Sam Greene of the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Center has a very interesting article taking a look at the political implications of the Metro bombings. Given that Vladimir Putin kept his playdate with Hugo Chavez in Caracas instead of rallying support in the Caucasus, I think Greene is right that the Kremlin will do their best to ignore rather than deal with the terror problem.
That leaves Russia’s leaders with really only one easy option (and this is a bunch that generally prefers easy options): make it go away. They control the television and much of the print media, where the vast majority of Russians get their news. They also control the streets, where extra police presence – which, in other contexts, might serve to reassure citizens, but also reminds them of the danger – has been kept to a minimum. Even the planned memorials to the victims are being kept underground, in the metro stations where the attacks occurred.
The Kremlin has evidently decided that since it cannot benefit from a conversation about what to do next, it’s best to avoid a conversation altogether. That is probably correct, in the short term. But in the longer run, if the terrorists strike again, if the danger remains real, a public debate will begin anyway. When that happens, the Kremlin will no longer be a participant in the conversation: rather, it will become the object of debate, and no amount of rhetoric will help. That is what happens when leaders fail to lead.