Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to his press secretary, is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and outraged by the anti-terrorist operation (ATO). Russian propaganda is literally going off the rails. They are shedding endless streams of crocodile tears via federal TV channels’ coverage of civilians suffering and dying, allegedly at the hands of Ukrainian security forces.
It is really weird, by the way. Russia has long faced the problem of terrorism. Explosions in Moscow and other cities were commonplace until relatively recently. How did the Russian authorities fight terrorists and, most importantly, how did they took care of the safety of civilians during counterterrorism operations?
In October 2002, a group of armed militants led by Movsar Barayev took and held hostages in the building of the Moscow Ball-Bearing Plant JSC’s House of Culture in the historic district of Dubrovka, South-East Moscow. The event has been known ever since as the Terrorist Attack in Dubrovka.
Terrorists broke into the auditorium and other areas of the house of culture during performance of musical Nord-Ost, popular at the time. As much as 916 people were in the building at the time of the attack. Some of them managed to leave it. At various points the terrorists released a few dozen people, mostly foreigners, Muslims, and children.
On the third day of the crisis, security services began the assault. To neutralize the militants, they pumped through the ventilation system a gas unknown to medical staff. As a result, according to official figures, 130 hostages perished (according to the Nord-Ost NGO, the true figure is 174). However, doctors were not told how to deal with the effects of gas, and many people died not in the auditorium, but during evacuation or even after arrival to hospitals. Why the Russian authorities did what they did, has remained unknown. There have never been any official statements or explanations from the authorities. Informally, they said it had been necessary to keep the operation secret. The question remains, what use could there be of secrecy after all the militants were killed and people were taken to hospitals or given medical assistance on the spot.
It seems that human lives were just sacrificed in the name of so-called operational secrecy.
The terrorist attack in Beslan on September 1, 2004 was the most tragic event in Russia in the preceding decade. In the city’s school No. 1, more than 1,300 people, including schoolchildren, their families and friends, were taken hostage. As a result of the chaotic assault on the school conducted by security forces and locals, 334 hostages, including 186 children, died, and 800 were wounded. Beslan lost approximately the same number of adult men killed during the Second World War. As they say, there is no need for further comments.
Later, the authorities claimed that the terrorists had blown up the room where most of the hostages had been held. Some doubted this, but they did not have evidence, or the authorities simply would not listen to them.
Clumsy government actions caused quite a strong reaction in the country. Commissions of inquiry were set up, but they pretended to inquire into the matter rather than really doing it. In particular, this applies to the activities of the parliamentary committee of inquiry into the attack. The Women of Beslan Committee repeatedly stated that there was no clear answer to the following questions: Who led the operation to rescue the hostages? What mistakes were made? Why there were so many victims? By the way, women of the committee found the grenade launcher that was probably fired at the school causing its roof to cave in, killing, in their opinion, most victims. Shells were incorrectly numbered, even though the final outcome of the investigation depended on thorough collection of these pieces of evidence. They found a garbage dump containing plenty of evidence that had been simply swept away by a bulldozer “to clean up the town” before the arrival of President Putin, preventing many details of the attack from coming to light. It seems that the authorities were not just less than eager to investigate the tragedy, but actually willing to derail the investigation.
The Kremlin used the terrorist attack in Beslan for international legitimization of its actions in the North Caucasus. A meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) was convened in its wake. Not surprisingly, the world that had not yet fully come to its senses after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, supported the actions of the Russian authorities. According to some analysts, Russia’s convening of the UNSC was intended to ensure international support for any military action that Moscow might take against militants. As reported then by the British newspaper The Guardian, “the UNSC statement, which supports Russia’s right to take forceful actions to protect its population from terrorist threats, will silence critics of its military activities in Chechnya. This document can put any future armed actions by Russia on equal footing with the United States’ decision to invade Afghanistan after the events of September 11, 2001.”
Do not be surprised with the Kremlin’s double standard. It extends not only to Ukraine, but to the so-called protective actions in Russia itself. Even a cursory analysis of counter-terrorism operations conducted by Russian security services clearly shows that no one cares about the lives and health of hostages and civilians during such operations. It seems that a large number of victims of such attacks, which human rights activists and opposition suspect the authorities themselves of being behind, is actually the Kremlin’s objective. It scares the population into submission, creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the country. It is no coincidence that fighting terrorism was used as a cover for an all-out attack on democratic freedoms.
Terrorist attacks gave Putin an opportunity to establish an authoritarian regime in Russia.
Now, the Kremlin is accusing the Ukrainian government of doing what the former did itself. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN falsely accused the Ukrainian authorities as they conducted the ATO, saying: “Here, you see, first blood was shed.” We are not comparing casualties of Russian counterterrorism operations and the Ukrainian ATO. The latter is not yet over. Let us look at the diplomatic position of Russia.
It would seem that the world has long known how little the Russian government’s statements on the events in eastern Ukraine are worth. Why, then, did it initiate the UNSC meeting and repeat at length its hackneyed and false arguments? Why did it show once again the international isolation of Russia? After all, casualties caused by incompetence of the security services displayed in Moscow and Beslan are well-known and, as they say, these facts reflect very badly on the Russian security forces and the entire Russian leadership.
This is for internal use only. The government is escalating the situation in the country, explaining and showing to Russians that the world is against them, the country is under siege, and the fate of the “Russian world” is being decided now in southeastern Ukraine. Volunteers are rallying who are willing to march to Ukrainian southeast and sweep everything in their path.
The Kremlin is in a hurry, as it has less than a month left. If it fails to disrupt the presidential elections in Ukraine, Putin will have lost his battle, with unpredictable consequences for him.
As a result, we should expect intensification of terrorist activities of Russian agents and commando units in the southeast. If Putin is ready to sacrifice his fellow citizens to achieve his goals, Ukrainians can expect even worse treatment.
It is another distinctive feature of the “Russian world,” which Russia is willing to draw Ukraine in by any means.