Vladimir Putin has vowed to pursue terrorists to their “total annihilation”, in his first public comments since the Volgograd suicide bombings.
In his traditional New Year’s Eve address, which was broadcast at midnight from the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, (5pm in Moscow), he praised Russia’s unity in the face of both terrorism and natural disasters and promised to continue an unrelenting fight against the bombers.
“In the past year we have faced problems and serious challenges including the inhuman terror attacks in Volgograd and unprecedented disasters in the Far East,” he said.
“Dear friends, we bow our heads in memory of the victims of these terrible attacks. We will strongly and decisively continue the battle against terrorists until their total annihilation,” he said.
Mr Putin earlier provoked a storm of condemnation on the Russian internet on Sunday after the message broadcast an hour earlier in Kamchatka, Russia’s most easterly timezone, made no mention of the attacks.
Mr Putin’s spokesman blamed a “technical glitch” that saw a pre-recorded speech being broadcast at midnight in Kamchatka and Russia’s far eastern islands (4pm in Moscow).
The second speech was quickly recorded at a reception for victims of devastating floods that struck Khabarovsk and other Far Eastern cities earlier this year.
His comments after Volgograd began to bury its dead and the death toll from the two suicide blasts continued to rise.
Two more victims of Monday’s bus bombing and one victim of Sunday’s suicide attack in the city’s main railway station died overnight, Russian authorities said on Tuesday, bringing the total number of fatalities from the attacks to 34. More than 100 people have been injured.
Russia looked for answers as fears of further attacks prompted alerts at other transport hubs. Police briefly evacuated a bus station in Krasnodar, 350 miles south east of Volgograd, after a suspicious package was found there. The station was reopened after a bomb squad search of the building showed up no threat.
Some Volgograd commuters travelling to work on Monday morning continued to use public transport, though the buses were conspicuously sparsely seated at rush hour.
“I’m not afraid of anything. We cannot give in,” said Valentina Mikhailovna, 83, a pensioner at a bus-stop in the city centre.
The city has called off traditional New Year’s celebrations and declared a period of mourning until January 3.
Traditional New Year’s celebrations were likely to go ahead under tightened security elsewhere in the country, however.
“At the moment everything is going to plan,” Moscow’s regional security chief told Interfax, when asked about Tuesday night’s celebrations. “Concrete measures have been taken to tighten security in the capital, in both the transportation departments and emergency services.”
Vladimir Putin, who traditionally addresses the nation on television at midnight on New Year’s Eve, is expected to spend the evening at home.
Russian authorities have been scrambling to make sense of a series of attacks that their intelligence services failed to predict.
The Investigative Committee, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, said Monday’s bombing was the work of a man whose remains were being tested in an attempt to establish his identity. Meanwhile, reports in the Russian press, not officially confirmed, named the man behind Sunday’s railway station blast as Pavel Pechenkin, who lived in the republic of Mari El, 400 miles east of Moscow and converted to Islam last year. Pechenkin’s father, Nikolai, has already given a DNA sample to aid identification, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported.
Pechenkin, a former paramedic, was reported to have adopted the Muslim name Ansar Ar-Rusi in the spring of 2012 and to have left home soon afterwards. He told his parents he was going to stay with his younger brother in Moscow, but they later learnt he had gone to Dagestan, the restive North Caucasus republic at the heart of an Islamist insurgency.
Mari El, which previously has not been connected with the insurgency 1,000 miles away, has a population of 700,000, of whom just six per cent are Muslims.
Russian media had initially reported that the station bomber was a 26-year-old woman who had twice been married to insurgent fighters, each in turn killed by special forces. But later the Investigative Committee said that the suspect was a male of “Slavic” appearance who carried explosives in a rucksack. Mr Putin summoned the heads of both the interior ministry and the FSB, the domestic security service that succeeded the KGB, to the Kremlin before sending Alexander Bortnikov, the FSB chief, to Volgograd to take control of the investigation.
Mr Putin on Monday ordered security to be tightened across Russia and later met Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, to discuss “all questions connected with providing medical help, financial assistance and other forms of support for the injured and families of those killed in the terror attacks in Volgograd”. David Cameron offered British support to bring to justice the perpetrators of what he called the “disgusting crime” as he wrote to Mr Putin extending his condolences and promising help to prevent further attacks.
The British Olympic Association’s chairman, Lord Coe, said the bombings were “an unspeakable act of barbarity” but said he was satisfied that security at the Winter Olympics – due to begin in the Russian resort of Sochi, 400 miles from Volgograd, in February – would be “good”. Asked whether the GB team could be kept away, he said: “Sport has, in the past, transcended all sorts of difficulties. That is not to minimise what we have witnessed in the last 24 hours but … at this moment the teams are preparing and I fully expect to take teams to the Winter Games.”
The US also offered its “full support” and called for “closer co-operation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants” in the Olympics.
The series of attacks is grimly reminiscent of the build-up to terrorist “spectaculars” in the mid-2000s, including the Beslan School siege, in which more than 300 people died, 180 of them children.
Then suicide bombers had blown up two airliners in mid-air a week before they seized the school on Sept 1, 2004, in what security experts now describe as an attempt to divert the security services’ attention ahead of the main attack.