In Russia, ‘The War Is Coming to Their Cities’

Sergey Ponomarev / AP
Emergency personnel carry equipment in downtown Moscow on Monday, following two rush-hour subway blasts.

Russia thought it had the North Caucasus beat. Ten years ago, then-president Vladimir Putin built his reputation by using brute force to bring Russia's most volatile region to heel. On the surface, it seemed to have worked. But in the last year, a rising tide of suicide attacks in the south hinted that Moscow's hold was more tenuous than it liked to admit. Russia's most wanted Islamist leader, Doku Umarov, vowed to bring the violence out of the conflict-prone south and straight to the country's economic and cultural centers. "Blood will no longer be limited to our cities and towns. The war is coming to their cities," he warned. Still, as long as the violence was contained in the south, those cities remained calm.

That confidence was shattered this morning, when two female suicide bombers killed at least 38 people on packed Moscow subway trains during rush hour. They strapped the bombs to their belts; the first exploded inside a train, just as the doors were closing, the second on a platform in a different station. Now, back at the forefront of Russian memories are the specters Putin had supposedly put to rest: 1999, when explosions in Moscow apartment blocks killed more than 200 people; 2002, when Chechen men and women took hostage some 800 theatergoers in Moscow; and 2004, when explosions on a metro train in Moscow took the lives of 40 people. As promised, the war has now come back to the city. But as Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev have promised in return, its impact will be felt far from the subways and theaters of Moscow.

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