The bloody end to the hostage crisis in Russia leaves unfathomable human suffering. More than three hundred children, parents and teachers died in the grusome 52-hour siege that began when heavily armed Chechens–and possibly other guerrillas–stormed Beslan's Middle School #1.
The unconscionable slaughter of the innocents came just days after a female suicide bomber–most likely one of the "black widows," women who have lost husbands, brothers or sons in the Chechen war–blew herself up at a central Moscow subway station, killing nine bystanders and wounding scores of people. And this after two airliners crashed on August 24th–apparently blown up by terrorists.
These latest acts expose the bankruptcy of Vladimir Putin's policy toward Chechnya. After three years of peace, negotiated by Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin with the Chechen secessionists in 1996, Putin came to power by championing a renewed military offensive in the already war-torn region. A series of apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities that year were blamed on Chechen insurgents, and created mass popular support for the dispatching of tens of thousands of troops to the region. (A new Russian documentary, Disbelief, which was shown for the first and, so far, only time last week in Moscow, explores allegations that the Russian security forces set off the bombings as a pretext to secure Putin's electoral victory and create support for re-launching the war.) Early success in the war turned Putin, then Prime Minister, into a national hero and he easily won election as Yeltsin's handpicked successor.
From the beginning, Putin built his career and image on a promise to bring stability, order and security to the Russian people. Instead, the Russian President's brutal military policies–and his unyielding refusal to negotiate a political resolution with the Chechen government in exile, led by the last freely elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov–have spurred the wave of terrorism that now afflicts Russia.
During the past two years alone, more than 1,000 Russians have been killed in a series of increasingly lethal terrorist attacks inside Russia, including those in a Moscow theater in October, 2002.
Meanwhile, since the first war began in 1994, more than one hundred thousand Chechens, many also civilians, have been killed since 1994. A generation of young Chechens has grown up knowing nothing but war, brutality and the killing of family members. The once vibrant capital city of Grozny has been bombed into rubble. A decade of fighting has decimated the country's labor force, devastated its agricultural base, destroyed its infrastructure and left many people with deplorable living standards.
Russian troops have used harsh occupation tactics, destroying villages, rounding up and "disappearing" young men. Rape, according to human rights reports, is a routine feature of this merciless war. The decades-long conflict has strengthened the hand of the most murderous and extremist elements among the Chechen insurgency–such as those led by Shamil Basayev, who allegedly planned the school siege. It has also fueled even greater excesses of dehumanizing violence.