Vienna , February 17 – Many Russians have argued that Russia and Russians would be better off if the country’s key institutions were not so hyper-centralized in Moscow. Now, they may have acquired a powerful new argument: Such concentration makes the Russian capital a tempting target for terrorists, especially if the latter gain access to weapons of mass destruction.
In an essay posted on the Liberty.ru portal, analyst Aleksandr Baurov says that the risk of such attacks at some point in the future is so great that the Russian authorities need to think seriously about moving many political and economic institutions out of Moscow lest Russia suffer irreparable harm from such an attack.
Baurov argues that since the September 11 attacks on the United States, “the world community has been living in permanent fear of a completely different level of [threat] than it did 10 or even 20 years ago – a greater fear than even during the period of the Cold War (www.liberty.ru/Themes/Moskva-obrechennyj-gorod.-Zachem-nuzhna-decentralizaciya-Rossii).
Indeed, he suggests, “the population of developed countries has turned out to have been driven into a real ‘ghetto of fear,’ and the most widespread of [its] fears is the danger of the use by terrorists of weapons of mass destruction and in the first instance nuclear weapons in a major city of Western civilization.”
Experts in the special services and political commentators have “more than once” considered the chance of such a terrorist attack and “on the whole agree with the view that the danger of its being carried out is constantly growing,” a view that is reflected in the scripts of many movies and television programs.
“Politics, as Bismarck said, is the art of the possible,” Baurov observes, adding that “it is impossible with certainty to assert that under the conditions of the intensifying competition and growth of protectionism, terror of this kind will not be used by radical elements in a number of governments and the leadership of major financial-industrial groups to achieve their goals.”
As a result, the Russian commentator says, “now the danger of a terrorist act with the application of a nuclear weapon or ‘a dirty bomb’ is higher than ever before – many times higher than the danger of the unsanctioned launch of nuclear rockets during the Codl War, when the problems of faceless terror did not exist.”
There are only two means of defense, Baurov says, the tactical, which involves “supporting the efforts of the special services to prevent the possibilities of terrorists from acquiring the material or models for nuclear weapons” and the strategic, which entails “radically reducing the potential consequences of a likely terrorist attack.”
Among the “most frequently” mentioned targets of terrorists are “strategic objects like hydro-electric dams, other dams, and atomic energy stations and major cities.” If the terrorists seek “economic or political” gain, “then the probability of a terrorist action against a major city turns out to be much higher.
And that probability, Baurov says, increases still further in those cases “when the economic and political center in one country coincide” and where the functions of both are hyper-centralized. “In that regard, Moscow is practically an idea target” whose attack would entail “catastrophic consequences.”
“The economic growth and political decisions in Russia in recent years have led to a significant centralization of power and the concentration of capital in the capital of the country.” Consequently, by attacking it with even “a dirty bomb,” terrorists could inflict “serious damage” on the entire Russian state.
According to Baurov, “the sudden destruction and radioactive contamination of the central part of the city would lead to the cessation of the functioning of the majority of federal government institutions and the loss of centralized archives and data bases. It would disorder the country’s transportation system and spread “chaos” throughout the country.
In particular, such an attack would result in “the disappearance of a significant share of the leading federal institutions” which because of the “vertical” integration of power would leave much of the country’s bureaucracy without guidance. Thus, in addition to the human losses and chaos, such an attack would entail “a chaotic growth of separatist tendencies.”
Consequently, Baurov warns, such an attack could lead “not only to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people but represent a danger to the further existence of Russia as a sovereign state.” Because that is an outcome various groups are interested in, “the danger of such a ‘risky’ decision is impermissibly high.”
Obviously, the Russian authorities must not reduce in any way their vigilance in controlling access to the raw materials needed for the construction of weapons of mass destruction or to existing weapons systems. “This is the task of the special services, and one has to hope that their direct interest in the survival of Russian statehood” will guide them.
But “even the very best means of observation and control may not save the situation if the strategic problem is not resolved,” Baurov argues. “Moscow must cease to be a place of super-concentrated opportunities, means and resources.” Instead, some of those must be shifted elsewhere to make the city “’a less attractive target’” for terrorists.
Indeed, the commentator says, “we must be glad that up to now no one has hurled a stone at this ‘glass house.’”
Given existing communication and transportation networks, he argues, there should be a carefully planned “transfer of a number of federal structures of executive power to other cities of Russia. And if that happens, then some of the business community will be inclined to move as well, a combination that as a collateral benefit will bring benefits to Muscovites.
With fewer people, he points out, the streets and public facilities of the capital will be less crowded and housing will be less expensive, developments that will also have the effect of making “the city more attractive for tourists.”
Moreover, Baurov argues, by taking this step, “we will not only seriously reduce the danger of the out of a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction, but we will secure a leading position among the developed countries as far as a plan for supporting the balance of global security.”
And he suggests that there is yet another benefit. “Besides everything else, such structural changes will lead to a qualitative change of the bureaucratic structures and methods of administration toward more flexible and liberal ones.” And such a change in turn could help promote “a more democratic” Russia as well.