"This is very alarming," says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a leading Russian political scientist. "We're facing an enemy that wants to destabilize the situation for political purposes. Russia's prestige is at stake here. And if we can't cope with terrorists in our own capital city, how can we hope to prevent them from disrupting a big international event like the Olympics?"
Putin himself has taken center stage in recent days even though, under Russia's Constitution, national security should be the realm of President Dmitry Medvedev.
In a reprise of his "outhouse" comment, Putin told journalists on Tuesday that the militants will be "dredged from the bottom of the sewers."
After the Dagestan bombings on Wednesday, Putin drew an explicit link with the Moscow terror strike, saying "I don't rule out that [both actions] were carried out by the same group." Dagestani leader Magomedsalam Magomedov echoed that line, saying the Moscow and Kizlyar bombers were "links in the same chain."
Some experts believe Putin and Mr. Medvedev are engaged in an under-the-carpet struggle for control of the Kremlin in elections that are slated for 2012, and some suggest that swift action by Putin in the wake of the terror strikes may improve his chances
"If there are more terrorist acts, particularly in Moscow, we might even see emergency presidential elections," says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of Panorama, an independent Moscow think tank. "There is growing public unease, and this could be used against Medvedev. People associate Putin with a firm hand, and this situation can play into his hands."