MOSCOW. (RIA political commentator Yury Filippov.) -- Russian investigators have found those they believe carried out the attack on the Grozny-Moscow train in the early hours of June 12, 2005.
Nobody was killed in the explosion but 42 passengers were wounded, which was symbolic in two ways: it was staged on Russia Day and the passengers were coming from the Chechen Republic, which Russian residents had to flee back in the 1990s.
It was not clear who was responsible for the attack: Chechen extremists or Russian nationalists. Some indicators pointed to the latter, and the investigators were right. The Moscow Region Prosecutor's Office reported that both suspects arrested, Vladimir Vlasov and Mikhail Klevachyov, are members of Russian National Unity, a radical nationalist organization that has been banned as overtly fascist.
The explosion was yet another link in the chain of extremist actions and terrorist acts that are not directly associated with international terrorism, in particular with the Islamic terrorists.
An attempt on the life of Anatoly Chubais, head of RAO UES, in spring created the biggest political uproar in Russia even though nobody was hurt as a result of the explosion. The Prosecutor's Office blamed Russian nationalists for it. Retired Russian Army Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, the main suspect, is believed to have set up a kind of a nationalist terrorist club at his country house to plan measures for harassing and even eliminating "enemies of Russia".
Incidentally, a whole arsenal of explosives was found in the apartments of those arrested for blowing up the Moscow-Grozny train. The investigators are now checking whether the suspects are implicated in the abortive attempt to kill Chubais.
Recently, the Moscow Regional Court prohibited the extremist National Bolshevik Party, whose leader, Eduard Limonov, has already served a term in prison for terrorism and possession of arms. For the time being the National Bolsheviks, who are not going to stop their activities despite the court's ruling, are mostly involved in reasonably "peaceful" acts, such as throwing addled eggs at "enemies of Russia", putting up anti-government posters and seizing state offices. Last summer they stormed the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development to protest against the reform of replacing benefits in-kind with money compensations. Later, they occupied the reception area of the Presidential Administration office.
The response from the authorities has been very tough. Those who seized the Healthcare Ministry got five years in prison, despite public attempts to present this act as harmless. In determining the punishment the court paid special attention to the National Bolsheviks ideology, which justifies the use of violence and terror for political ends. Their manifesto, "A Different Russia," speaks about possibly waging clandestine struggle abroad and setting up guerilla units in a country bordering on Russia.
Deputy Presidential Administration head Vladislav Surkov expressed his grave concern over the threat of local, nationalist terrorism in a recent interview with German magazine Der Spiegel: "If chauvinist pro-fascist elements provoke a splash of Islamic extremism, the integrity of our multinational country may come under serious threat."
In other words, the Kremlin is alarmed that international Islamic terrorism that has already spilled from Chechnya to adjacent Dagestan and other Russian republics of the North Caucasus may be aggravated by the emergence of local, Russian nationalist terrorism against liberal politicians and national minorities. If these two types of terrorism collide, a multi-national and multi-religious Russia with its 20 million-strong Muslim population will be in for the worst-case scenario. It may be engulfed by the same large-scale civil war as the one that raged in the Balkans in the 1990s.
At the beginning of his second term, President Vladimir Putin called Russian extremists "fools" and "provocateurs". But even despite his 70% approval ratings, words are not enough to stop the spread of nationalist extremism in Russia. The authorities are aware of this and do not limit themselves to words.
This type of extremism is particularly dangerous because it appeals to the younger generation. According to law-enforcement agencies, up to 50,000 Russian teenagers consider themselves "skinheads", a youth movement oriented to nationalist extremism. For the time being these youngsters mainly drink beer and beat up foreigners who are unlucky enough to come their way. But sometimes they beat their victims to death, such as the recent murder of a Vietnamese student in St. Petersburg. There is no guarantee that in a couple of years these nationalists will not turn into an organized, aggressive political force.
This is exactly why the authorities will be extremely tough in suppressing nationalist extremists. If the suspects in the explosion of the Moscow-Grozny train are found guilty, they should get ready to serve very long terms behind bars without the right to pardon or amnesty.