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Russia bombing: Jihadis or sign of other trouble in north Caucasus?

A Russia bomb that killed six people in the Russian city of Stavropol has led to speculation about jihadis or Islamic militants. But analysts worry about a widening circle of instability – and players – in the north Caucasus.

By Correspondent / May 27, 2010

Rescuers and investigators work at the site of a deadly Russia bomb that killed six people and wounded 40, outside a cultural center in the southern Russian city of Stavropol, Wednesday.

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Moscow

A deadly Russia bomb that killed six people and wounded 40 outside a theater where a Chechen dance group was about to perform in the southern Russian city of Stavropol has security experts worrying that the circle of instability in Russia's troubled northern Caucasus may be widening.

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Unlike the Moscow metro bombings of two months ago, which were carried out by suicide bombers from the north Caucasus republic of Dagestan and claimed by Islamist "emir" Doku Umarov, analysts are not so sure that the latest bombing fits neatly into the jihadis vs. Russia narrative that is favored by the Kremlin.

"There are a lot of suspects in the Stavropol bombing, and we shouldn't jump to conclusions," says Andrei Soldatov, editor of the online journal Agentura.ru, which reports on the security services. "It speaks of rising instability around the north Caucasus region. We may be seeing some dangerous new developments."

The stakes are high. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who put his personal reputation on the line to win the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi, now sees his pet project under dire threat amid growing regional turbulence.

"Putin needs to demonstrate peace and stability in the north Caucasus before the Sochi Olympics, not just to ensure the security of the games but to affirm success of the Putin era," says Nikolai Petrov, a regional analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "Therefore Putin is very vulnerable. Many different forces have an interest in stirring up instability, with an eye to forcing him to make a deal with them. It's not just the usual suspects. I fear we'll see a good deal more trouble down there."

The blast hit outside a Stavropol community center just minutes before the Vainakh musical troupe, which enjoys the sponsorship of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was about to perform.

That has led some commentators to suggest that it was carried out by Islamist insurgents against Mr. Kadyrov, the local strongman whom human
rights groups accuse of imposing iron-fisted rule over the tiny republic at the Kremlin's behest.

Other analysts point out that it is almost exactly the third anniversary of ethnic riots in Stavropol, a Russian city on the edge of the seething north Caucasus that houses a large Muslim minority, that broke out after local Chechens were accused of murdering two Slavic students, in an apparent revenge killing that remains unsolved to this day.

"This could have been an action by right-wing radicals," such as Skinheads or neo-Nazis, who are a growing force on Russia's political underbelly, says Alexei Makarkin, director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. "They hate minorities from the north Caucasus, and have as much a stake in sowing panic and chaos as the Islamist extremists do."

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