Separatist Chechen factions have been locked with Russian federal forces in a bitter and bloody battle for complete independence from Moscow since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Friday marked the beginning of the weekend-long Victory Day celebration in Russia, a widely celebrated holiday in which the Russian people commemorate the allied defeat of Nazi Germany 58 years ago. Millions of Russians lost their lives during World War II and the anniversary is traditionally observed throughout the vast nation with parades, concerts and ceremonies.
Despite plans for tightened security in Chechnya ahead of the holiday, a bomb that had been planted near the Dinamo stadium in the capital city of Grozny exploded early Friday, wounding at least three policemen.
Initial media reports indicated that one policeman was killed in the blast, although the Interfax news agency later reported that the Chechen Emergency Situations Ministry said that three people were injured in the blast and that one of the wounded is in critical condition.
The Moscow-backed Chechen leadership and military had planned to attend a Victory Day parade in the stadium Friday, but local authorities later cancelled the ceremony. Smaller celebrations in other parts of the republic were expected to go on as planned.
Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, immediately blamed the explosion on Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.
“Maskhadov would not have the population live calmly. He tricks young people into joining his ranks,” he said during a ceremony in a government building Friday, according to Interfax.
Kadyrov denied a link between the bombing and events planned to celebrate the Victory Day.
“The explosion went off on the neighboring territory and has nothing to do with the events planned at the stadium,” Kadyrov said.
He also reiterated his call for separatist fighters to stop engaging in acts of violence, promising that those who were not involved in “aggravated crimes, murders, abductions and the detonation of bombs” would not face criminal charges.
Victory Day celebrations in the Caucasus region in past years have been marred by violence, including last year when attackers launched two grenades into the Grozny stadium during a Victory Day parade, injuring a policeman.
Also in 2002, a bomb exploded during a Victory Day parade in the neighboring republic of Dagestan, killing at least 35 people. Moscow blamed the attack on Islamic militants from Chechnya. Four people are currently under arrest for the incident while six others are on local and international wanted lists in connection with the blast, according to the Moscow Times.
Thousands of native Chechens remain in refugee camps despite Russian claims that the region has gained enough stability for refugees to reclaim the homes they abandoned in the face of bitter fighting, crime and lawlessness as Russia’s current war with militant separatists enters its fourth year.
A survey of some 3,000 Chechen families from eight official and unofficial camps in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia conducted by the international humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, found that 98 percent of those surveyed would refuse to voluntarily return to Chechnya, based primarily on concerns about security.
Russian officials have said that they plan to further reduce the number of armed forces in Chechnya and place more responsibility for the republic’s security with local authorities.
In March 2003, more than 1,000 Russian servicemen were withdrawn from Chechnya and officials expressed an intention to cut the number of checkpoints throughout the region by some 20 percent.
“If the situation allows, we plan to further reduce excessive Defense Ministry units in Chechnya,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters on May 5, according to Interfax.