A bombing attack in Russia’s St. Petersburg on Wednesday is now being characterized as an act of terrorism by government officials, offering Vladimir Putin an opportunity to further emphasize his “tough on terror” stance as he heads into another election.
The attack, which took place on Wednesday afternoon, saw an improvised explosive device detonated inside a grocery store, injuring 13 people but claiming no lives. Reports out of the region indicate that the explosive device was hidden in a locker inside the store, and comprised of around 200 grams (7 ounces) of TNT, as well as bolts intended to act as shrapnel. Local law enforcement declined to characterize the incident as terror-related on Wednesday, but Putin’s Thursday statements clearly indicate that it is now being considered a terror attack. He also took the opportunity to characterize his enthusiasm for bringing the suspects to justice, telling the media that he’s instructed the FSB (the successor to the Russian KGB) to “take no prisoners” in the investigation.
“Yesterday I ordered the director of the Federal Security Service, while arresting these bandits, to act, obviously, only within the limits of the law,” Putin said. “But if the lives or health of our employees and our officers are threatened — to act decisively, to take no prisoners, to liquidate the bandits on the spot.”
Although this attack claimed no lives, it could still prove rather influential in terms of Russian politics. Vladimir Putin is expected to easily secure reelection, with a massive 80% approval rating and his only opponent of note, Aleksei A. Navalny, now legally banned from running for the office, but Putin does still need to worry about the growing segment of the Russian population that has become increasingly critical of Russia’s foreign and domestic policies. Years ago, Putin secured his role as Russia’s dominant political figure of the generation by capitalizing on a bombing (that some argue Putin himself was responsible for), and it seems likely that the Russian president will continue to utilize this public persona as a larger than life defender of the Russian people to quell some of the voices of dissent looming over the upcoming election. It was, after all, Putin’s hard-line stance against the Chechen guerrillas blamed for the apartment bombing attack that first propelled his popularity in Russia, famously saying that he would “rub them out in an outhouse,” and notably using a slang term for out-house that helped solidify his reputation as an every-man style tough guy.
He went on, at the time, to offer to remove the genitals of those who would pursue Islamic radicalism.
”If you are determined to become a complete Islamic radical and are ready to undergo circumcision, then I invite you to Moscow. We are multi-confessional. We have experts in this sphere as well. I will recommend to conduct the operation so that nothing on you will grow again.”
Now, it would seem Putin has another opportunity to demonstrate how tough he can be to a population that, for the most part, sees him as a form of savior for the Russian sense of national pride. Putin emerged as a hero the public could get behind after the embarrassment, and difficult living conditions, that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, and under his leadership, Russia has indeed clawed its way back into a role of geopolitical importance, despite a stagnating economy and repeated delays in Putin’s military modernization efforts.
One could argue that it has been Putin’s manipulation of the geopolitical system, and willingness to embrace modern perception management methodologies such as those seen in Russia’s manipulation campaigns that came to light during the 2016 presidential election, that have ushered in a new era of global importance for the Russian people. It’s because of the recent emphasis on such things in the global media, however, that a small terror attack of the sort seen on Wednesday may be important to Putin’s reelection bid. Putin needs to remind his people why they embraced him in the first place, and a “take no prisoners” hunt for this grocery store bomber will almost certainly aid in that effort.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press