Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On The Mark -- Travels in Russia, Series III: Terrorism

What a difference a few months makes in Russia. When I visited twice last winter, the streets were not crowded and it was fairly easy to blend in -- wearing a lot of grey and black and a wool cap. But in the summer, it's a much different story. Even though I tried to blend in, I still stood out like an apple in a pile of oranges. And, to be honest, it was a bit scary at times. There were moments when I felt like a mark.

As I reported in previous travels, there's nothing for young kids (16-25) to do in Russia, especially for men. There are few jobs. So most of them stand on street corners, smoke and drink beer. During the summer the streets are flooded with these kids, walking, smoking and drinking, and a lot of them look like they're looking for trouble to keep them entertained. The streets are littered with empty beer bottles.

But the biggest issue I faced was the fear of terrorism, both in Moscow and in the provinces. People are scared to death of the Chechen terrorists. Security at the airports is intense, and on Red Square police could be found everywhere. In fact, sections of Red Square were closed at varying times in order to maintain crowd control and reduce the possibility of terrorism.

My friend returned to her city by bus from Moscow after I departed rather than fly. It was a daylong, bumpy ride, but she felt safer. The two planes that went down last year as a result of terrorists is still vivid in their minds.

At the airport, one has to go through security and metal detectors before even entering the airport. Then there is another round of security checks before you get your ticket. Then there is another round of security checks before you go to the gate.

One would think all these efforts were sufficient. But if you ask a Russian, they just huff and say, "it only took 100 USD for the suicide terrorists last year to bribe their way past the security guards to get on the planes."


Jack's Shack said...

The conflict between Russia and Chechnya is not going to go away. It is pretty scary.

B2 said...

This is when the government needs to step with something akin to the Depression-era programs we had in the U.S. -- get these kids involved in public works for the good of the country, and clean them up while improving the country. It's a kinder, gentler form of public service than the army.

On The Mark said...

Interesting point, B2. The problem is in bureaucracy. The Russian economy is structured on 30 USD a barrel for oil. It's currently getting more than $60 USD a barrel, so there are billions of unanticipated dollars flowing into the government, plenty enough to create many jobs, but nobody seems to know where the money is going.

Chandira said...

That bribery thought is a scary one.. shudder...