Russia’s "internal" problem

The gory images and footage coming out of the Middle School 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia, are deeply disturbing. They compel the international community, especially the powerful countries of the West, to look at where Russia might be headed under President Vladimir Putin. Consider. Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded a drastic shakeup of security forces' tactics against terror after the seizure of a school by Chechen militants ended in chaos and bloodshed. As the death toll from the furious battle that ended the siege in southern Russia rose to 330, nearly half of them children, Putin admitted on Saturday that authorities had failed to recognise or react effectively to the threats facing his country. Grief, anger and uncertainty pervaded Beslan, a normally sleepy town of 30,000, a day after the siege ended with wounded and half-naked children dodging hostage takers' bullets as they fled the school and security forces stormed the building. Blinking repeatedly to hold back tears, Alan strode through crowds of pale, exhausted people, thronging the town's squares and street corners and scanning lists in a desperate search for news of missing friends and relatives. Putin, dressed in a dark suit and tie and standing beside a Russian flag, denounced the gunmen who attacked "defenceless children". But, in the first criticism of his troops' handling of the siege, he said Russians had a right to demand more from security forces in times of crisis. Some Western experts have said the troops were unprepared and bungled their attack. According to Daily Times, there is trouble all round in the Caucasus. While the conflict was initially confined to Chechnya, it has now spilled over into Ingushetia, parts of Daghestan and North Ossetia. The epicentre of this trouble lies in the policies pursued by the Kremlin under Mr Putin. Under Mr Boris Yeltsin Russia tried to extricate itself from Chechnya in August 1996 through a deal clinched by Alexander Lebed, Russia’s former security chief. However, after the Russian withdrawal from Chechnya, no sustained effort was made by Moscow to pursue the issue politically. The situation was further complicated by violent events like the Moscow apartment bombings which the Kremlin laid at the door of Chechen separatists. Mr Putin himself rode to power on an agenda that, among other things, promised an end to the Chechen problem in favour of the Russian Federation. In other words, Mr Putin told his Russian voters that he would effectively put down the separatists and bring Chechnya to heel. The irony is that while Mr Putin tells the international community that his fight against the Chechens is part of the world’s war on terror and seeks international understanding for his actions there, he, nonetheless, does not want the international community to mediate the conflict because he considers it to be Russia’s “internal” problem. The recent incident in Ossetia is essentially linked to Chechnya. Mr Putin’s policies have caused such despair and sense of outrage in the region that there appears nothing left for the Chechens and Ingushetians except to give their own lives in order to take Russian lives. On both sides, innocent people continue to die. This is shameful and it has to come to an end. In a rare address to his nation at a time of grave crisis, President Vladimir V. Putin said on Saturday that the school siege in the southern city of Beslan was an attack on all of Russia and called for the mobilization of society to resist what he called "a total and full-scale war" to splinter the country. Mr. Putin appeared determined to show the government would and could act. He said he would soon propose measures to strengthen the nation's unity, to coordinate the political and security structures of Russia's Caucasian republics and to create a new emergency-management system. The failures of the existing system were painfully obvious in the government's confused and contradictory responses after the bombings of two passenger airliners on Aug. 24 and during the siege in Beslan, in the southern republic of North Ossetia. At a time when Mr. Putin's policies have been accused of strengthening the power of security services and otherwise eroding democratic freedoms, he emphasized that all the new measures would be within the bounds of Russia's Constitution. Although he made a broad appeal for national unity in the face of terror, he did not mention the war in Chechnya, a struggle linked to all of the attacks that have roiled the country. That suggested that he would not consider changing the Kremlin's strategy there, despite years of war and atrocities that have left the Chechen people embittered and the republic ruined, informs the NYTimes.

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