New Year, New Round of Hoax Bomb Scares Across Russia

The authorities’ inability to tell ‘telephone terrorism’ apart from real threats has led to mass evacuations.

While initially swept under the rug, telephone bomb threats are receiving wider coverage after targeting St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow, according to The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor (EDM).

After forcing the evacuation of schools, hospitals, and public places in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, similar instances of “telephone terrorism,” as Russians have dubbed them, targeted St. Petersburg at the end of January.  

In the last few weeks, those evacuated might be as high as half a million people, reports EDM.

The trend itself goes as far back as 2017, when more than 150,000 people were evacuated from schools, hospitals, airports, and public spaces within six days in a series of bomb threats in cities across the country. Back then, the false alarms had been blamed on Ukrainian terrorists, ISIS, ultra-Orthodox fanatics, and even Russian security officers supposedly trying to scare the population about online encryption devices and virtual public networks (VPNs, which are used to visit sites anonymously and out of the reach of the authorities).

A new wave followed last summer, when bars and restaurants across World Cup host city Rostov-on-Don had to be evacuated. The practice continued into November, when 15 shopping centers and a railway station in Moscow also had to be cleared, with security services cited by Russian state-owned news agency TASS saying that the string of phone calls behind the hoaxes had been traced to a phone number registered in Ukraine.

Shortly after, at the beginning of December, a source from Moscow’s emergency services told Kremlin-controlled news agency Sputnik that similar calls made to all of the capital’s nine railway stations had also come from abroad. Despite the threats, the railway stations were not evacuated.  

The most recent round of bomb threats, however, were sent to Siberian authorities by email, according to RFE.

 

·         The impact of these threats goes beyond the disruptions in the lives of those affected, Paul Goble writes for The Jamestown Foundation. The authorities’ powerlessness in the face of the hoaxes might encourage those behind them, or even actual terrorists. Additionally, this could be detrimental to public trust in the security services.