The horrific bombings in Volgograd in southern Russia have got people wondering if the anti-Russian Islamists of the Caucasus region are planning to ‘ramp up violence in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi’. The Sochi Games start in just six weeks’ time. And some think the Volgograd bombings – one of a train station, one of a bus, leaving at least 30 civilians dead and many more injured – confirm that Islamists are plotting a spate of ‘Olympics terrorism’ in order to cause maximum political embarrassment and harm to President Vladimir Putin in the coming months.
If that is their plan, is it surprising? The Sochi Games have, after all, been relentlessly transformed by influential Western NGOs, campaigners and officials into a platform for criticising and ridiculing Putin’s Russia. The Games have been thoroughly politicised, by everyone from human-rights groups to gay activists, turned into what one observer calls an ‘unlikely platform [for] world condemnation’ of Russia, a condemnation which in recent months has reached ‘fever pitch’. If Islamists think Sochi represents a good opportunity for attacking Russia, maybe they’ve been influenced by powerful Western elements who for the past year have been using Sochi to precisely those ends.
The most striking thing about the Western response to the savage attacks on civilians in Volgograd is how little sympathy there has been. There’s even a powerful hint of ‘You had it coming’ in the editorialising on the bombings. The Times’ leader on the attacks, headlined ‘Tsar Vladimir’, focuses its ire entirely on Putin, who is ‘vain, reactionary and not a little paranoid’ and has ‘accumulated unrivalled authority’, we are told. So it’s not surprising, the paper nudges, that his nation faces suicide bombings. The Guardian casually asserts that the Volgograd attacks are the ‘high price’ Russians must pay for Putin’s ‘mistakes in the [Caucasus]’. The Independent likewise says Russia is paying the ‘delayed price’ for its bad behaviour in the ‘small, mainly Muslim, autonomous republics in the Caucasus’. Shorter version: you deserve it, Russia.
These respectable observers, including Britain’s newspaper of record, are effectively saying about Volgograd what eccentric leftists say about Islamist attacks here in Britain: that ‘they had it coming’. The self-loathing sentiment expressed by some British leftists after attacks like the 7/7 bombings or the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich – that is, that Britain brought these assaults upon itself by behaving so wickedly in Muslim lands – is usually and often adroitly rubbished by right-leaning and some centre-left observers. Yet now, those same observers are saying that the murder of civilians in Volgograd is the logical consequence, the ‘price’, of Russia’s military behaviour in Caucasus regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya. They’re effectively providing a justification for Islamist terrorism in Russia, which does nothing to discourage such violent assaults, and might unwittingly inflame them in the long run through conferring on them the status of being an ‘understandable’ response to the tsar-like behaviour of an apparently merciless Putin. This is a very foolish thing to do at a time when the West itself faces episodic acts of Islamist terrorism.
This extraordinary double standard – where the Islamist terrorism we face is seen as being the sole responsibility of the perpetrators themselves, while the Islamist terrorism Russia faces is seen as being fundamentally down to Putin and his past militarism – is mirrored in the cavalier, even quite callous response to the bloodshed in Volgograd. Try to imagine how we would respond if, just a few days after Christmas, a St Pancras station packed with commuters was targeted by a suicide bomber and a London bus was blown to smithereens. We’d be shocked, distressed, keen to discover who the culprits were and possibly to clamp down on their suspected associates or sponsors. Yet Russia’s similar feelings of loss and anger are subtly ridiculed by Western observers. Putin will probably ‘respond ruthlessly to yesterday’s suicide bombing’, scoffs one newspaper in a piece on the corruption and authoritarianism of modern Russia. There’s nothing Putin can do anyway, says another paper; ‘the violence looks set to continue’ in divided, militarised Russia.