Despite his publicly cultivated image as a strong leader protecting his people, Vladimir Putin’s Russia still sees terrorist attacks with depressing frequency.
It is the twelfth anniversary of Moscow’s Nord-Ost theatre siege in which 130 people were killed, partly by terrorists and partly by Russia’s botched storming. Here is the story.
In 1999 Prime Minister/soon to be President Vladimir Putin raged about terrorists who blew up Moscow apartment buildings that, “we will waste them on the toilet…. the issue has been resolved once and for all.” More than one respected journalist has since cited what they say is evidence that Putin and the Russian state may have blown up the apartment buildings themselves in order to create popular support.
It was in September ten years ago that North Caucasus terrorists took hundreds of children and teachers hostage in a school in Beslan. Again the terrorists, and again what some say was a botched storming lead to more than 330 deaths, 186 of which were children. 447 Russians have gone the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Russia breached the victims’ right to life over Beslan.
These are a few examples which should prove that that Russia’s large, military and regular ‘anti-terror’ operations don’t work. In its turbulent North Caucasus, the home of Chechnya, Dagestan and countless terror attacks over the past 15 years, a suicide bomber recently blew himself up in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, which Moscow had previously thought pacified. Elections there have regularly returned near 100% of votes for Putin. But don’t mistake toleration, under the barrels of Russian guns, as support for Putin and Moscow. The security forces are about the only ethnic Russians left in the North Caucasus.
Putin may make a macho show of things. But the words of a Russian government spokesman at the European Court hearing into Beslan are more telling: ”It is no secret that terrorist attacks, particularly hostage-takings, are very difficult to predict. The sad experience has shown that even the strongest states, with a high level of public security, are not guaranteed against such cases and very often have nothing in the face of the terrorist threat.”
Before and since Beslan, huge expenditures of Russian money and the heavy handed use of force have failed for ignoring the root causes of terrorism in Russia. Kicking in people’s doors all over the North Caucasus, killing people there, and moves like trying to make the families of terrorists pay for their acts do nothing to endear the Russian government to locals. And it is that continued antipathy and fear on the part of non ethnic Russian populations which fuels the continued recourse to terrorism.
Russians shouldn’t believe in Putin’s strong man image. He promised to protect them. But he hasn’t.