Putin Cancels Plans for Trip After Bombing at Rock Concert

New York Times

MOSCOW, July 6 — The day after two suicide bombers killed themselves and at least 13 others at a Moscow rock festival, President Vladimir V. Putin today canceled a planned trip abroad, and his interior minister pledged that those behind the attack "will be brought to justice and punished."

Mr. Putin's aides insisted that such violence would not derail plans to bring a popularly elected government and a workable peace to Chechnya, the southwestern province whose four-year separatist war appears almost certainly to be tied to the bombings on Saturday.

But in Chechnya, the violence continued unabated. Two mine explosions killed one Russian soldier and wounded four others today in the capital, Grozny, and four Russian soldiers died in a helicopter crash, which the military called an accident.

Hours earlier, on Saturday, a remotely detonated car bomb killed three Chechen policemen working for the pro-Russian local government.

Investigators had little to say today about who was responsible for the midafternoon bombings in Moscow on Saturday, which occurred at the crowded entrance to Tushino Aerodrome, about eight miles northwest of the Kremlin. As many as 45,000 rock fans were at the airfield at the time. The bombers, both of whom were women and one of whom carried Chechen identity documents, apparently detonated their devices after security guards demanded to search them.

"A huge investigation has been done by the F.S.B. and the Interior Ministry," the first deputy interior minister, Rashid G. Nurgaliyev, said on the RTR television network, using the acronym of the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor to the K.G.B. "A close relative of this terrorist has a direct relation to the Chechen illegal armed formations and was put on the federal wanted list last December."

Mr. Nurgaliyev said the two women were "part of a terrorist network aimed at carrying out acts of sabotage and terrorism on the territory of Russia and abroad," but declined to offer further details.

Officials originally said 16 people had died in Saturday's bombings, including the 2 bombers, but later lowered the toll by one. An estimated 40 people were in local hospitals with injuries, 5 of them reportedly in critical condition.

A Kremlin statement about Mr. Putin's plans said he had canceled his trip to Uzbekistan and Malaysia "in connection with the tragic consequences of the terrorist act in Moscow." The highlight of the journey was to have been the signing of an agreement to sell Russian-made fighter aircraft to the Malaysian military.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The political wing of the Chechen separatist movement, led by the onetime president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, denied involvement in the violence in a statement posted on an Internet site, www.chechenpress.com.

But Mr. Maskhadov's representative in London, Akhmed Zakayev, added in the statement that Russia could stop the attacks only by ending the Russian military's own violence in Chechnya. Russian soldiers have been widely accused of brutality and criminal actions against civilians during much of the war, and government efforts to root out and punish offenders have been lax at best.

Since the start of the year, Mr. Putin has carried out a vigorous campaign to replace Chechnya's Moscow-appointed government with a popularly elected one as part of a broader effort to impose a political settlement on the smoldering guerrilla war.

In March, Chechens lopsidedly voted in a referendum to approve a new constitution tying the province permanently to Moscow and establishing a newly elected set of rulers. Many critics say the vote was rigged in classic Soviet fashion, but others say the outcome probably reflected the will of a war-weary populace in any case.

Guerrillas battling the Russian presence in Chechnya have nevertheless rejected Mr. Putin's plans, and Mr. Zakayev was quoted today as saying terrorist acts "will be repeated and will become more frequent during the period of pre-election debates."

Mr. Putin said in a statement of condolences released this afternoon: "A bloody and vile crime has been committed — a crime against civilians. Among those who have perished are young people who were only just beginning their adult lives."

"The purpose of this act is obvious: to sow fear, suspicion and ethnic intolerance in our society," he said. "But we know that traitors to their own people and murderers have no future."