Dagestan Suicide Bombings Have Russia Looking to Putin

By Weir, Fred | The Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Dagestan Suicide Bombings Have Russia Looking to Putin

Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor

The Dagestan suicide bombings on Wednesday were the latest in a spate of attacks that has many in Russia looking to Vladimir Putin, whose reputation was built on tough talk and action against insurgents.

The Dagestan suicide bombings Wednesday were the latest in a spate of attacks inside Russia that have put intense pressure on powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to preserve his legacy of bringing strength, security, and stability to Russia.

Experts are deeply divided over what options may be available to Mr. Putin, who as president championed a tough approach to the rebellious republic of Chechnya and also committed Russia to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a city that sits on very the edge of the seething North Caucasus region.

Wednesday's double suicide bombing in Kizlyar, Dagestan, killed at least 12 people and wounded 23, mostly members of Russia's security forces, and focused attention on an insurgency that's been expanding, largely below the world's radar screen, on Russia's troubled southern flank for at least two years. Insurgents from the North Caucasus are suspected behind the pair of devastating strikes at two underground Metro stations in Moscow on Monday morning that killed 39 people.

IN PICTURES: Bombings in Russia

The explosive return of terrorism to Russia's political agenda "is a deep and personal challenge for Putin," says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

Putin came to power in 1999 amid a wave of terrorist apartment bombings that killed hundreds in Moscow and other Russian cities. He famously remarked that Russian forces would "wipe out the bandits in the outhouse" and oversaw a brutal pacification program against Chechen rebels that seemed to end with the Kremlin declaring victory last year.

"The whole myth of Putin is that he's very tough, very effective, and that his policies did bring peace and stability to the North Caucasus," says Mr. Petrov.

Violence returns, threatens Sochi Olympics

For nearly six years, Russia's heartland has been relatively free from the horrific terrorist attacks that characterized Putin's early years as president, though a deadly bombing on a Moscow-St. Petersburg train last November was read by some experts as a warning of things to come.

"With these prominent terrorist attacks, Putin will be under intense pressure to show that his strategy worked. It's all on him. He needs to take some action to restore an impression of stability in the North Caucasus," Petrov says.

Some experts say the terror attacks make explicit the threat to Sochi, where Putin has staked $17 billion of the state's money and his own personal prestige on the upcoming Olympic Games.

"This is very alarming," says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a leading Russian political scientist. "We're facing an enemy that wants to destabilize the situation for political purposes. Russia's prestige is at stake here. And if we can't cope with terrorists in our own capital city, how can we hope to prevent them from disrupting a big international event like the Olympics?"

Putin himself has taken center stage in recent days even though, under Russia's Constitution, national security should be the realm of President Dmitry Medvedev.

In a reprise of his "outhouse" comment, Putin told journalists on Tuesday that the militants will be "dredged from the bottom of the sewers."

Dagestan-Moscow link?

After the Dagestan bombings on Wednesday, Putin drew an explicit link with the Moscow terror strike, saying "I don't rule out that [both actions] were carried out by the same group." Dagestani leader Magomedsalam Magomedov echoed that line, saying the Moscow and Kizlyar bombers were "links in the same chain."

Some experts believe Putin and Mr. Medvedev are engaged in an under-the-carpet struggle for control of the Kremlin in elections that are slated for 2012, and some suggest that swift action by Putin in the wake of the terror strikes may improve his chances

"If there are more terrorist acts, particularly in Moscow, we might even see emergency presidential elections," says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of Panorama, an independent Moscow think tank.

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