate support for more repressive measures in the name of public safety, attitudes that Putin’s police state can be counted on to encourage and then exploit as in the past.

Others are saying that the terrorist attack and the likely response to it effectively “annuls” the impact of the March 26 anti-corruption marches and should end all talk about the weakness of the regime and the possibility that Russia has entered into a new revolutionary situation.

And still a third group is stressing that the terrorist action in St. Petersburg means that the international community must come together, as Putin has repeatedly urged, to fight the common enemy of international terrorism and that this fight is so important that they should ignore all other issues.

There can be little doubt these themes will have an impact, that Putin will gain support at home for repression in the name of fighting terrorism, and that he will win the backing of at least some Western leaders for raising counter-terrorism to the first place in the world’s agenda, all of which will boost his authority and carry with them the promise of stabilization in Russia.

But there are three reasons for thinking that the Petersburg terrorist act may have exactly the opposite effect at least among a sizable number of Russians.

First of all, the timing of this action is already leading some to ask whether Putin organized it as he did the 1999 apartment bombings.

The coincidence of a terrorist action occurring in Russia at precisely the time when Putin can best make use of it is leading some regime critics to suggest that the Kremlin must have known in advance or even helped to organize the action as horrific as the implications of that are.

In short, Putin’s past actions may work against him in this case even if it should prove to be true that neither he nor his siloviki had anything to do with yesterday’s bombing. In the flood of alternative explanations, at least some will believe that he is to blame now because he is to blame for earlier and similar crimes that worked to his benefit.

Second, as some commentators are pointing out, this is the first such terrorist act in central Russia since 2010. Putin has promoted himself as someone who guarantees stability. But there are now two indications that he hasn’t succeeded: the March 26 demos and a major terrorist incident.

And third, the current problems Russians are facing means that in at least some cases they are evaluating terrorist actions differently than they did when the situation was better, with one writer says that now there is no economic stability and physical security but “only a frightened tyrant.”

Of course, it would be a mistake to see this as some kind of final “either/or” situation. Greater stability achieved by the Putin model could ultimately lead to greater instability given the changes in popular attitudes, and greater instability as a result of the terrorist act could become the occasion for the imposition of that model of stability once again.

But each round of such events is different than the last not only because both sides have suspicions about the other on the basis of what they know concerning the past but also because each sees every new event as raising the stakes and thus making it more, not less likely that each will harden its position toward the other.



Edited by: A. N.

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  • Greg

    it is sad what happened in St Petersburg, but people need to remember Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism. it is on Putin’s orders he pays and sends people into Ukraine to bomb and destabilize it is Putin who orders assignations. . it is Putin who tortures and abuses people in Crimea. Putin is not interested in fighting terrorist, he creates them.

    • veth

      Osama was a sissy-boy compared to Putler.

      • rgb

        Obama is not a terrorist.

        • rgb

          If that makes Obama a sissy-boy then so be it.

          • Alex George

            I think he meant Osama bin Laden

          • rgb

            Thank you for pointing that out to me.

  • zorbatheturk

    Putin is trying to deflect attention onto Muslims and pal up with Trumpie Boy. Trump doesn’t like Muslims, so Putin thinks his sympathy ploy might work.

    • Andrew Chmile


      I noticed the “Vasyl P.” mole, etc… other moles selling that BS “Moslems are the danger!” — rather than that monhol scum.

      • MichaelA

        Where did anyone write that?

        • Andrew Chmile

          Just tol’ you STUPID RUSKI POS MORON!!!!

          Learna da reada da Anglish — you IGNORANT POS! :))

          • Alex George

            Hmmmm, same spelling mistakes as Njordheim. I always suspected he and Andrew were different accounts of the same people.

            Njordheim is banned but Andrew keeps attacking friends of Ukraine.

          • Andrew Chmile

            wasn”t banned STUPID!!! — That ***SERBIAN*** Ruski-loving POS
            **DELETED** his account …. you ARE a stupid Ruski indeed!

            I bet you must “LIVE” :))) in filthy Russia! :))))

          • Alex George

            Yes Njordheim was banned. Interesting that you claim knowledge of what he did – it was one of your accounts, wasn’t it?!

          • Andrew Chmile

            Try harder!!! Ruski ***COWARD*** :)))

            Not a bright bunch …. a slave [email protected] mix of the LOWEST Asiatic sh*t & that
            PRETEND to be Slavic & the same as Ukr. & yet are AT THE SAME TIME, somehow”superior” to them — at the same time!!! ??? :)))

            Most odd!
            Rather …. WEAK — psychologically as well as mentally! 😉

            They LOVE to play these BS “psychological games” fot they imagine themselves as being most clever! :)

            Were they really, they wouldn’t do that stupid BS, now would they?
            Were they not **INFERIOR** they wouldn’t use OR be “trolls” & “moles” — now would they?

            Just my musings …. go use yo’ other accounts …. you still get paid for not doing sh*t.

            Ruski job…. scum people!

          • MichaelA

            No you didnt

            Your post is right above mine and you didnt give any indication where anyone said that

  • MichaelA

    putin has been sending russian troops to ukraine and syria instead of protecting russia
    does he really think this will be the last attack?

  • Tony

    Come on, putin manufactured a false flag to distract from recent protests. Ryzan, Litvinenko, Crimea, Donbass, etc. Putin thrives on actual conspiracies while funding fake ones in the west to make people numb to the possibility of his real ones.