On September 1,
2004, the first day of school, a multiethnic group of over 30
radical Islamist terrorists, including two female suicide
bombers and some Chechens, took more than 1,000 children, teachers,
and parents hostage in Beslan, North Ossetia. The terrorists
deployed explosives around the school, hanging them from
basketball hoops in the gym, where most of the children were held.
This was the fifth massive hostage-taking event in Russia
since 1995, and it ended in tragedy. Shamil Basaev, leader of the
radical Islamist wing of the Chechen separatist movement, has taken
responsibility for the massacre.1
In the aftermath of
Beslan, the U.S. should emphasize to the Russian people,
President Vladimir Putin, and the Russian government that the two
countries are facing the same enemy. The U.S. should increase
outreach in the battle for Russia's hearts and minds, paying
particular attention to the younger generations of Russian
In addition to
these public diplomacy efforts, Presidents Putin and George W.
Bush should hold an anti-terrorism summit in the near future to
hammer out a joint anti-terrorism action plan. The two
countries should expand security cooperation in
anti-terrorist force structure; command, control, and
communications; and on techniques for dealing with hostage
situations. The U.S. and Russia should expand the range of joint
programs designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) to terrorist organizations, going beyond the
current Nunn-Lugar funding.
though the two countries face a common threat, the U.S. does not
have to agree to Russia's policies toward its neighbors. The U.S.
should support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all
post-Soviet states, and it should not remain silent if democracy in
Russia is rolled back. Instead, Washington should develop programs
that support growth of the nonprofit/nongovernment sector,
promote the rule of law, and help to advance transparent,
participatory, and democratic governance in Russia. The U.S. should
also expand support of the independent media in all forms,
including print, broadcasting, and Internet.
The Beslan tragedy
shook Russia on a scale comparable to how September 11 affected the
United States. Terrorists subjected the children and other hostages
to unspeakable abuses, denying them water and food, killing
some at random, and forcing many children to drink urine. Europe
has not seen such cruelty since the Nazi atrocities during World
War II and Stalin's genocidal exile of nations to Siberia and
After two days, the
terrorists triggered an explosion in the gym, and many
children ran from the building. The terrorists opened fire,
shooting and killing hostages. Russian special forces and the armed
local population attempted a rescue, but the death and destruction
of that day speaks clearly of a monumental security
scenes of small bodies in tiny coffins and parents breaking down in
grief at their children's graves shocked the world. Many
Russians watched the crisis on television, tears pouring
down their cheeks.
failures of the policy and security apparatus that failed to stop
the atrocities in Beslan were immediately obvious to Russian and
Western observers. The Russian intelligence networks-run by the
military, internal security forces, and the Ministry of Interior
police in the North Caucasus- failed to identify preparations for
the attack or provide timely intelligence that would have
allowed the terrorists to be intercepted en route to the
Nor was Beslan an
isolated incident: A few days prior to Beslan, two female suicide
bombers destroyed two Russian airliners in flight, and a Moscow
metro station and a bus stop were bombed.
The failure of the
rescue operation was also obvious. The top military commander
indicated that "there was no planning to rescue hostages" and
disclosed that 48 hours after the school was seized, the main
special forces were training 30 kilometers away. Even if negotiations
were underway, a rescue force should have been on location and
ready to respond at any moment. Furthermore, the rescuers had
only two or three armored personnel carriers to use as shields in
approaching the building. As a result, the special forces were
pinned down by the terrorists' heavy fire.
The terrorists were
permitted to dictate the operational tempo. They imposed the
rescue timing by setting off the explosives and put up a stiff
resistance that lasted for 10 hours, from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.,
when most of them were finally killed. Sporadic fire continued
until 4 a.m. of the next day.
building was rigged with explosives, the only chance to save
the children if negotiations failed would have been to
overwhelm the terrorists in a massive, precise surprise attack,
which would take out most of the perpetrators in the first few
minutes. Such an operation could have used advanced technology,
such as night vision goggles, stun grenades, body armor, and
incapacitating gas. Nothing of the kind happened.
