Russian Forces Search for Nalchik Rebels

Russian security forces claim control of the southern city of Nalchik, but continue to hunt rebels still at large. Insurgents staged a series of coordinated raids on official buildings in the city earlier in the week, killing at least 100 people, including civilians. Officials blame the attacks on foreigners, but critics say the Kremlin's policy failures in Chechnya and the North Caucasus created the conditions for a widespread local insurgency.

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Russian security forces say they're now in control of the southern city of Nalchik. At least a hundred people, some of them civilians, died in gun battles there when insurgents staged coordinated raids on official buildings. The government in Moscow blamed the attacks on foreigners, but many Russian and Western analysts say the Kremlin's policy failures in Chechnya and the northern Causasus are encouraging a widespread local insurgency. NPR's Gregory Feifer reports.

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

The Republic of Kabardino-Bulkaria lies west of Chechnya on Russia's volatile southern border. Until yesterday, the region's capital was best known as a resort town. But well-armed rebels have turned Nalchik into the newest front in the Chechen war. Moscow says the raids were planned outside the country. Mikhail Margelov is a senior member of Parliament close to President Vladimir Putin. He said the clashes are the same as recent terrorist attacks against the United States, Spain and Great Britain.

Mr. MIKHAIL MARGELOV (Russian Parliament): (Through Translator) This is part of an aggressive action against Russia that has been going on for more than a year. It's the aggression of international terrorism that I'm deeply convinced began at the end of the 1990s.

FEIFER: But a Chechen rebel Web site says a local group of radical Islamic militants called Yarmuk carried out the raids. The rebels claim to be affiliated with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev. Most analysts say the operation appears to be revenge for a crackdown on Yarmuk earlier this year when government forces arrested some members and killed others, including its leader.

Critics say this week's raids discredit the Kremlin's claim that life in Chechnya has stabilized. Christopher Swift at the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya says militants in the North Caucasus are now able to seize and control territory in bold, daytime attacks. They target police, security and military objectives.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER SWIFT (American Committee for Peace in Chechnya): All of those things suggest that the insurgency in the northern Caucasus is growing very quickly, it's quite strong, and that, you know, the only way that anyone's going to be able to solve this problem in the near future is through political dialogue with some of the more moderate leaders in that insurgent movement.

FEIFER: But Putin has refused to negotiate with the rebels since he launched Moscow's second Chechen war in 1999. Many experts say by cutting off the path to a political solution he's helped create the conditions for violent extremism. They also criticize Putin for failing to address the root causes of the militancy: extreme poverty, unemployment and massive government corruption. Many observers believe those factors have nourished an indigenous resistance movement. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says the current situation is only the latest twist in the historic antagonism between Moscow and the inhabitants of the North Caucasus.

Mr. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI (Foreign Affairs Expert): The Chechens have been oppressed by the Russians for several centuries, and the fact is they're don't like it and they're rebelling against it. And their rebellion is now spreading in the Caucasus to other nationalities.

FEIFER: Some commentators say if the rebellion does spread, the whole region could soon collapse into chaos and become the equivalent of a failed state within Russia's borders. Gregory Feifer, NPR News.

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