MOSCOW – No matter how many times the Kremlin declares victory and attempts to move on, the escalating violence spreading from Chechnya around Russia's seething North Caucasus region just won't go away.
A suicide bomber shattered the latest illusion of stability on Monday, slamming his explosives-laden car into a motorcade carrying the Kremlin-appointed president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, seriously injuring him and killing two bodyguards.
Mr. Yevkurov, a former Russian military intelligence officer, was handed the job of pacifying Ingushetia after his predecessor, Murat Zyazikov was dismissed last October following repeated allegations that his security forces had committed indiscriminate acts of violence against civilians (read more Monitor coverage here).
Ingushetia, a tiny republic whose half-million people are ethnic kin to their Chechen neighbors, remained peaceful through two brutal Kremlin wars to bring Chechnya's separatist bid to heel. But, along with another mainly-Muslim republic, Dagestan, it has seen a major upsurge in violence in recent years (read more here).
"Since 2006, the numbers of violent acts in Dagestan and Ingushetia has grown much greater than those happening in Chechnya itself," says Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, a Website that specializes in news about Russia's security services.
"This struggle is going to be long and complicated," he says. "There is no trust between leaders in Moscow and the local security forces."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev decried the attack on his appointee, the third high-level Ingush official to be targeted in the past month, as an "act of terror," triggered by Russia's success in restoring order to the neighboring republic of Chechnya.
Russia has fought two bloody wars in Chechnya since 1994, at an estimated cost of 200,000 lives, and has lately achieved a tenuous stability in the troubled republic by granting virtual autonomy to a pro-Moscow local strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Mr. Kadyrov told journalists Monday that the attack on his Ingush counterpart was the product of his own success in next-door Chechnya.
"Today's bloody terrorist attack proved once again that we are on the right track and that we will certainly complete all the measures started against terrorists and extremists," Kadyrov said.
But some experts say the picture may be more complex than the Kremlin's narrative suggests, with corruption a more likely factor in the growing violence than the region's shadowy Islamist insurgency.
"Yevkurov has stepped on the toes on many local crime bosses since he came to power," says Mikhail Alexandrov, head of Caucasian studies at the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.
"This is about corruption, and it reflects the situation in Russia at large. Only in the Caucasus this struggle takes on such a radical and ugly form. In the Caucasus, it's tradition to settle disputes by force of arms, and that's one reason we see so many attacks on the representatives of power."