quarta-feira, 25 de novembro de 2015

Tolerance for casualties

Via The Economist 

Russians’ stoicism gives Vladimir Putin time to work out a response


SHORTLY after Vladimir Putin became prime minister in 1999 Russia was hit by a string of apartment bombings that killed over 300 people. An enraged Mr Putin promised to “waste the terrorists in the outhouse”. By comparison, his response to the Metrojet crash in the Sinai peninsula has been curiously subdued. There have been no impassioned calls to avenge the 224 dead, only a brief televised offer of condolences.
Yet the consensus that terrorists brought down the airliner grows stronger each day. It is no longer just British and American officials who are saying it. Evidence from the flight recorder, the exit holes in the fuselage and the burn injuries sustained by passengers all point to a bomb. The main suspect is the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, the group which initially claimed responsibility.
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Judging by Mr Putin’s decision last week to cancel flights to Egypt and evacuate some 80,000 Russian tourists, he too gives credence to the terrorism scenario. Nonetheless, his chief-of-staff insists that a bombing is “just one of the versions” and that the investigation will take months. The Kremlin refuses to accept any connection between the crash and Russia’s military operations in Syria.

On television, Russian viewers have been treated to a series of obfuscations. Experts have offered various technical explanations. Anger has been redirected at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly, which caricatured the crash. In his Sunday broadcast Dmitry Kiselev, Russia’s propagandist-in-chief, blamed the crash on a secret pact between America and Islamic State.
The Russian leadership may be genuinely reluctant to jump to conclusions, but it is also clear that Mr Putin has not decided on a line. Maria Lipman, a political analyst, says the government is buying time: “The farther away from the actual shock and grief, the easier it becomes to package it in a way that serves the Kremlin’s interests.”
In the meantime, the authorities face no public pressure for answers. Russians have responded to the tragedy with a stoicism born of experience. Collective grief in Russia is intense but dissipates fast, says Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, an independent pollster. Russia’s experience of terrorism resembles Israel’s more than it does Europe’s or America’s. In the past 20 years Russians have seen aeroplanes, airports, buses and metros bombed, and hostages taken in theatres and schools. The Sinai victims were touchingly mourned, but society has quickly moved on, giving the government space to calibrate its response.
Mr Putin is due to deliver his yearly address at the beginning of December. With the aid of television, the crash can be used to fuel further “patriotic mobilisation”, Ms Lipman says. If Russia acknowledges terrorism as the cause, winding down its military operation in Syria might be more difficult; Mr Putin cannot allow such an attack to go unpunished. But, as the West has learned the hard way, the urge for military payback in the Middle East can have unexpectedly painful consequences.

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