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Opinion

Moscow airport bomb: a moment of truth for Russia and Medvedev

Even as Russia mourns the dozens killed and hundreds wounded in yesterday's apparent suicide attack at Domodedovo International Airport, Moscow must take stock of its failed policy in the north Caucasus region. Coming after a series of suicide attacks from Chechen terrorists, this latest bombing shows that Russia is in the throes of a low-intensity civil war.

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The Russian government should resist the temptation to use these attacks as a pretext to crack down further on civil liberties, make elections more difficult, and tighten control of the media. That’s what it did in 2004, following its botched counter-attack against the Chechen hostage-takers in the Beslan school where more than 300 people, mostly kids, died. The Putin administration replaced the elections of governors and single-district members of parliament and introduced governor nominations by the Kremlin and Duma elections by party lists, a system in which electoral outcomes are much easier to control. Today, parties must clear a 7 percent barrier to seat Duma deputies, and allegations of rigged elections abound. Unsurprisingly, none of this helped fight terrorism.

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More public participation in the governance; greater civilian, legislative and media control over the executive branch, including the law enforcement; less corrupt courts – this is what Russia desperately needs. According to documented allegations from the media and the country’s president, Russian security services and police are plagued with abusive behavior and corruption.

What Moscow can do now

To prevent terror attacks, Medvedev should fire the current security apparatus leaders and install his own people who can turn things around. Security services and police need to clean up their act, beef up airport security, collect better intelligence, and improve their anti-terrorism activities. They should also cease and desist arresting democratic dissidents, as they regularly do in Moscow.

IN PICTURES: Moscow metro bombings

Instead of pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the hands of corrupt north Caucasus local chieftains, new economic development models need to be developed. This would empty the cash sea in which Islamist guerillas swim.

Finally, the Domodedovo attack represents a serious challenge to the security of critical Russian and European infrastructure. The US and other Western countries should offer Russia airport security and counter-terrorism assistance, especially because United Airlines, British Airways, and others fly in and out of Domodedovo. The West should also offer help in tracking down external financing for the north Caucasus insurgency. The funding flows from the Persian Gulf countries and extremist/Islamist communities around the world.

The north Caucasus insurgents pursue an Islamist agenda, which includes creation of the “Caucasus Emirate” from the Black Sea to the Caspian. If created, such an emirate will jeopardize pipelines for Caspian oil and threaten secular regimes, such as Azerbaijan’s.

The insurrection’s leader, Doku Umarov, proclaims himself an "emir," an Islamic military leader. Mr. Umarov’s insurgents declare that they are fighting “a jihad in the name of Allah.” According to US military and intelligence officers serving in Afghanistan, Chechen fighters have repeatedly been apprehended when fighting for the Taliban. But Russian officials brazenly accuse the West of supporting the north Caucasus insurgents. Nothing is further from the truth. An emirate in the north Caucasus will undermine stability in southeastern Europe and threaten US friends in the south Caucasus.

Tragically, the north Caucasus insurgency is spreading with no help from the West – but because Russia’s policies are deeply flawed and their implementation corrupt. The insurgency is setting the whole region ablaze. The US and our Western allies can no longer ignore the multifaceted threats arising from this region.

Ariel Cohen, PhD, is senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy at the Heritage Foundation.

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