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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2008 and the Lesser of Two Evils

I told you so. Right after an explosion derailed the Grozny-Moscow train last month, I was sure that the culprits would be found and found fast. And lo and behold, two suspects are already in custody. But I have to admit that I failed to grasp the full depth and breadth of the bigger picture.

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The odd terrorist attack was organized, we are being told, not by Chechen extremists, but by two members of the extremist ultranationalist Russian National Unity movement, Vladimir Vlasov and Mikhail Klevachev. In the decades of its existence, RNU had not been accused terrorism. The worst crime RNU members had been charged with so far was the murder of an African student in the city of Voronezh last year.

But suddenly we are talking about industrial-strength detonators and melted TNT. And the most striking detail in this case is the age of the two suspects, 47 and 49. I can easily believe that they might be so inexperienced that detectives found their trail without any outside tips. Yet an important question remains: What -- or who -- motivated these two middle-aged nuts to plant a bomb on the rails outside of Moscow?

Out of the blue, an epidemic of rabid extremism seems to have infected Russian nationalists. First came the letter to the prosecutor general, demanding a ban on all Jewish organizations. Then ultranationalists, so investigators claim, tried to blow up Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais and a train full of Chechens. This all leads one to suspect that there is more to this series of attacks and actions than meets the eye.

The apparent goal of the operation is to figure out how to keep President Vladimir Putin in office for a third term. The technical solution to this problem is a no-brainer. If authorities want, they can change the Constitution or unite with Belarus.

But they need an ideological basis for their actions. They need to get the West and Russian intellectuals to agree that since Russia is a country of anti-Semites, nationalists and extremists, it would be better to keep Putin around than let the nationalists come to power.

The ideology of choosing the lesser of two evils was used very effectively during the 1996 presidential election, when everyone voted for Boris Yeltsin to save the country from Communist Gennady Zyuganov. During the 2000 presidential election, Putin himself seemed like the lesser of two evils compared to former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who practically came out against the market. Now, it's the nationalist extremists who are the pawns in the "lesser evil" game. The authorities seem to be insisting that Russia is a terrifying country where people try to blow up major business figures, derail trains with Chechen civilians and write anti-Semitic letters. The implication is that if the public does not support Putin, they will end up with Rodina's Dmitry Rogozin or the dreaded General Albert Makashov.

It seems pretty clear what Chubais is doing in all this. Chubais is the perfect mouthpiece to explain to the West why Putin is better than Rogozin. Chubais will explain something similar to the right-leaning electorate at home. The attempt on Chubais' life was also a necessary piece in the puzzle. It let him know he needs to hustle.

It also makes perfect sense why some of Russia's most prominent anti-Semites penned their letter right before Putin was scheduled to give a speech at Auschwitz in January. They gave him a wonderful opportunity to present himself as the sole defender of Russia's Jews.

The Kremlin's current inhabitants have no knowledge of how to run a business or state. Yet they are highly professional in their ability to craft special operations and diversions and to manipulate public opinion. Operation Lesser Evil is right up their alley.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy.