With the start of the Winter Olympics a little more than a month away, Russian authorities are scrambling to investigate two recent suicide bombings.
Sochi, the site of the Winter Games, is hundreds of miles from Volgograd, where two explosions in two days this week killed 34 people and injured dozens more. But authorities suspect that the attacks are the work of separatist terrorists who are trying to disrupt the games but cannot operate in Sochi itself, where security already is tight.
Attention has focused on Chechnya and Dagestan. Authorities are mindful that the brothers allegedly behind the attack on last year's Boston Marathon were ethnic Chechens.
From the Washington Post:
Vladimir Putin's daring bid to host the Winter Olympics in the politically dicey Caucasus Mountains was his way of showing the world that he had created a stylish, fun-loving country, a Russia that had defeated violent separatism once and for all.
It was a gutsy gamble — and the remaining separatists vowed to do whatever they could to disrupt the pageant. The potential costs of failure were driven home Monday when an apparent suicide bomber shredded a crowded trolley bus in the city of Volgograd. That came on the heels of a bomb attack Sunday on the city's railroad station.
The Daily Circuit talks with two scholars about the situation in Russia and its relations with radical separatists.
LEARN MORE ABOUT RUSSIA AND THE OLYMPICS:
• Bomb Attacks in Russia Echo Threats by Chechen Insurgent
The investigation into the bombings is just getting underway, but the attention of the Russian security services is already focused on the republic of Dagestan, which has become the hub of Muslim separatist violence in recent years, and on connections to the insurgent leader, Doku Umarov. He is a mysterious, almost mythical figure who fought in both Chechnya wars, which began nearly two decades ago and have come to symbolize the radicalization of a movement that began as a struggle for independence.
Mr. Umarov's influence had seemed to be waning in recent years, until he surfaced in a video in July, ordering his followers to do whatever was possible to attack Russia as it prepared to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, Mr. Umarov's threats, largely ignored at the time, suddenly seemed ominous, chillingly citing Russia's transportation networks as potential targets. (The New York Times)
• Boston bombings: Understanding Tsarnaev brothers and their intended audience
It remains to be seen if the Boston bombings will deter visitors from coming to the Sochi Olympics. Until now, I have dismissed the Sochi Olympics as another of Putin's publicity stunts. While I rarely support Putin's gimmicks, I would not want to see prospective visitors to Sochi canceling their plans and thus lending reason to the Tsarnaevs' madness. (Nick Hayes, writing in MinnPost)