Locals. Appallingly, the
security forces failed to remove hundreds of armed locals from the
scene. This failure to establish and enforce a police perimeter
allowed civilians to interfere with the rescue attempt. It placed
both the hostages and rescuers in their crossfire and exposed
civilians to terrorists' weapons fire, leading to entirely
avoidable civilian casualties. Furthermore, some terrorists
were allowed to break out of the building, and they engaged in
firefights until the next morning.
anti-terrorist forces were woefully unprepared. Beslan was Russia's
fifth massive hostage situation, with over 1,000 hostages; yet
Russian security forces demonstrated that they had learned
little from the debacles of Budennovsk, Pervomaysk, and Kizlyar in
the 1990s and from Dubrovka in 2002. They did not wear modern
Kevlar helmets or even bulletproof vests in some cases, and the
elite Alfa and Vityaz units lost 10 men-their largest losses in
Failures of Policy
Since the collapse
of the Soviet Union, both the Yeltsin and Putin administrations
have failed to reform the Soviet-era security services and the
Ministry of Interior police forces, which in turn failed to prevent
or adequately respond to the Beslan hostage situation. These are
still quasi-totalitarian political control and crime fighting
organizations, rife with corruption, as has been acknowledged
by President Putin as well as other senior Russian officials. They
are simply inadequate to the task of confronting modern local
and global terrorism.
Despite the recent
terrorist attacks on Russia, President Putin is ambiguous about
Russian cooperation with the West in fighting terrorism. After
the tragedy, Putin repeatedly bemoaned the passing of the
Soviet "great power," but he also recognized that Soviet
ideology suppressed numerous real ethnic conflicts.
Western intelligence services of maintaining contact with the
Chechen rebels. Clearly, he believes that the U.S. and other
Western powers support anti-Russian Chechen forces in an
effort to keep Russia pinned down and "involved in its own
problems." After all, Great Britain and the U.S. have
granted political asylum to some Chechen leaders.
Putin could have
also mentioned the fundraising activities conducted in the
West by radical Muslim groups to aid the "jihad" in
"Chechnistan." Such activities have been going on in Great
Britain and the U.S. for years but now seem to be coming to an end
(although fundraising for Chechnya is continuing in the Middle East
and throughout the Muslim world without interference). In this
regard, Putin's criticism may be legitimate in view of the Beslan
atrocities and Basaev's own admission that he received money from
abroad and, if offered, would have taken money from Osama bin
As an intelligence
professional, Putin should appreciate the difference between
information gathering and operational support. Instead, he is
apparently convinced that the West is preoccupied with creating an
irritant for Russia. In an earlier speech to the nation, Putin went
even further, saying that foreign powers are interested in
dismembering Russia and neutralizing it as a nuclear power; he
ignored, however, the much greater issue of the global Islamist
networks supporting the Chechen extremists.
Still, Putin left
enough common ground to infer that continuing cooperation with the
West in the war on terrorism is possible. He sent a clear
message that entrenched bureaucracies on both sides of the
Atlantic hamper U.S.-Russian security cooperation. He also
said that President Bush is a "good, decent man," "a reliable and
predictable partner," and someone he can "feel as a human being." He
also stated that terrorist attacks in Iraq are aimed at achieving
President Bush's electoral defeat.
Thus, despite his
vocal reservations concerning the West, Putin sent a message to the
Western leadership. Putin presented himself as open to
anti-terrorism cooperation, indicating that security
"professionals" on both sides are in contact and recognizing that
Cold War sentiments still excessively influence the
bureaucracies on both sides of the Atlantic. Putin is no doubt
aware of shared risks of terrorists gaining access to weapons of
Putin appears to understand the threat of global terrorism,
Russia's security apparatus does not seem to grasp sufficiently the
challenge of the jihadi menace. This is an enemy different from the
Cold War threats of "Western imperialism" and internal political
opposition. Externally, Soviet foreign intelligence fought the Cold
War against the U.S. and its European allies while, domestically,
the secret police were positioned to ruthlessly suppress any
political dissent among the unarmed population through
intimidation and incarceration.
religious unrest, however, is endemic to the territory of the
Russian empire and the Soviet Union, as prolonged guerrilla warfare
during the 18th-20th centuries in the Caucasus, Central Asia,
Western Ukraine, and Baltic states demonstrates. In particular,
ethnic-based warfare and insurgency have hardly been new to the
Caucasus-north and south-for the past two centuries.
