Attacks May Cement Russia's Hard Line In Caucasus Analysis: In recent weeks, Moscow had been talking about a change in policy, investing more money in the poverty- and violence-torn Caucasus region instead of just hunting for terrorists there. After Monday's suicide bombings on the Moscow subway, consider the hunt for terrorists back to priority one.
NPR logo Attacks May Cement Russia's Hard Line In Caucasus

Attacks May Cement Russia's Hard Line In Caucasus

When two suicide bombers attacked in Russia on Monday morning, the immediate scenes of destruction were two subway stations in Moscow. But I thought back to a different place. It was Makhachkala, a city in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

A few weeks ago, officials there showed off the future in the form of a miniature scale model on a tabletop of shiny office buildings, family entertainment complexes and pristine beaches on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Pretty elaborate dreams for a region torn up by poverty, violence and a simmering Islamist extremism. Yet leaders in Moscow had been talking about a change in policy, investing more money in the Caucasus instead of just hunting for terrorists.

Consider the hunt for terrorists back to priority one.

Monday's bombings in Moscow killed at least 39 people and wounded dozens more. And the targets were brazen.

Russia's capital can't live without its subway, a surprisingly efficient transportation network in an inefficient, traffic-choked city.

The bombings on two subway platforms amount to a direct attack on Moscow daily life.

One of the metro stations — Lubyanka — is a symbol of government power. It's beneath the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service, the modern-day KGB and the branch of government that produced Russia's all-powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Bombing Lubyanka amounts to a direct attack on Putin's prestige.

The twin bombings will mean heightened fears of terrorism in Moscow and a lot of anger inside the Kremlin.

Both Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed after the attacks to "destroy" those responsible. And there's little doubt where they'll aim their destruction.

While nobody has claimed responsibility, Alexander Bortnikov, the head the Russian security service, has already pointed to extremist groups from the Caucasus, which include the turbulent regions of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

And there may have been hints this was coming. Doku Umarov, an insurgent leader in Chechnya, has warned that extremists were ready to expand their target list far away from the Caucasus region itself.

There's long been a debate about how to confront this.

Putin and Medvedev have insisted that taking a hard line against insurgents is essential. Medvedev has described extremism in the North Caucasus as a cancerous tumor that simply must not spread.

Critics, though, say Russia's hard-line policy has failed. They point to two Russian wars in Chechnya — the second led by Putin — and consistent attacks on insurgent groups. Critics say the Russian government has only stoked more anger and that, in turn, has helped insurgent groups to recruit.

Yet despite all this, when I visited Dagestan a few weeks ago, there was a surprising sense of hope. Not from everyone, but from enough people who believe Medvedev wants something different — a fresh approach and a focus on improving the economy.

After Monday's bombings, it may prove difficult for Medvedev to stay on track.

If the global battle against extremism has taught us anything, it's that people expect their leaders to act in moments like this.

Surely, it will be hard to find an audience interested in plans for new buildings and pretty beaches along the Caspian Sea.