Fri, Aug 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

ANALYSIS: Security threats likely to play into Moscow's hands

AFP , MOSCOW

A nightmarish beheading video, extremists vowing to spill more blood, a bomb under the tracks of the country's most popular train: As of last week, resurgent Russia didn't feel so secure any more.

Politics and fear have long gone hand-in-hand here, and with Russia's crucial election season heating up, the Kremlin is likely to use "the enemy within" as the ultimate electoral resource, analysts said.

The first scare last week came from an online video appearing to show the beheading of one man and shooting execution of another, both of them of non-Russian ethnic origin, by a previously unknown neo-Nazi group.

A group calling itself "the military wing" of Russia's National-Socialist Society circulated a statement online declaring "the start of our party's armed struggle against colored colonists."

Hours later, a bomb attack derailed a train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, injuring dozens. Investigators focused first on nationalist extremists, then Chechen separatists.

An ongoing sense of threat -- whatever its source -- helps those in power stay there, said Boris Dubin, a sociologist from the Levada polling center in Moscow.

"Various parties will of course try to use that fear, including nationalists. But in the end it's most useful for the party of power because people see them as the only possible saviour from those threats," he said. "People believe that only strong, harsh, centralized power can save them."

Following the train bombing, Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev was quick to warn last week that "the threat from extremism and terrorism has certainly not been removed."

Patrushev said measures would be taken to increase the safety of elections.

"It's amazing how quickly the elections popped up," Carnegie Moscow Center political analyst Maria Lipman said.

"When there's a terrorist attack on a train, people hardly say: `My God, what's going to happen to the elections?' They're worried about getting blown up on a train," she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin took power after a series of deadly apartment bombings in 1999 that fuelled support for a second war in Chechnya and helped cement his image as a strong leader.

They also provoked allegations that the secret services had orchestrated them to ensure Putin's rise to power, and after last week's events, the conspiracy theories were flying again.

Callers to the liberal Moscow Echo radio hinted that the secret services had bombed the train to scare voters. Ultra-nationalists raged in Internet forums that the video had been a "provocation."

Lipman said Putin used the threat of terrorism to justify the centralization of power.

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