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Russian young women light candles and lay flowers at the site of the first explosion near the main train station in memory of victims of terrorist attacks in Volgograd, Russia, on Monday.


Volgograd Bombings Won't Derail Sochi Olympics—or New Year's Eve in Moscow

Blasts widely seen as strike against Olympics, but Russian partiers remain unrattled.

"A shock wave has carried away New Year's Eve Celebrations," read a headline on, the website of one of Russia's major newspapers, on Monday, a day before festivities were due to begin.

Such words were understandable. Two terrorist bombings, one at a railway station, the other aboard a crowded bus, recently rocked Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad and the site of a historic battle during World War II.

Thirty-four people died in the blasts, and dozens were wounded.

Volgograd sits some 600 miles (966 kilometers) southeast of Moscow—and 420 miles (676 kilometers) from Sochi, Russia's showcase for the most extravagant Olympic Games in history, set to begin on February 6.

News of the attacks spread quickly, prompting Volgograd residents to abandon public transport and walk. A surge in mobile phone calls overloaded networks as unfounded rumors swirled of blasts elsewhere in this city of more than a million people.

The bombings cast a pall of grief over New Year's Eve celebrations, the most important of the year in Russia. They've rattled nerves, especially in Volgograd, where two months earlier a Chechen woman had blown herself up aboard a bus, killing seven and injuring 36.

Why Volgograd?

Russia's intelligence agencies still have not identified the mastermind behind the attacks, but suspicions fall primarily on Doku Umarov, a Chechen Islamist warlord who, in July, called for attacks to disrupt the Winter Olympics.

The Olympics are known to be Russian President Vladimir Putin's pet project, his chance to present Russia to the world as a modern, dynamic country.

So why strike Volgograd?

Sochi has been heavily surveilled for months, with unprecedented security measures already in place that Russian authorities say need no beefing up.

Terrorists may be hitting another city because it's easier to operate there.

The Volgograd regional governor has declared a five-day period of mourning.

In Moscow there is anger and sadness over the attacks. But there's no atmosphere of panic, no palpable fear, and few plans to cancel New Year's Eve celebrations.

For Muscovites, What Will Be Will Be

People are going about their business, buying up vodka and champagne and the liver-busting ingredients for sundry traditional Russian dishes, waiting in long lines in crowded markets, taking buses and minibuses and riding the metro.

They could be targets. Russians have lived with war and insurgency on their country's southern border for two decades now, and terrorist attacks, generally Islamist in origin and carried out in or around the mostly Muslim North Caucasus region, are a regular feature of the nightly news.

Muscovites themselves have known terrorist violence. The last three major assaults in the capital—bombings in an airport and on the metro, all claimed by Umarov—took place in 2010 and 2011.

Yet even these incidents did not appreciably disturb life in the city, where fatalism runs as deep as stoicism is ingrained. The adage "what will be will be" is a common response here to queries about frayed nerves in times like these.

When asked whether she was now worried about riding on public transportation, one Muscovite answered, "No. Terrorists can't blow up every metro car or bus in this city."

Diners at a packed restaurant last night were equally calm, preparing to party the next night, if in a more subdued manner. "All this has saddened us, but of course we'll go on with our celebrations. What good would it do not to?"

Decades of Stalinist repression and the horrific death tolls of World War II have inured most Russians—they don't panic easily.

And for a good number of Muscovites, the attacks were just a couple of many that have happened hundreds of miles away in cities near or in the North Caucasus.

One consequence of the Soviet era was a widespread atomization of society stemming from distrust: Russians, more than people elsewhere, worry about their family and friends but can seem callously unconcerned about compatriots they don't know.

The Volgograd bombings have not even prompted unusual outbursts of jingoism or calls for retribution against the large and growing communities of Caucasian Muslims found all over Russia. (Muslims account for 15 percent of Russia's population.)

Threats to the Games—So What?

It is widely assumed that the blasts were meant to scare sports fans away from the Olympics, but even purported threats to the games have not riled people up.

There has been grumbling about their cost—at $51 billion, they're the most expensive the world has ever seen—and they're regarded as Putin's prestige endeavor. But with the fizzling out of the opposition movement to Putin, political apathy has won out over indignation.

In short, in Moscow, people will go on with their lives and celebrate their holiday. Around many tables, though, toasts—somber ones, without a clinking of glasses—are sure to be made to honor victims of the terrorist bombings in a city far, far away.

Follow Jeffrey Tayler on Twitter @JeffreyTayler1.