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President Dmitry Medvedev won plaudits from Russia's liberals in the wake of the twin bombings on the Moscow metro that killed 39 people earlier this week. In its immediate aftermath, Medvedev eschewed the rough language that remains a hallmark of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, now prime minister.
That quickly changed. During an impromptu visit to Dagestan, one day after two suicide bombers killed 12 people there, Medvedev adopted Putin's tough tone (and his tough guy dress) when speaking of the North Caucasus rebels who carried out the attacks.
The measures taken to combat terrorism "must not only more effective, but also tougher,” he said. “If you would like, more cruel."
“We have twisted the heads off the most hateful bandits. But this is clearly not enough."
There's never any talk of justice when Russian leaders address the threat posed by separatist Islamist rebels in the Caucasus. (Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the attacks in a video message yesterday, promising further bloodshed.) The word on Russian leaders' lips is уничтожить — the rebels must be destroyed, obliterated.
Yet that approach — with targeted killings, accompanied by harsh punitive measures against villagers suspected of housing or feeding (by will or by force) the Chechen rebels that keep their base in the republics' mountains — is precisely what continues to fill the ranks of rebel legions. Medvedev's tough talk is a disturbing sign that that approach will likely continue, and grow.
Though Medvedev's tough talk was rare for the soft-spoken president, it still doesn't come close to Putin's more colorful language when speaking of Chechen rebels. Putin is the man who once promised to wipe the rebels out "in the shithouse" (and now, with ironic continuity, after this attack, he's promised to "drag out of the sewer" those who carried it out).
When a French journalist criticized Putin's approach to Chechnya in 2002, the then-president famously told the man: "If you are prepared to become the most radical Islamist and are prepared to get circumcised, I invite you to Moscow. We have specialists that deal with this problem."