Friday, June 26, 2009

Suicide Bombing Puts Southern Russia On Edge

Russia could be dealing with a new wave of terrorism after a suicide bombing nearly killed Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the President of the Southern Caucasus region of Ingushetia on Monday. As of Thursday night, Yevkurov was still reported to be in serious condition from injuries suffered when an explosives-packed Toyota swerved into his presidential motorcade and blew itself up, several people in his entourage were killed in the attack.

The Caucasus Mountains along Russia's southern border have historically been a hard-to-control region, home to fiercely independent ethnic groups. Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia has fought two wars in the Caucasus in Chechnya - the second Chechen war sparked a wave of high-profile terrorist attacks across Russia that killed hundreds of civilians. Chechnya has calmed down in recent years since President (and local strongman) Ramzan Kadyrov took control of the territory and was given a free hand by Moscow to crush dissent, by any means necessary. Kadyrov, whose family once fought against the Russians before switching sides, brutally cracked down on Chechen rebels (human rights groups accuse him of many rights violations), to the point where Russia ended anti-terrorism operations in Chechnya earlier this year.

But instead of just going away, the terrorist problem seems to have shifted to the neighboring regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan. And while Yevkurov was the highest-profile official killed or wounded by terrorists, he's far from the first - judges and local government ministers have also been recent victims.

Having pacified Chechnya, Kadyrov is now saying he's ready to take on the Ingush terrorists as well, promising "cruel revenge" against Yevkurov's attackers. "I warn that the terrorists, the inhuman ones, the devils who badly wounded Yevkurov will soon regret it," Kadyrov said, vowing revenge "according to mountain traditions." There are reports that Kadyrov was personally asked by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to take on the anti-terrorist campaign, though officials in Ingushetia say they would prefer to handle matters themselves. The Ingush are also apparently worried that letting Chechnya's Kadyrov take the lead in anti-terrorism operations could be the first step in merging the two regions, like they had been in Soviet times. Recently there's been a drive in Russia to combine some of the country's 83 sub-divisions into bigger regions in an effort to streamline the government.

Meanwhile, there have been no claims of responsibility for the suicide attack on President Yevkurov.
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