MOSCOW – Russian police on Friday said they have thwarted a plot to “blow up” the country’s largest bi-annual auto show in Moscow, seizing a million euros (nearly $1.2 million) that the organizers had raised from sponsors to help pay for its security, a threat the organizers have dismissed as “fiction.”
The clampdown on the Moscow International Auto Show, known as CitiFest, is the latest to hit the Moscow region, following the October attempted bombings in the capital on a packed train and in a major station, as well as the September discovery of the Kalashnikov handgun factory in Ivanovo that has been the emblem of Vladimir Putin’s storied presidency since his first term in 2000.
The police acted after realizing they had been dealing with an actual plot in a timely fashion, the head of CitiFest, Konstantin Yodkin, said on Friday.
“I personally believe this [plot] was created by someone who wants to talk about (CitiFest) only to suck the lifeblood from CitiFest,” he said in an interview.
Police are being paid 800,000 rubles ($12,612) by the organizers to ensure that no vehicles enter the airport area of the exhibition hall where the display takes place, the Interfax news agency reported, citing Moscow police.
But the move to close the airport area had led to some shortages in supplies of seats and hall stands at the show, organizer David Mosher said.
“There are some obscure reserves of emergency cars, but that is not going to cover all the cars and the floor stands.”
Last year, organizers raised a million euros in sponsorship from companies who wanted to show their support for CitiFest.
On Friday, the police said they seized two vans, which it said had been filled with explosives, spare parts and a device to ignite them, from two Russian citizens living abroad. It said investigators are reviewing CCTV recordings and the telephone records of the suspects, some of whom travel between Belarus and Ukraine. The two suspects are currently in custody, said the police.
According to Mosher, the two men had planned to use the explosives they had assembled and a drone to launch a helicopter to shoot down airplanes from above the metro and airport, in order to gain control of the capital. Police have not yet offered a motive for the plot.
Mosher, however, said the police were not under the impression that the plot against CitiFest had been completely thwarted.
“On one side, we have heard [cops are] interested in the inner workings of CitiFest. But on the other, we hear they are considering us as a terrorist organization,” he said.
Mosher said the Russia General Prosecutor’s Office was investigating CitiFest and that organizers had offered to meet with prosecutors to discuss the threat.
Moscow police did not answer repeated requests for comment.
The authorities ordered two months of protests across Russia, including by the Orthodox Church, after the October attacks, which took place in St. Petersburg on October 11. Interfax reported Friday that the Interior Ministry had notified organizers of an event to be held outside the Russian Parliament on October 15.
That, Mosher said, is symbolic of the political rhetoric the organizers fear being used against the auto show next year.
“If a lone attacker has tried to blow up an exhibition, how will they work out the security plan next year?” he said.
CitiFest’s conference halls hold some 5,000 vehicles on display and last year, some 2.5 million people flocked to the show, meaning the threats presented against it have elicited strong reaction from security professionals, Mosher said.
“There are many people to protect us from them. I think it’s something that may even catch on more widely,” he said.