BOMB: Russians don't believe situation in North Caucasus getting worse

When asked if Russia's North Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia would remain unchanged for the next year, 51% of Russians said yes, according to the Levada Center, an independent pollster.

The poll comes just as Chechen rebels claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombs at metro hub stations during Monday morning's rush hour that killed 39 and left several dozen injured.

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility in a short video posted on a rebel web site late Wednesday. The video was posted only hours after two new suicide bombings killed at least 12 people in Dagestan on Wednesday morning.

"As you all know, two special operations were carried out to destroy the infidels and to send a greeting to the FSB on March 29 in Moscow," Umarov said in the video published on the Kavkaz Center web site, Reuters reported.

The poll sets a low bar for public expectation in Russia.

The north Caucasus has been unstable since the Tsarist army invaded the region in 1817. Small scale attacks on Russian forces and police are common, occasionally fueling larger scale fire fights, although few media outlets bother to report them. For example, on the same day as the second suicide bombings in Dagestan a policemen was killed and three more injured in a separate incident.

"Three unidentified assailants offered armed resistance to policemen near the village of Gansolchu, Nozhai-Yurt district. Later in the same district, three more clashes with militants occurred. One policeman was killed and three others hospitalized as a result of the exchange of fire," a source with law enforcement agencies told Interfax.

The Russian authorities were quick to blame southern rebel groups for the killings. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday that the government would not rest until it caught those responsible for the blasts.

"They are beasts. Whatever the motives they were guided by, what they are doing is a crime by any law and by any moral standards," Medvedev told the media after visiting Lubyanka metro stations, where one of the bombings had occurred.

Human rights groups and analysts are afraid that the Kremlin will respond with a crack down on the Northern Caucasus that will fan the flames of insurrection. However, comments coming out of the Kremlin so far suggest they intend to avoid what would widely be seen as a mistake. Most of the government statements on the topic made in the last two days suggest the main focus of the response will be focused on improving security measures on the capital's metro using things like close circuit cameras and increasing the number of police on patrol.

The international press has responded to the attacks by questioning the safety of doing business in Russia. However, investors have shrugged off the blasts. The leading RTS stock market index rallied strongly on Monday rising from about 1520 to 1550 over the course of the day on the back of rising oil prices. The market dipped only briefly after the news of the attacks broke on Monday morning at the start of trading.

"It is an unfortunate reality of the modern world that we have become used to terrorist attacks," Chris Weafer, head of strategy at UralSib, said in an interview.

While the concern of international observers has increased in the wake of the bombings, Russians have been remarkably stoical about the bombings. While just over half of Russians believe the situation in its unsettled south remains the same as ever, another 22% expressed confidence it would improve, Levada Center told Interfax. However, 70% think the situation in the region is "critical" and "explosive."

The attacks are thought to be at least partly a response to the Kremlin's efforts to extend its control over the region and begin the work of reconstruction. The region has recently been reorganised into a North Caucasus Federal District that will increase the centre's control over the region. In the poll 41% said the change will improve the situation in the region, while 32% expressed the opposite view, reports Interfax.

In the video, Umarov said he personally ordered the bombings and that they were in retaliation for an attack on Ingush and Chechens who were gathering wild garlic outside the Ingush village of Arshty on February 11, when Federal Security Service commandos killed the civilians with knives. Local government officials claim the attacks were revenge for the killing of two senior rebels by security services in recent weeks.

Umarov has promised the attacks will continue.

Monday's bombings were the first serious attack on Russia's metro system since 2004, when 41 were killed on a commuter train by a suicide bomber. The most recent terrorist attack was last summer when a bomb derailed the Nevsky express train running between Moscow and St Petersburg, killing 26 in November. Experts now believe the Nevsky Express probably marks the start of what looks like a new terror campaign by Umarov's group.

Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev vowed that Umarov would be "neutralized" but said capturing him depended on a host of factors, "including the weather."

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.