Who Planted the Moscow Bomb? 

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Aug. 10 2000 9:00 PM

Who Planted the Moscow Bomb? 

There was something odd about watching a TV news clip last night about a bomb explosion in the Tverskaya Street underpass in Moscow. Not only was it the same underpass through which I walked almost exactly one week ago, Tverskaya Street is also about as stunningly central as you can get. The equivalent site in Manhattan would be, say, Fifth Avenue across from the Plaza. In order to kill eight people there and injure 90 others, whoever planted it must have been a true professional.

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There was something odder, however, about the way this particular CNN broadcast (click here for a transcript) just like most other broadcasts and most other news reports, immediately jumped to conclusions about who might be responsible. While noting President Putin's peculiarly fair-minded statement on the matter ("[I]t would be wrong to scapegoat an entire nationality"), CNN went on to speculate about Chechen involvement, to interview Russians about how much they hate the Chechens, to note that one of two arrested suspects was a Chechen, etc.

For the record, the Chechen leadership has denied responsibility for this bomb, and expressed condolences for the families of those killed. I quote from their press service: "[A]ny acts of retribution by the Chechens will be directed exclusively against military installations and directly against those taking part in the military operation in Chechnya."

Also for the record, the Moscow rumor mill has already churned out a list of other people who might have an interest in setting off a bomb in Moscow, as well as the necessary expertise to place one beneath Tverskaya Street. Here, for the exclusive benefit of Slate readers, is a list of them. I offer this list without comment: You decide whether it is too paranoid, or too weird, or too insane.

1. President Putin: After all, who benefited most from the (still unexplained) bombs that went off in Russia last fall? Those "terrorist acts" provided the excuse for the invasion of Chechnya; the success, and popularity, of the invasion of Chechnya propelled Putin to power. Now the war is faltering, maybe he needs an excuse to keep it going, maybe he needs to keep up popular support.

2. An anti-Putin faction in the security services: Perhaps somebody, somewhere, wants to show that the president is not as much in control as he likes to pretend. If this were the case, it would also explain why Putin, who has never hesitated to blame the Chechens, as a nationality, for all kinds of dastardly deeds in the past, suddenly sounds so circumspect: Maybe he has a pretty good idea about who else might have been responsible.

3. The mayor of Moscow: As one of the big losers in Putin's rise to power—his political party was eviscerated by Putin's political party (see my previous article this week)—he may well want to show he can get things done faster than the president. If suspects are too quickly caught, arrested, and successfully tried, this option will win favor.

4. The army: The war in Chechnya isn't going well. Putin has made noises about wanting to negotiate an end to it. If anyone in the army wants to prevent this from happening, this would be the way to do it.

Beyond that, speculation can only get wilder. Disgruntled Tatars? Angry Kazakhs?  The Taliban? Any possibility sounds as wild as the next. And I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about any of them, either.  

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