Russia's Putin visits victims of Volgograd bombings
President says there is no justification for the killing of civilians in suicide attacks after vowing in earlier speech to annihilate terrorists
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday made a pre-dawn visit to Volgograd, the scene of two suicide bombing attacks that killed 34 people, to meet some of the injured victims and pay tribute to those who died.
Putin flew in, after vowing in a New Year address to “annihilate” terrorists in uncompromising remarks aimed at Islamist insurgents based in the North Caucasus who have plagued his 14-year rule.
Putin met with local and federal officials to discuss the security situation in the country. In a televised speech, he said “the heinousness of the crime committed here in Volgograd needs no additional comments.
“No matter what motivates the criminals, there is no justification for the killing of civilians, especially women and children.” He stressed that Russian military forces “do their utmost to protect women and children during their operations”.
After the meeting, Putin laid flowers at the site of the trolleybus attack and visited a hospital where some of the injured have been taken.
State television channels showed him offering words of reassurance to the patients and asking doctors whether the hospital was sufficiently equipped to deal with the injured.
The bombings just ahead of Russia’s biggest annual holiday followed another suicide bus blast in Volgograd in October, and they came a little more than a month before the start of the Olympic Games, on whose success Putin has clearly staked his reputation.
“We will confidently, fiercely and consistently continue the fight against terrorists until their complete annihilation,” he said in remarks on Tuesday from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, where he met victims of severe floods.
Acknowledging “problems and serious tests” last year, including the Volgograd bombings, he vowed to ensure security in the year ahead, when Russia stages the Winter Olympics from February 7 to 23.
Putin, who came to power when Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation on New Year’s Eve 14 years ago, won popularity early in his presidency by crushing efforts to forge an independent state in Chechnya, but he has been unable to stop Chechen and other Islamist militants across the North Caucasus.
Police detained dozens of people in sweeps through Volgograd on Tuesday but there was no indication any were linked to the attacks, for which no-one claimed responsibility.
Mourners laid flowers at the site of the bombing that tore the bus apart and left residents fearing further violence.
“I’m frightened,” said Tatyana Volchanskaya, a student in Volgograd, 700 kilometres northwest of Sochi. She said some friends were afraid to go to shops and other crowded places.
Putin ordered tighter security nationwide after the blasts, but Russian Olympic chief Alexander Zhukov said no additional measures would be taken at Sochi: “As for the Olympic Games, all necessary security measures have been foreseen,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying on Monday.
“Additional measures will not be taken in Sochi as a result of the terrorist act. Everything necessary has been done as it is.”
Insurgent leader Doku Umarov has urged militants to use “maximum force” to prevent the Games from going ahead.
Russia drove separatists from power in Chechnya in a war that boosted the popularity of Putin, a former KGB officer.
As prime minister in 1999, he vowed to “wipe them out in the s***house” and in 2010, after female suicide bombers killed 40 people on the Moscow metro, he ordered police to find their masters and “scrape them from the bottom of the sewers”.
Less than a year later, in January 2011, a bomber from the North Caucasus killed 37 people at a busy Moscow airport.
The rail bombing in Volgograd was the deadliest attack outside the North Caucasus since then, killing 18 people. The later blast on a trolleybus killed 16.