Moscow Airport Bomb: A Moment of Truth for Russia and Medvedev

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Even as Russia mourns the dozens killed and hundreds wounded in yesterday's apparent suicide attack at Domodedovo International Airport, Moscow must take stock of its failed policy in the north Caucasus region. Coming after a series of suicide attacks from Chechen terrorists, this latest bombing shows that Russia is in the throes of a low-intensity civil war.

Russia is mourning and burying its dead. But yesterday's terrorist attack in the Domodedovo International Airport leaves more than pain in its wake. It also stands as evidence of a major policy failure in the north Caucasus, a patchwork of seven republics that flank Russia's southwestern border. That policy now threatens to destabilize southern Russia, spark an anti-democratic response, and endanger the stability of the strategic Caucasus region as a whole.

The apparent pair of suicide bombers exploded a shrapnel-loaded 11 lb. bomb at Moscow's busiest airport, leaving at least 35 dead and 180 wounded, including foreigners.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has already blamed ministry and airport officials for intolerable security lapses and is now calling on Russian transportation centers to implement US-style passenger checks, which he praised as "meticulous."

Russia Islamist network takes shape

This is the second security lapse at Domodedovo. In 2004, two female Chechen suicide bombers from the north Caucasus bribed an airport security guard, boarded two planes there, and brought them both down. Since then, security in Domodedovo has improved, but apparently not enough.

A history of brazen attacks

This modus operandi looks like previous extremist attacks in the Moscow Metro (subway), markets, and other soft targets. In March last year, two female suicide bombers attacked the Metro system, killing 40 and wounding dozens.

In towns throughout southern Russia, Islamist terrorists regularly attack innocent civilians. Law enforcement forces and pro- Moscow politicians are frequent targets as well. The Chechens have also engaged in massive hostage-taking in recent years - in theaters, hospitals, and a school.

Put plainly, Russia is in the throes of a low-intensity civil war. This, in turn, has escalated racist sentiments in the ethnic Russian cities. Combined, it's a witch's brew in the country's stage- managed political season. (Duma elections will be held this December and the presidential race is next year.) Fear compounded by ethnic and religious hatred will probably make the electorate yearn for Vladimir Putin's "strong hand," moving him back into the third presidential term after completing his prime ministership.

The failure to protect Domodedovo, a high-value target, casts further doubt on the Russian leadership's declarations that it has the strategically important north Caucasus region under control and that Russia "won" in Chechnya, a conflict that has raged with varying intensity since 1994 . And more trouble awaits Russia and her south Caucasus neighbors - Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan - according to senior diplomats from the region. They are afraid of radicalization of their own Muslim populations and blackmail demands to pay off terrorist leaders in exchange for leaving the energy pipelines alone. Islamist leaders have promised to escalate the violence in north Caucasus and make it spill over into the central Russian cities.

The Russian government should resist the temptation to use these attacks as a pretext to crack down further on civil liberties, make elections more difficult, and tighten control of the media. …