Police, troops heavy in bomb-hit Russian city
Eerily empty buses lumbered through the streets, police weighed
down with body armor warily watched pedestrians near a fast-food
restaurant, and members of Cossack units stood guard at bus stops.
Volgograd was an ominous and jittery city on Tuesday, after two
suicide bombings in two days that killed 34 people.
”People are afraid it will happen again; they’re trying not to
go outside if they don’t have to,” said 20-year-old Yulia Kuzmina,
a student. ”We get a feeling that a war has started.”
That is a worry that extends far beyond Volgograd.
Although there has been no claim of responsibility for the
bombing of the city’s main railway station and a trolleybus,
suspicion falls strongly on Islamist insurgents, whose leader
ordered his adherents this summer to do all they could to derail
the Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 7 in the Russian resort city
Games organizers have introduced some of the most extensive
identity checks and security measures ever seen at an international
sporting event. But even if security at the Games is tight, many
analysts suggest that the Volgograd bombings show how public
transit in Sochi and sites away from the sports venues are
Police reinforcements and Interior Ministry troops have been
sent into Volgograd, regional police official Andrei Pilipchuk was
quoted as telling the Interfax news agency. He said more than 5,200
security forces are deployed in the city of 1 million, but did not
say how much of an increase that was from normal levels.
Officers and security guards carefully searched the purses of
young women entering a shopping center and waved metal detectors
over both males and females.
The Cossacks guarding some bus stops added an unsettling note.
Although these units are officially authorized volunteer patrols,
they are descendants of the fierce horsemen who protected the czars
and launched raids on Muslims in the Russian Caucasus, where the
Islamist insurgency is now centered.
Volgograd authorities have canceled mass events for New Year’s
Eve, one of Russia’s most popular holidays, and asked residents not
to set off fireworks. In addition, all movie theaters have been
closed until Thursday. In Moscow, festivities were to go ahead, but
authorities said security would be increased.
President Vladimir Putin, in his New Year’s Eve address to the
nation, vowed that the fight against terrorists will continue
”until their destruction is complete,” Russian news agencies
”What blasphemy. They did it right before the holiday,” said
Arkady Chernyavsky, a 73-year-old retiree. He also bristled at how
the attacks stained the image of a city that prides itself for the
tragic valor of the World War II Battle of Stalingrad, as the city
then was called.
”This is supposed to be the city of heroes and things like this
are taking place,” Chernyavsky said.
Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but the
insurgents seeking to create an Islamic state have largely confined
their attacks to the North Caucasus region in recent years. The
blasts in Volgograd signaled that militants want to show their
reach outside their native region. Volgograd is about 300
kilometers (200 miles) north of the Caucasus and about 690
kilometers (430 miles) northeast of Sochi.
China, host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, on Tuesday expressed
confidence in the security of the Sochi Games.
”The competent authorities on our side have maintained close
communication and cooperation with Russia in terms of the security
work for the Winter Olympics. We believe that Russia is capable of
ensuring security and hosting a successful Winter Olympics,”
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on
The United States would welcome ”closer cooperation” with
Russia on security preparations for the Winter Olympics, White
House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Monday.
Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow and researcher Zhao
Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.