There has been an upsurge of violent attacks in Russia's southern region of Chechnya and surrounding areas in the past week. And the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya says a top separatist leader was killed. The violence is raising concern about increased instability throughout the North Caucasian Mountain region.
Bomb attacks and shootings have become increasingly commonplace in Russia's unsettled North Caucasus Mountain region in recent years. But this past week the number of attacks increased sharply.
Small bombs exploded near a regional court building and a military convoy in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya. A larger bomb damaged a cargo train in nearby North Ossetia, the region where 331 people, including many children, were killed in the siege at a school in Beslan one year ago. The bombings damaged property, but caused no casualties.
However gun battles in Ingushetia and the region of Dagestan over the past week have killed several policemen.
In Chechnya itself, officials report dozens of attacks on a daily basis, including clashes at checkpoints, land mine explosions and shoot-outs. Eight Russian soldiers or policemen were killed in separate incidents over one 24-hour period this week. Russian troops have been battling separatist fighters in Chechnya for over a decade in a conflict that the Kremlin says is part of the global war against terrorism.
President Vladimir Putin insists that a tough military response is the only solution.
Andrei Kortunov is a political analyst with the Eurasian Foundation in Moscow. He says there is concern in the region about growing instability. "If you take the governmental line, they will tell you that there have not been any major terrorist attacks during the past year, and that the situation is getting better, maybe slowly but it's getting better. On the other hand, many here question this assumption. Many here believe that there's a proliferation of instability, which affects not just Chechnya but the neighboring regions of the North Caucasus, as well," he said.
Parliamentary elections are due to be held in Chechnya later this year, which President Putin says will lead to more stability in the troubled region.