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Chechnya Reignited: A Promise Unfulfilled in Russia's "Dirty War"

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It is a conflict with no end in sight as another suicide bomber killed two policemen in the Russian republic of Ingushetia region on Monday. The attack was the latest threat since last week's double-bombing in Moscow's metro, which killed nearly 40 people. The latest spike in attacks from Islamist militants in Russia are feared to spread violence to neighboring provinces of Ingushetia and Dagestan if the Kremlin fails to tame the new face of rebellion against Moscow.

In March 2005, just before his death, Aslan Maskhadov, former chief of staff of the Chechen armed forces, made a grim prediction of the political and security situation in the North Caucasus. He described Chechnya as a "sad, dirty, and vulgar" region ruled poorly by Russian authorities, and said fighting would spill over from Chechnya to neighboring regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia unless the international community could persuade Moscow to start peace talks.

"Unless the war in Chechnya is stopped quickly, it will spread outwards," said Maskhadov in a press conference. "In fact, it has been spreading for some time now. Today fighting can be seen in Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia."

Maskhadov made that prediction nearly five years ago. And it has come true -- despite the Kremlin's claim that it has pacified the region. Chechnya has suffered two civil wars, and most of the region is now under Russian military control. Vladimir Putin, former President and now Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, has worked to persuade the public, both in Russia and internationally, to accept what critics call Moscow's harsh tactics in the war, saying Russia's national security has been at stake. In the latest round of terrorism, Putin has vowed to tame the troubled region.

"We know the masterminds and accomplices have lain in hiding, but it is a matter of honor for law enforcement agencies to bring them out from the sewer into God's light," said Putin in a press conference.

A decade later the North Caucasus region remains a problem. Russians and Chechen rebels continue fighting over land, religion, independence and political control. In January, the Kremlin took direct control and merged seven provinces with neighboring Russian-populated regions saying it had to act in order to stop the surge of violence and separatism in the predominantly Muslim region. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree to establish the Northern Caucasus Federal District, and appointed Alexander Khloponin, former governor of the Siberian province of Krasnoyarsk, to lead it.

"The creation of a new federal district composed with all Caucasian republics...as well as an appointment of a 'foreign' (from Siberia) presidential representative Alexander Khloponin, shows that Moscow recognized the failure of its previous course," said Alexey V. Malashenko, researcher and expert on Chechnya at the Moscow Carnegie Center in Russia.

Khloponin says corruption, high unemployment, and violence, are the three concerns plaguing the North Caucasus. Medvedev's main concern is violence. He said that separatist militants have spread like "cancer" throughout the Northern Caucasus. Since 2008, the number of killings and terrorist attacks has escalated, especially in Chechnya, where the Human Rights Watch estimates a quarter million people have been killed, and dissenters and journalists face kidnapping, torture, and execution.

"The situation in Chechnya is simply out of control," Human Rights Watch activist Tatyana Lokshina said in an email interview. "It is completely out of control. And the laws of logic, the laws of the same mind are not applicable here. The federal center, the Russian authorities, must do something,"

The Kremlin envoy to the region Vladimir Ustinov reported "terrorist" acts are running more than 30 percent above the 2008 rate in Chechnya and surrounding regions, including Dagestan and Ingushetia. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has set up a new department in Chechnya to investigate abductions and killings in the region. It also launched an investigation into the killings of ethnic Russians and pro-Moscow authorities in the region.   

But some say that won't stop the violence. "People mostly don't believe that Moscow is able to improve something," said Malashenko, of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "That is why Caucasians hope that the stability as well as the solution of all kinds of their problems may be reached basically on the Tradition - the Caucasian and the Islamic one."

Five years after the Chechen military commander Maskhadov predicted the conflict that has flared up today, it's still an open question whether the North Caucasus will become peaceably integrated into Russia one day, or gain independence, or remain trapped in bloody conflict for years to come.