Even if it turns out that Muslim radicals were indeed behind the Kaspiisk blast, there can be little doubt that two wars in Chechnya have created the pre-conditions for such extremism. Indeed, Oleg Orlov, who heads Memorial, the Russian human rights group that got its start during the Gorbachev period working to clear the names of victims of Stalinist repression, reported this week that that since July 2000, some 2,000 people detained by Russian forces in Chechnya have disappeared without a trace and more than 1,000 of the republic’s inhabitants have been killed Russian counterinsurgency operations. (It is worth noting, as a point of reference, that last July the U.S. State Department declared that it was “greatly concerned” that four prominent opponents of the Lukashenka regime in Belarus had disappeared since 1999.)

Memorial has provided detailed evidence showing that an order issued this past March by General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, putatively aimed at imposing greater control over and discipline on forces carrying out security sweeps, is being totally ignored. The Russian forces’ ongoing abuses, Orlov said, are actually increasing the Chechen population’s support for the rebels, including their most radical elements.