MOSCOW – The bomb that killed Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (search) and some 20 other people Sunday may also have done mortal damage to the Kremlin's strategy in the war-shattered region.
Unable to wipe out separatist rebels and unwilling to negotiate with them, the Kremlin (search) said it would restore stability by allowing Chechens a substantial degree of autonomy — including electing their own leader.
After the blast, however, calls arose for Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) to rule Chechnya directly himself, which would draw Moscow deeper into a conflict from which it has tried to distance itself.
As doctors in the Chechen capital, Grozny (search), operated on blast victims, officials declared the central government's strategy wouldn't change.
"Not even in the time of this tragic occurrence has our work in the republic stopped, and it will not stop," Sergei Abramov, the 32-year-old Chechen prime minister who became acting president after Kadyrov's death, told Putin in a televised meeting in Moscow.
News reports also cited Russian officials as pledging that elections for a new Chechen president would take place within four months, as called for in the republic's constitution.
But a prominent member of Russia's dominant pro-Putin party called for a change in the strategy of keeping Chechnya at arm's length.
"I consider it necessary to establish direct presidential rule in Chechnya and possibly declare a state of emergency in the bordering territories," a deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Lyubov Sliska, told the news agency Interfax.
Hard-line nationalist lawmaker Dmitry Rogozin agreed, adding that "now the most important thing is to establish who is guilty, find them and destroy them."
Those words echoed the harsh vows Putin made after the war began in 1999 — vows throttled back since the Kremlin put forth its civil-society strategy in 2002, after Russian forces were unable to wipe out the rebels despite their superior numbers and weaponry.
"The killing of Akhmad Kadyrov places a serious dilemma before the federal authorities," analyst Nikolai Ulyanov wrote on the news Web site strana.ru. "The establishment of a brutal state of emergency regime and direct (Russian) presidential rule cannot be excluded."
After the blast, police and soldiers launched a manhunt, detaining five suspects and raising the prospect of an expanded wave of the widely detested "mopping-up" operations in which soldiers seal off towns and round up teens and adult men to search for rebels.
But the last decade's two wars in Chechnya show a crackdown may accomplish little. Russian rockets and bombs reduced Grozny to a wasteland of jagged rubble, and heavily armed soldiers prowl every block, but rebels still infiltrate with impunity.
The placing of a huge bomb in a heavily guarded stadium appeared to indicate either that Russian soldiers and Chechen security officers were lax, or that some were in league with the bombers. In Chechnya, clan loyalties often supersede political alliances.
In that way, Rogozin believes Kadyrov doomed himself by allowing his son Ramzan to lead a Chechen security force that is widely resented and feared for its alleged kidnapping of civilians. Those abuses likely triggered the killing, he said.
"In other words, the clan played its role, to the detriment of professionalism," he said.