NOTHING SUMS up Russia's failure in the troubled southern region of Chechnya more pointedly than the coincidence of two developments yesterday. The first was the announcement that President Putin's choice, Alu Alkhanov, had been elected Chechnya's new president by a landslide. The second was confirmation from Russia's security services that simultaneous plane crashes five days before the election were caused by explosives - most likely detonated by Chechen women suicide bombers.
Neither announcement bodes well for the future of Chechnya, nor yet for its relations with Russia. Mr Alkhanov is Chechnya's former interior minister, which explains pretty much everything about his nomination. He was selected by Moscow as a strong man of known loyalties, familiar with the region. His instructions will doubtless be to impose order and not be too fussy how.
The election was a travesty of democratic process. The official 85 per cent turn-out would smack of Soviet-style electioneering even if it were thought credible by witnesses - which it is not. Of this, Mr Alkhanov won 74 per cent. He was not the sole candidate; Russian elections have progressed beyond the single-candidate scenario. But opposition candidates were excluded. And if Mr Alkhanov's democratic credentials are negligible, so are his chances of survival. His predecessor, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in May. Separatists vow that Mr Alkhanov will meet the same fate.
The air crashes supply new evidence of the militants' ruthless commitment to their cause - and of the continuing inadequacy of Russian airport security. According to initial information released by the security services, the two suspects arrived together late, and bought tickets for separate flights. Despite their Chechen names and papers, they were able to board.
The synchronised attacks and the early claim of responsibility from a hitherto unknown Islamic group might suggest a new source of outside funding or methods borrowed from al-Qa'ida. Whatever the truth, the …