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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Explosion Echoes Ultranationalist Attacks

Electric cables found at the site of Monday's train bombing indicate that ultranationalists might be behind the attack.

Interfax, citing sources close to the investigation, reported that the remains of the explosive device found at the scene of the blast, which derailed several cars on the Moscow-St. Petersburg train but caused no deaths, resembled a bomb used to derail a Grozny-Moscow train in June 2005. Two ultranationalists were convicted in April of bombing that train in an attempt to kill Chechen passengers aboard.

A similar bomb was also used in a roadside attack on Unified Energy System chief Anatoly Chubais outside Moscow in March 2005. A group of ultranationalists are now on trial for the attempt on Chubais' life.

The main thing all three bombs had in common were the electric cables used to detonate them. North Caucasus guerillas usually use radios or mobile phones to detonate their bombs.

Passengers on the Moscow-St. Petersburg evening express train are mainly bureaucrats and businessman -- people whom ultranationalists might well consider a legitimate target, said Irina Borogan, a terrorism expert with the Agentura think tank.

"This is not a xenophobic attack. The Nevsky Express train is quite expensive, and migrants from Asia do not use it," she said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Borogan and other observers said the most likely perpetrators were ultranationalists or people close to the country's leadership who would like to destabilize the country to force the suspension or cancellation of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential vote in March.

Chechen rebels have carried out train bombings in the past, notably in Chechnya and surrounding republics at the start of the decade. The deadliest killed 47 in the Stavropol region in December 2003.

Many of the rebel attacks were orchestrated by groups either loyal to or allied with late Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev. Doku Umarov, who took over after Basayev's death in July 2006, has not tested his strength beyond the North Caucasus. If Monday's attack is linked to him, it would show that the rebels are still capable of destabilizing the country despite the Kremlin's insistence that they are on the run and have been all but eliminated in the North Caucasus.

A rebel attack, however, would accomplish little more than to remind people that the rebels are still active, said Alexander Khramchikhin, a security analyst with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.

"The only thing the rebels would achieve is just to remind people of themselves. They have already lost the war in the Caucasus," he said.

Khramchikhin instead pointed the finger at allies of President Vladimir Putin who might seek to get him to stay on for a third term by raising the specter of a terrorist threat.

In August 1999, an Islamist incursion from Chechnya into Dagestan followed by series of apartment bombings helped to consolidate power in the hands of Putin, the then little-known prime minister, who just months later was elected president with a promise to curb terrorism and separatism. Speculation started swirling that the special services were behind the bombings when residents spotted Federal Security Service officers planting explosives in an apartment building in Ryazan in September 1999. The FSB said later that it was a training drill.

The situation, however, is very different now in comparison to 1999, with a popular president and a more united political elite -- making it not in the Kremlin's interests to allow anything to happen that might destabilize the country, said Dmitry Orlov, an analyst at the Agency for Political and Economic Communications.

Any destabilization would compromise a Kremlin claim that the incumbent regime has brought stability to the country, said Tatyana Stanovaya from the Center for Political Technologies.

Putin has said repeatedly that he will not stay in the office past March 2008, when his constitutionally mandated final consecutive term ends. Some loyalists have spoken in favor of amending the Constitution to allow Putin to remain in power.

Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev said Tuesday that Monday's train blast and a series of recent attacks on law enforcement in the North Caucasus could be part of a campaign to destabilize Russia ahead of elections.

Patrushev, who also heads the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, promised to step up counter-terrorist efforts before the elections. He did not elaborate.