Austin Bay

Russia's vast size makes patrolling rail lines difficult. Pipelines (that transport gas and oil) are also easily disrupted. Pipeline attacks have immediate economic consequences, within Russia and for Russia's European trading partners. Protecting rail and pipelines requires additional personnel and equipment, and Russian security forces claim they are already stretched thin.

Sowing fear among Russian citizens obviously has political goals, but a reinvigorated Chechen insurgency is a direct challenge to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Everyone knows Putin is Russia's real leader, not President Dmitri Medvedev. For the past two years, Putin has been perfecting the role of "backroom czar."

Putin played a central role in Russia's response to the Chechen Islamists' attacks on Dagestan in 1999 and the terror assaults on Moscow. By spring of 2000, Russian security forces had taken Chechnya's capital, Grozny. Russian troops pursued rebel factions into the hills. Putin became a Russian nationalist hero, a "hard man" in the mold of leaders long respected in Russia. This "Second Chechen War" went far better than the Russians' war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996.

When he became president, Putin promised the Russian people security -- after all, he had demonstrated his prowess and iron will in the Caucasus wars. He demanded a quid pro quo: The Russian people would have to accept less political freedom.

The wars, however, didn't end. They simmered. The authoritative Russian website Caucausian Knot (www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru) calculated that Russian internal security forces killed 436 "suspected militants" in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya in 2009.

One of Monday's subway bombs struck Moscow's Lubyanka stop, near the headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is the Cold War's KGB, renamed and ever so slightly reborn. Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent. The Moscow Times, however, warned that the attack on Lubyanka was more than iconic or a tweak of Putin. FSB commandos recently killed a senior Islamist rebel.

What will Putin's government do? New elections are set for 2012. Putin may want to run for president again. Expect an even bloodier Third Chechen War.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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