Caucasus Bombing Shows Failure of Moscow Strategy

By Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova

The suicide bomber who detonated a truck packed with explosives in Nazran, Ingushetia, last month destroyed a five-story police station and killed 21 people. But the real damage went much deeper: he also demolished the credibility of the Kremlin's North Caucasus policy. For nearly a dec­ade now, Moscow has relied on loyal strongmen in Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia to rule the turbulent, mostly Muslim region, using whatever dirty tactics they chose to enforce a bloody peace. The plan came at a huge price: human-rights monitors have documented a long and ugly list of state-sponsored abductions, torture, and extrajudicial executions. It seemed to work, though, and the region enjoyed five years of relative calm. But over the past two months, 436 people have been killed, nearly three times more than in the same period last year. And the attacks have been increasingly audacious, targeting even top officials like the president of Ingushetia. Rather than back down, the local authorities have become more brutal in response, liquidating not only suspected enemies but also activists like Natalya Estemirova, who chronicled the death squads' handiwork in Chechnya. The Kremlin chose to tolerate its protégés' ugly side in return for quiet. But the renewed violence shows that the North Caucasus rulers haven't kept their side of the bargain--and that it's time for the Kremlin to rethink its failed policies.