A man arrested in the Russian province of Dagestan was suspected of planning to carry out a militant attack Dec. 2, the day of Duma elections. The incident highlights the danger of attacks before the election and Russian President Vladimir Putin's successes and intentions in tightening security across the country.
Russian police in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, on Nov. 30 arrested a man suspected of plotting a militant attack for Dec. 2, the day of Duma elections. Police found a suicide bomber's belt during a search of the suspect's house. The foiled plot points up both the real danger of more attacks before the election and the extent to which Russian President Vladimir Putin has succeeded in tightening security across the country after cracking down on militant regions. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen two or three large militant attacks for each election — and this is only counting attacks outside Russia's dangerous militant regions like Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where such attacks tend to be regular events. This year, only one such attack has taken place: the Aug. 15 Nevsky Express train bombing, which injured 60 people but nearly sent the train off a 100-foot high bridge, which could have killed everyone aboard. Mystery surrounds the culprits behind that bombing; police declared the case closed Nov. 15 but did not say whether the suspects were separatist rebels or ultranationalists. More attacks could happen this weekend just before the elections, but there is reason to suppose this election could differ from previous ones. Putin has ensured that his security forces are fully prepared well in advance. He is anxious to project the image of a stable and powerful Russia united under his leadership, and he does not want petty internal militancy to undermine this image. Therefore, he has overseen crackdowns on the militant regions where terrorists hatch their plots. Meanwhile, police are keeping a close watch on the rest of Russia. They foiled an attempted bombing at a nightclub in St. Petersburg on Nov. 5 and arrested two Ingush brothers believed to be part of the Schultz-88 skinhead group (possibly the suspects behind the Nevsky Express bombing). Terrorist attacks of this sort will be difficult to prevent, especially given the range of experienced and well-entrenched militants in Russia with an interest in the elections. Nevertheless, the arrest of the would-be bomber in Dagestan appears to be another success for Putin's strategy. If nothing major happens over the weekend, Putin deserves credit for achieving election-time security. Of course, such security procedures also serve a second, less-laudable goal: They make it easy to impress the government's will on the populace, and the Kremlin's plan in these elections is nothing less than to remove completely all opposition parties from the Duma.