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
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
"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
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. …