Chance. President Putin
has admitted that the first Chechen war, unleashed by the
Yeltsin administration in the fall of 1994, in which 80,000-100,000
people were killed and over 100,000 became internally displaced,
was an error. After the Russian army's defeat in
Chechnya, Moscow granted the rebel region
quasi-independence in 1996.
"independent" Chechnya turned into a disaster for its own people.
Armed gangs and clans ran wild. Radical Sunni (called Wahhabi or
Salafi) clerics imported from Saudi Arabia have established Islamic
religious courts in the society, which had previously practiced a
rather lax version of Sufi Islam. Public hangings have
become commonplace. Thousands have been kidnapped for ransom. Slave
markets have appeared. Oil has been stolen from pipelines,
pipelines sabotaged, transit trains from Russia shot at, and
passengers robbed. Trafficking in drugs, arms, and other contraband
presence, including ties with al-Qaeda terrorists, has increased,
strengthening the leadership of radical Islamists such as Shamil
Basaev. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's second in command,
spent six months in Chechnya setting up training camps and
preparing for jihad. The Russian security services even arrested
al-Zawahiri, but unaware of his identity eventually let him
The Second Chechen
War. The second Chechen
war began in 1999 when a radical Chechen faction commanded by
Shamil Basaev invaded the neighboring republic of Daghestan.
Bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, in which
over 300 people died, greatly escalated matters. Basaev and the
radical faction he leads do not hide their geopolitical ambitions
of establishing a caliphate from the Black Sea to the Caspian.
Russia responded with a World War II- style invasion of Chechnya,
which resulted in massive destruction and heavy civilian
The second Chechen
war bolstered Putin's popularity and facilitated his election
to his first term in office in March 2000, but it also left
lingering problems. Tens of thousands of Chechen civilians were
displaced, killed, or wounded. After Beslan, however, Putin refused
to discuss the problems. Further, he asserted that the Chechen war
had nothing to do with the hostage taking in Beslan. The Russian
president offered no criticism of command, control, and
leadership failures or of doctrinal and organizational lapses
in fighting the terrorist war in the Caucasus and
economic, social, cultural, religious, and "hearts-and-minds"
issues desperately need attention throughout the Northern Caucasus.
President Putin understands this, at least to some degree. However,
it remains to be seen whether the newly installed nationalities
minister Vladimir Yakovlev, former mayor of St. Petersburg and a
political enemy of Putin, and the newly appointed Governor-General
of the Northern Caucasus Dmitry Kozak, a Putin can-do
confidante and former Cabinet secretary, are up to the demanding
To address today's
threats, Russia needs to rethink and revamp its anti-terrorism
approach, learn lessons from other countries and conflicts, and
establish new security structures that are capable of dealing
with 21st century terrorism. In such a predicament, one would think
that Russia would not look for adventures in the "near abroad" (the
other former Soviet republics) and would leave recent democratic
Prisoner of the
However, in the
days before and after Beslan, Putin and his inner circle overtly
questioned the sovereignty of Georgia and her post-Soviet
borders. Putin said, "When the Soviet Union collapsed, no
one asked the Ossetians and the Abkhaz whether they want to stay in
Georgia." Russia is also staunchly opposing the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's plan for a
peaceful settlement of the crisis in Transdniester, a secessionist
region in Moldova.
The message is loud
and clear: Post-Soviet borders are no longer sacrosanct.
