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Blast exposes Russia Caucasus security failure

The bloody airport carnage shows Russia has yet to lessen the risk of terror attacks sparked by problems in its Northern Caucasus, even as the country gears up to host the Olympics and the World Cup.

The suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport that killed 35 has undermined confidence in the ability of Russia to handle big events ahead of the arrival of thousands of foreigners for the the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup.

While President Dmitry Medvedev was quick to blame lax security at the airport for allowing the bomber to detonate the charge, analysts said Russia is battling a wider security malaise that could yet spark more attacks.

Islamists rebelling against Kremlin rule in the poverty-ridden Northern Caucasus have been behind a string of attacks in Russia over the last decades that have left hundreds dead.

“The social crisis in the Northern Caucasus and the gap that separates society from the authorities combined with the religious factor. These are the sources of the terrorism,” said analyst Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow and one of Russia’s top experts on the Caucasus.

“Religion is not the root cause of this phenomenon but it plays a stimulating role. All this is going to continue.”

The past year showed that Russia made few inroads into the perils of the Caucausus insurgency, with 40 killed in bombings on the Moscow metro, an attack on the Chechen parliament and assassination attempts on the leaders of Ingushetia and Karbadino-Balkaria.

Disturbingly, the heart of the Caucasus insurgency is just hundreds of kilometres away from the Black Sea city of Sochi which is to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Grigory Shvedov, editor of the Caucasus news website the Caucasian Knot, said there had been 190 blasts and attacks in the regions of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia in 2010, 19 of which were carried out by suicide bombers.

Accross the Northern Caucasus 178 people were killed in “acts of terror” in the period and at least 895 were wounded, he said. Meanwhile, 600 people in total were killed in armed clashes, he said.

“The situation in the Caucasus is not improving. The terrorist attacks are going to continue,” he said.

“Looking for the guilty at a Moscow airport may ease the pain but looking for a new security strategy for all the Northern Caucasus would remove the cause of the pain,” he added.

The Russian authorities are pinning the blame on the airport, which already faced flak in 2004 for allowing two female suicide bombers onto domestic flights which they then brought down with the loss of 90 lives.

Medvedev said that what happened showed clear breaches of security regulations at the airport.

But leading Russian defence and intelligence analyst Alexeder Goltz said the attack was above all a failure of the intelligence services.

“The only way to prevent a terror attack is infiltrate the terrorist circles,” he said.

“The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) talks every year about the number of attacks that have been averted but this is just showing off. The task of a special service is to stop them completely,” he said.

The situation in the Northern Caucasus has been the biggest domestic security headache for the Kremlin since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Russia waged a first war between 1994-1996 against separatist rebels in Chechnya. But after a second war in Chechnya in 1999, the rebellion’s inspiration moved towards Islam with the aim of imposing an Islamic state in the region.

Although the war ended in 2000, rebels have waged an increasingly deadly insurgency with unrest spreading into other areas of the North Caucasus such as Dagestan and Ingushetia.