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A suicide bomb that killed 25 people outside a police station in the south Russian region of Ingushetia on Monday was the deadliest attack in the North Caucasus in about four years.
The Kremlin had claimed this year that rebels – a mixture of Islamist extremists, separatists and the disgruntled - had been defeated. But this summer bomb attacks, gun fights and kidnappings in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia have risen.
Even so, analysts said that the scale of Monday’s suicide bomb attack on a police target was shocking and underlined the tenuous grip that the Kremlin has over the North Caucasus.
“The overall situation in the North Caucasus is not just that Russia is on the defensive but that it is losing the battle,” Pavel Baev, an analyst at the Oslo-based Peace research Institute (PRIO), told AlertNet.
His views were backed by the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies which releases a quarterly report on violence in the region.
It recorded around 150 violent incidents across the North Caucasus in July this year compared to about 90 last year.
“The level of violence in the North Caucasus has spiked in recent months, with July by far the most deadly month in years,” the report’s authors wrote.
This blog from the World Vision aid agency describes firsthand the carnage from the bomb site with a quote from a little girl asking her mother why they returned to Ingushetia from life abroad as a a refugee, and on this website the BBC shows a collection of photos from the blast.
The Kremlin has promoted the former rebel Ramzan Kadyrov to Chechen president. In return for tracking down the rebels and keeping control of the region, Russia has allowed him to bolster his personal authority. Human rights activists have accused his security agents of murdering his enemies, accusations he has always denied.
But this story in Newsweek said the Kremlin’s policy of empowering local tough guys to keep the peace has failed.
“The Kremlin chose to turn a blind eye to their proteges’ corruption and indiscriminate use of violence in return for their imposing a kind of brutal peace on the region,” Newsweek wrote.
“But the recent upsurge of violence shows that the rulers of Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia cannot keep their side of the bargain – and that it’s time for the Kremlin to rethink its failed policies.”
The Kremlin blamed local police incompetence of the bombing on Monday in Ingushetia and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Ingushetia’s interior minister. In this analysis Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said the suicide attacks and the worsening violence suggested that the rebels were becoming more desperate and that Kadyrov and the Kremlin were in fact winning the battle.
“The worse life becomes for those living underground, the shorter the time they feel they’ll survive the more they feel chosen [to conduct jihad], and more justified attacking all those they consider unbelievers,” RFE/RL quoted Caucasus expert Andrei Babitsky as saying.
In June a suicide bomber hit a convoy carrying the Ingush president to work. He was seriously wounded but still survived. PRIO analyst Baev said that Russians feared the return of the suicide bomber who had hit major Russian cities a few years ago.
“It is the work of a well-prepared and executed and ruthlessly efficient enemy,” he said. “This organisation is certainly capable of something big outside Ingushetia.”