Furthermore, in 2001, the Duma quietly adopted a constitutional
mechanism for incorporating foreign lands and countries into the
In Georgia, Russian
arms, Transdniester and Cossack volunteers, and Russian
peacekeepers under the umbrella of the Commonwealth of
Independent States have been deployed in South Ossetia
and Abkhazia. Russian gunboats have entered Georgian territorial
waters without authorization. One even had ultra-nationalist
Vladimir Zhirinovsky on board. Zhirinovsky was delivering the
gunboat as a gift to the Abkhaz separatist leadership.
Such events do not happen without the permission of Putin's
and passports, freely distributed to the secessionist
populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, undermine the national
identity of the Abkhaz and Ossetians as citizens of Georgia,
while these separatist elites benefit from contraband trafficking
and are supported with secret Moscow-based funds. Plans have even
been laid to reopen a railroad line from Sochi to Abkhazia without
leadership seems to have a blind spot. By trying to pull South
Ossetia and Abkhazia into Moscow's orbit, the Kremlin may be
inadvertently strengthening the case of Chechen
Revisions? Since 1992, Moscow
has supported sundry separatists-from Transdniester to Abkhazia and
South Ossetia to Nagorno-Karabakh-for a reason. These moves
open the door to revising other borders, especially in areas
heavily populated with Russian speakers, such as northern
Kazakhstan, Transdniester, and eastern Ukraine.
Russia may also
support border revisions in such areas as Nagorno-Karabakh, which
could have unpredictable consequences for the 10-year- old
Armenian-Azerbaijani cease-fire. Border revisions can be held
over the heads of uncooperative neighbors like the sword of
Damocles. Internationally, this can become a powder keg.
Undermining the territorial integrity of Russia's neighbors is
unacceptable to the U.S. and the European Union, and it is
dangerous to Russia itself.
Response After Beslan
Crying over the
phantom pains of empire will not protect Russia from terrorism.
Instead of revamping, retraining, and reorganizing Russia's
anti-terrorist and security services, Putin has opted for a massive
re-centralization of power-despite an outcry from the Russian
liberal elites. In doing so, he is taking the country on
a path reminiscent of the Soviet and czarist eras.
September 13, 2004, Putin announced the following measures
ostensibly to ensure that Russia is effectively
will no longer be elected by a popular vote. Instead, regional
legislatures will approve nominees submitted by the
All Duma deputies
will be elected through party lists in single-seat
A "public chamber"
will be established to provide public oversight of the
government, particularly of law enforcement and security
patrols, ubiquitous in the Soviet era, will be established and will
work in tandem with police to ensure that public order is
A special federal
commission will be set up to oversee the North Caucasus
The government will
re-establish a new Ministry for Regional Policy and
The government will
elaborate a system of responses to thwart terrorist threats.
essentially rebuilding the Soviet state security apparatus and
applying the 19th century Russian imperial model to a 21st century
state that is riddled with terrorism and corruption. For example,
there are also plans to the reintroduce police-issued residence
permits, similar to the Soviet-era propiska, to control
internal movement of the population.
These measures are
unlikely to provide an effective antidote to expanding
terrorism in the North Caucasus and Russia, and they reverse
democratic achievements of the 1990s. Nostalgia for the Soviet past
may beget new authoritarianism, as former Presidents Boris Yeltsin
and Mikhail Gorbachev warned in interviews on September 16, 2004.
Reverting to the
Past? Putin's decision to
nominate governors, doing away with their election, will not
only dilute Russia's developing democracy. It will effectively end
administrative ethnic autonomy, which was adopted by the
Bolsheviks after the 1917 coup.
The number of
regions-"federation subjects" as they are called in Russia-is
likely to be reduced through constitutional changes from 89 to
about 30. However, in the 21st century, it is extremely
difficult to govern a country that spans 11 time zones from
one political center. The information overload and corruption may
become severe enough to slow the pace of economic growth. Putin may
have to abandon his proclaimed goal of doubling Russia's gross
domestic product by 2012.
