Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev calls Kabardino-Balkariya "Sleeping Beauty" - an ironic tribute to both its rugged mountain scenery and its potential to be the next foothold for Russia's Islamic insurgents.
The bloodshed that exploded in its capital Nalchik on Thursday was a sign that the republic is going from sleep into a waking nightmare.
Like the other republics of the mostly Muslim Northern Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkariya has long been in the sights of Russian Islamic insurgents including Basayev. Their tactics have been to capitalize on the region's grinding poverty to swell their recruits, buy off corrupt police and other officials so they can ensure supplies of weapons, and unleash terrorist bombings and hit-and-run attacks against police with the aim of destabilizing state authority.
From the one-time rebel epicenter Chechnya, where Russian forces have been fighting rebels for the better part of a decade, the country's Islamic insurgency has spread and dealt a series of bruising attacks across the south. The second Chechen war began in 1999 with a rebel raid into the neighboring region of Dagestan, where Islamic extremists had seized control over several villages. Three years later, extremists bombed a military parade in the Dagestani town of Kaspiisk, killing 43 people. In June 2004, they unleashed a coordinated series of overnight attacks on Nazran, the largest city in Ingushetia, another region bordering on Chechnya.
Those attacks killed 92. Just three months later, rebels seized more than 1,000 hostages in a school in Beslan, in the North Ossetia region. The crisis ended in a hail of gunfire and explosions that left some 330 victims dead.
Those are only the headline-grabbing attacks, punctuating a steady series of bombings and shootings targeting police and security service officers - a low-grade war that some observers attribute as much to the region's notorious police brutality as to inroads made by militant Islam. More than 40 police officers have been killed in attacks in Dagestan this year alone, the AP reports.
Train bombings, blasts on gas pipelines and electric substations - all are skirmishes in the extremists' campaign.
Last December, rebels raided the Nalchik office of the federal drug control agency, killing four officers and making off with a whole arsenal of guns. That attack sparked a series of so-called special operations in Kabardino-Balkariya, in which police and security forces cornered suspected militants in apartments and destroyed them with heavy weapons fire.
Analyst Alexander Ignatenko said that the attack on Nalchik on Thursday represented more than the spread of extremism across southern Russia; like Russian officials, he said it showed that international terrorists, too, were encouraging instability in the region. A.M.