Moscow bombing again shatters illusions in Russia

MOSCOW, Jan 25, 2011 (AFP) - President Dmitry Medvedev had this week been due to enjoy the honour of delivering the keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, persuading investors that Russia is undergoing major change.

Instead, his glitzy trip has been shelved as the Kremlin chief stays at home to deal with the latest calamity to hit his tragedy-scarred country, an airport attack that is a brutal reminder of the problems he faces in reforming Russia.

Resquers evacuate a dead body of a victim at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport on January 25, 2011. AFP

Russia had ended 2010 on a high, revelling in the success of winning the right to host the 2018 World Cup, a coup which for many represented its acceptance as a normal, friendly country by the international community.

But the Moscow Domodedovo airport bombing that killed at least 35 underlined its vulnerability to attacks on key infrastructure used by thousands of people every day, coming less than a year after deadly bombings on the metro.

"Given the systemic problems that we have in this country -- corruption, a lack of the rule of law and social contradictions -- acts of terror will continue," said the deputy head of the security committee of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, Gennady Gudkov.

"All these problems make extremism and terrorism inevitable and complicate fighting them. If everything stays as it is, a repeat of the terror acts is unavoidable," he told Moscow Echo radio.

Analysts lost little time in speculating that the blast was likely linked to militants in its Northern Caucasus region who have been behind a string of suicide attacks in Moscow over the last years.

"The attack is almost certainly the work of Islamist militants operating out of Russia’s North Caucasus region," said IHS Jane's analyst Matthew Clements.

"Domodedovo airport would represent an appealing target for such militants, as it is Russia’s busiest airport, serves international passengers and has a high density of potential civilian targets," he added.

Russia will be welcoming unprecedented numbers of foreigners in the next years as it gears up for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup, which will be held in cities from Kaliningrad to the Urals.

Only the day before, Russia and FIFA had officially signed the declaration confirming Russia as the official hosts of the 2018 World Cup.

"Russia will do an excellent job of organising the World Cup. We share the vision and mission that football is more than just a game," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said after talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The airport is a main entry point into Russia, serving flights from international airlines like British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa.

And questions are already being asked about how a suspected suicide bomber was allowed to so easily enter a packed area of the airport and set off his charge in a packed arrivals hall.

Medvedev lamented the lax security. "What happened indicates that far from all the laws that need to be working are being used correctly," he said at an emergency meeting after the blast.

It was at Domodedovo airport in August 2004 that two female bombers managed to pass through a security check and onto two domestic flights, which they then brought down with the loss of dozens of lives.

"This once again tells us that we are reacting inadequately to the existing source of risk," the head of the Russsian lower house of parliament's transport committee Sergei Shishkarev told Moscow Echo radio.

Pressure could grow on the security services to explain the how they failed to thwart the attack after some reports said there had been information warning of an attack in the days before the blast.

"The special services had received information that an act of terror would be carried out at one of the Moscow airports," a security source told the RIA Novosti news agency.

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