It is also
counterproductive to undermine the connection of voters and their
elected representatives by abandoning the single-district
system and shifting to elections by party lists.
unelected and disempowered "public chamber" to supervise the
security services will not solve Russia's flagging anti-terrorism
conundrum. There is no substitute for effective civilian control by
the legislative and civilian executive branches. Nor are
additional bureaucratic offices, such as the new Ministry for
Regional Policy and Nationalities, likely to resolve the
systemic problems of the Northern Caucasus.
What Should Be
In pursuing the
global war on terrorism, the U.S. should attempt to accomplish a
number of policy objectives with regard to Russia:
Russia as a
friendly partner in the anti-terrorism coalition;
to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,
especially preventing terrorists from acquiring such
up Russia as a
reliable supplier of oil and gas to the world market, in addition
to the Persian Gulf states, and keeping the Russian energy
sector open to U.S. and Western investment;
territorial integrity and independence of the post-Soviet
states of Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia;
the forces of
democracy in Russia, especially supporting civil society and free
To advance these
policy objectives, the Bush Administration should:
Russian people, President Putin, and the Russian government that
Russia and the U.S. are facing the same enemy, which threatens
their national survival, their peoples, and their most cherished
values. Presidents Bush and Putin should hold an anti-terrorism
summit in the near future to hammer out a joint anti-terrorism
action plan. In view of Beslan, President Bush should order a
review of U.S. policies on asylum for Chechen leaders, Chechen
fundraising in the U.S., and the U.S. intelligence community's
contacts with Chechen rebels.
in the battle for Russia's hearts and minds, paying particular
attention to the younger generations of Russian citizens. Cold War
paranoia still permeates the Russian elites. The U.S. Embassy in
Moscow is already busy reaching out to Russia's media, think tanks,
and government offices, but more needs to be done on the public
cooperation in anti-terrorist force structure, command, control,
and communications and on techniques for dealing with hostage
situations. The Trubinkov-Armitage Group run by the U.S.
Department of State and the Russian Foreign Ministry could
coordinate cooperation. A joint project, such as neutralizing
Shamil Basaev and his organization, could be undertaken
cooperatively. On the U.S. side, participants might include the
Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security and the CIA.
On the Russian side, participating offices might include the
Foreign Intelligence Service, Federal Security Service, Emergency
Situations Ministry (Russian FEMA), and Alfa and Vityaz
if it so desires, in strengthening transparency and civilian
control of the Russian security services. This can be
accomplished through expanded contacts between the Duma, the
Council of the Federation, and the U.S. Congress. Congress and
the Pentagon, as well as think tanks, could conduct a series
of seminars discussing the U.S. experience in this field in
a range of
joint programs that reduce WMD and terrorist threats to both
countries, going beyond the current Nunn-Lugar funding which
focuses on storage, safety, and security. Such programs should
actively prevent WMD proliferation to non-state actors. As both
countries have an interest in strategic arms reduction and
ballistic missile defense, such cooperation can help to transcend
Cold War fears. The U.S. and Russia should intensify
cooperation on joint ballistic missile defense and aggressive
non-proliferation to help further reduce Cold War sentiments.
sovereignty and territorial integrity of all post-Soviet
states. Expand cooperation with these countries via NATO's
Partnership for Peace and bilateral military-to-military ties,
exchanges, train-and-equip programs, and (where necessary)
limited troop deployment. Maintain and expand dialogue with Moscow
over contentious issues, such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as
well as the U.S. presence in Central Asia.
support freedoms of the press and of political organizations,
federalism and local self-governance, growth of the
nonprofit/nongovernment sector, and the rule of law and promote
transparent, participatory, and democratic governance in Russia.
This can be accomplished through joint activities involving
political parties, their institutions, and other nongovernmental
organizations, such as the International Republican Institute, the
National Democratic Institute, and the National Endowment for
Democracy in the U.S. and the Moscow Helsinki Group,
International Memorial Society, and Glasnost Defense
Foundation in Russia. The U.S. should also expanding support of the
independent media in Russia in all forms, including print,
broadcasting, and Internet.
