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14 May, 2012

Explosions In Dnipropetrovsk: the Authorities' Secrecy and Incompetence Has Caused a Wave of Panic

After bombs exploded in Dnipropetrovsk, the Ukrainian authorities acted chaotically, keeping citizens in an information vacuum and frightening them with armoured personnel carriers in the city centre. The experience of other countries that have been targeted by terrorists was not applied in any way

Explanations about the explosions in Dnipropetrovsk run galore in Ukraine. Sharp arguments with the opposition have erupted. Adding fuel to the fire, some Party of Regions MPs said power structures need to be given greater authority to nip terrorism in the bud.

Remarkably, the more totalitarian a regime is, the greater, not smaller, the danger of explosions, assassinations and business-motivated killings. Even with the powerful KGB to watch his back, Brezhnev had a few frightening moments involving shooting near the Kremlin. So it is not about authority. It is about the way it is used and the task set before security bodies that make a difference.

There is no point in discussing guesses, if only for a lack of information. The analysis that follows is based on the fact that no official comments are available.

Chiefs with the SBU and Interior Ministry said that making their versions of the incident public may hamper investigations, but this argument does not stand up to scrutiny. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to count all the versions that are possible, including those the police are not going to investigate, one just one hand.

Even if they want to misinform those who planted the bombs and those who paid for it, there is no better way than to go public with versions, including false ones. Police across the world do precisely that when investigating terrorist attacks, even if there is written or other evidence pointing to the terrorists' objectives and demands. The latter also try to misinform and sometimes succeed in doing so. So what secrets do Ukrainian authorities want to hide from Ukrainian people by citing the needs of investigation? The first thing that comes to mind is their own helplessness and incompetence.

Still, what do democratic countries do when faced with terrorism? First, they inform the public. They immediately publish official information about what has happened and, in particular, versions of the case being pursued by the investigation. And this information is supplied continuously. After the explosions in the London metro, citizens were immediately notified and journalists, especially TV correspondents, provided detailed coverage of the actions taken by the authorities, primarily in order to ward off panic.

The situation in Dnipropetrovsk was the exact opposite. People were overcome with anxiety exactly because of a lack of official information. Consequently, rumours filled the vacuum. So-called eyewitnesses spoke about 10 explosions, shooting, troops entering the city and even a defence emergency. Either because of being reset or temporarily disconnected, mobile connections and the Internet worked erratically, fuelling the panic even more.

People left work to take children from kindergartens and schools and bring them home. Schools did not let children leave on their own without being accompanied by an adult. The Internet became the main source of information about the situation in the city. People searched for answers, but what they found in forums were only rumours, each scarier than the one before.

What about an armoured personnel carrier in the central square of the city? Suppose it was merely preparation for training. But why would Euro 2012 training take place in a non-hosting city? If there is some sense even in that, people need to be told what it is, and then they might ask fewer questions. But it looks suspicious at any rate.

In the first hours after the tragedy, the authorities acted in a confused, unprofessional and incompetent way. Their actions with garbage cans are vivid proof of that. All the garbage cans on Karl Marx Avenue were thoroughly examined, immediately removed and later crushed to pieces. Dnipropetrovsk already faces major problems with staying clean, and now the main street in this huge city does not have any bins for even ice-cream wrappers. They seem to have solved one problem but caused another, sanitary one, at the same time. There were terrorist attacks in Paris when bombs were put in garbage cans on streets. So what did the authorities do? The cans were inspected but they were not removed from the streets. This is more evidence that Ukrainian authorities make knee-jerk decisions that do more harm than good.

Medical personnel should, however, be given credit for acting rationally and in coordination. Ambulances arrived at the scene within several minutes, and first aid was provided on the spot. The seriously injured were quickly taken to hospital. The infrastructure in hospitals was put into place, which helped avoid horrible consequences. The Ministry of Extraordinary Situations people acted likewise. Fortunately, there was little work for them to do.

Moreover, we should also note the quick reaction of ordinary policemen. They rushed to cordon off garbage cans along the entire avenue. Unfortunately, they lacked almost one minute before the second bomb went off, but they did manage to drive many people away from the targeted area. There could have been many more victims. The fourth explosion caused no casualties at all.

Again, compare this to London, Paris or Madrid. The avenue in Dnipropetrovsk was closed for over 35 hours as opposed to just several hours in those European cities. Only the entrance to the Tube was blocked for a little longer.

And now about politics. If the criminal version is confirmed, it will have political consequences. In the 1920s, New York bands shot at each other and settled their issues outside any politics. Only business, albeit criminal, had weight. Things are different in our situation.

Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said that the situation in the city is under full control, but his statement is not enough. Many Dnipropetrovsk residents see things differently and are still scared for themselves, their children and their loved ones. If the authorities are not providing information, that means they either do not have it or they are hiding it. And this fosters conspiracy theories. The more these are denied without any explanation, the greater the distrust.

If there is no trust in the authorities, this is the biggest politics. If the authorities are incompetent and unprofessional and act exclusively emotionally rather than rationally, this is also politics.

Who appointed these people to high and medium-level offices in Kyiv and the regions? Who is to blame for a lack of specialists in power structures? Why did the investigators looked to Svoboda members to begin with? They chose the easiest path, trying to find the culprits in this fairly radical organisation. Why didn't they tackle Party of Regions members? There is a version that many influential groups in the city are dissatisfied with the current distribution of resources, the arrival of Donetsk politicians and the division of turf. Strangely, discontent reigns supreme foremost among Party of Regions members. There is no valid reason to discard this version. A garbage can exploded near the central department store in Dnepropetrovsk six months ago. According to some sources, no-one was even interrogated in the case, but Svoboda members were questioned. It is as yet unclear whether the two events are linked. But suspicions are mounting.

And this is also politics. For some reason the case was not thoroughly investigated. They may have lacked professionalism, which is quite plausible, or were reluctant to investigate after Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, the then SBU chief, said there was no terrorism in Ukraine. But it turns out that it does exist. If Khoroshkovsky was incompetent back then, why has he been entrusted with such responsible offices now? For political reasons. And the same goes for many people in high Kyiv offices. This is to say nothing of offices in the regions – things are much worse there.

The authorities did not want to investigate back then, so now they have a new case on their hands. European fans will not come. But who cares? Those who needed to milk the Euro 2012 budget have already done so and now they couldn't care less.

It is absolutely clear now that the government in Ukraine has found itself in a very serious crisis. If people in the Presidential Administration believe that things will settle on their own somehow, they are mistaken.

Incompetence and unprofessionalism lead to aggression. There is a temptation to use force, above all the administrative resources. The first indicators of it happening can already be seen. But this is not a way to success. Rather it is a way to a dismal failure. And it will not be possible to get on our feet the second time after 2004-2005.


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