MOSCOW -- The horror of a veiled woman in black holding up a severed child’s head outside a Moscow metro station had not had time to sink in by the time Russian media and social networks were brimming with outraged remarks and reactions.
Barely hours had gone by before the authorities called for a clampdown on nannies, the opposition accused law enforcement of dawdling for 40 minutes before taking action, and nationalists claimed the grisly crime offered a glimpse of an overly liberal, migrant-friendly “Russia For Everyone."
Chilling images of the suspect holding up a bloody child's head flooded social networks, alongside posts about the Oscars. Video soon appeared, with one clip filmed by Muscovites apparently laughing lightly and sharing a joke behind the camera as the woman proclaimed: “I’m a terrorist.” Some witnesses said they initially thought she was holding a doll's head.
But authorities said they were not treating it as a terrorist attack and that she was being subjected to a psychiatric evaluation.
Officials responded with calls for stringent regulation – and a crackdown on nannies.
Upper parliament house member Yelena Mizulina led the charge, calling for greater checks and controls on nanny agencies and for the launching of an inquiry into licensing practices for agencies and their staff vetting processes.
Calling the crime “monstrous,” Kremlin Child Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov told state-run TASS news agency that all nannies should be required to present a certificate attesting to their mental health.
Inna Svytenko, a Moscow city deputy, took this line further, arguing that nannies should undergo mandatory medical examination including drug testing before they are allowed to work with children.
Vladimir Gutenyov, a State Duma deputy, meanwhile requested that the Federal Migration Service (FMS) carry out raids on nanny agencies to make sure they are following the labor code.
The clutch of swift pronouncements prompted opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov to call for his colleagues to slow down: “Tragedies like today’s are of course horrifying, but it is not a reason to think up laws thrown together in the space of a minute.”
Aleksandr Plyushchev, an anchor at the Ekho Moskvy radio station, tweeted his astonishment at the snap decision to license nannies. “I honestly thought that the lawmakers’ initiative about licensing nannies in response to this tragedy was a stupid joke. But this is real life.”
Criticism of Police
The fast-flowing rhetoric appeared in stark contrast to the pace of the police response to the incident itself, at least according to government critics. By some accounts, the woman with the severed head walked freely around an exit of Oktyabrskoye Pole metro station for eight minutes before being detained -- but by others, it was over an hour.
“If everyone really did run away when she was ‘walking around,’ then what’s going to happen during a real terrorist attack?” Gudkov wrote on Facebook.
Opposition leader and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny contrasted the response with the lightning arrests often made by police on opposition street activists who brandish anti-Kremlin banners.
“The protocol of Russia’s special services: standing by the metro with an anti-Putin banner -- 5 mins until arrest; standing by the metro with a child’s head shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ -- 1 hour.”
Speaking to Moscow city radio station Govorit Moskva, Khabib Abdulayev, a representative of the Uzbek diaspora, appealed to ethnic Russians not to overplay the importance of the woman’s nationality, saying that she was "mad," irrespective of her origins or religion.
Nonetheless, nationalist anger stirred in the wake of the incident. The far-right Sputnik I Pogrom blog, run by Yegor Prosvinin, accused the Russian media of erroneously casting the incident as the work of a lone mad woman, saying he simply “doesn’t believe it.”
He posted a video of the woman as she stood proclaiming: "I am a terrorist. I will die, but you will all be punished." He labeled the video Russia for Everyone, playing on the antimigrant rallying call "Russia for Russians.”
In a post on Facebook, Prosvirin noted the apparent laughter of the men who filmed the woman holding up the head.
“But this is no game, this is now Moskvabad,” he wrote, giving the Russian capital’s name an ending suggestive of Central Asia.
Meanwhile, the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia organization urged Russians to avoid “Islamaphobic” reactions to the incident, and to instead protest against the “shameful” ineptitude of the security services.
“We shouldn’t be clamoring about ISIS, nor about visas from Central Asia, but about [Interior Minister Vladimir] Kolokoltsev and head Moscow cop [Anatoly] Yakunin,” a blog on the Open Russia website said.
Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet countries.
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.