The U.S. faces a
delicate and difficult policy challenge after Beslan. President
Putin is taking Russia in the direction of greater centralization,
which he believes will make Russia more secure and make it into a
greater power. An authoritarian Russia, lacking democratic checks
and balances, is likely to pursue a regional and even global
foreign policy that increases friction with the United States, its
vital interests, and its allies.
The U.S. should do
its best to encourage democracy, political pluralism, and media
freedoms and dissuade Moscow from becoming increasingly
authoritarian or expansionist. It should support Russia's weaker
neighbors, their independence, and their territorial integrity. At
the same time, the U.S. should avoid an unnecessary confrontation
with Russia while shoring up and expanding U.S.-Russian cooperation
in the global war on terrorism.
Ph.D., is Research Fellow in Russian and
Eurasian Studies in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
for International Studies at The Heritage
"Beslan Hostage-Taking a Big Success, Warlord Boasts," The Globe
and Mail, September 18, 2004, at
(October 6, 2004).
Olga Craig, "One
Little Boy Was Shouting: 'Mama.' She Couldn't Hear Him. She Was
Dead," telegraph.co.uk, May 9, 2004, at
(October 6, 2004).
Author's notes on
NTV (a Russian television network), 2 p.m. live broadcast from
Beslan, September 3, 2004.
Author's notes on
NTV, live news coverage, September 3-4, 2004.
Author's notes of
meeting of Western experts and journalists with President Vladimir
Putin, Moscow, September 6, 2004.
interviews with anti-terrorism officials, Washington, D.C., and
"Beslan Hostage-Taking a Big Success, Warlord Boasts."
"Vystuplenie prezidenta RF V. Putina na rashirennom zasedanii
pravitel'stva RF" (speech of the President of the Russian
Federation V. Putin at the expanded meeting of the Cabinet of the
Russian Federation), September 13, 2004, at
(October 6, 2004).
"Putin Urges Voters to Support Bush," CNN.com, October 18,
2004, at www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/europe/
10/18/putin.iraq/index.html (October 18, 2004).
authorized a Russian nuclear technology deal to complete the
nuclear reactor in Bushehr, Iran, despite Tehran's support for
"Chechnya Relief Fund," at
(October 7, 2004). See also Thomas de Waal, "Europe's Darkest
Corner," The Guardian, August 30, 2004, at
(October 7, 2004).
"Ministry for Regional, Nationalities Policy to Be Restored,"
September 13, 2004, at www.itar-tass.com/eng/
level2.html?NewsID=1241323&PageNum=0 (October 6,
Putin's Envoy to Terror-Hit South Russia," MosNews.com,
September 13, 2004, at www.mosnews.com/
news/2004/09/13/yakovlev.shtml (October 7, 2004).
Military Ship Pursues Motorboat with Russian Duma Deputies,"
Pravda, August 11, 2004, at english.pravda.ru/
printed.html?news_id=13725 (October 7, 2004).
"Abkhazians Opt for Russian Citizenship," The Moscow News,
June 26, 2002, at english.mn.ru/english/ issue.php?2002-26-6
(October 7, 2004).
"Moscow Breaches Sochi Agreement on Abkhazia," Eurasia Daily
Monitor, August 04, 2004, at
(October 7, 2004).
For a typical
criticism, see Andrey Piontkovsky, "Putinskaya Shinel," Fond
Liberal'naya Missiya, September 17, 2004, at
www.liberal.ru/article.asp?Num=213 (October 7,
Dr. Yevgeny Volk,
Coordinator of The Heritage Foundation's Moscow Office, summarized
reanimiruyet institut propiski," Pravda, September 21, 2004,
at news.pravda.ru/politics/2004/09/21/67505.html (October 7,
Steven Lee Myers,
"The World-Dark Age; Putin Gambles on Raw Power," The New York
Times, September 19, 2004, Section 4, p. 1.
Russian News and
Information Agency, "President's Adviser on Doubling GDP," August
12, 2004, at en.rian.ru/rian/
(October 7, 2004).
Foundation analysts James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., and Jack Spencer
contributed to this recommendation.