Sergei Strokan: The Russian people have been taken hostage

Despite the hardliners' grip, there is no security in Russia. One tragedy is followed by another

Share
Related Topics

The violent resolution of the siege in Beslan marks the moment of truth for Vladimir Putin's leadership. His rise to power five years ago was built largely on his vow to crush the Chechen rebellion after the devastating apartment bombings in Moscow. Like George Bush or Ariel Sharon he founded his leadership on the strength of a promise to restore law and order, stability and security. Security was our priority. Putin was strong, articulate, handsome and apparently honest - the antithesis of the Yeltsin era which had been marked by corruption, lack of discipline and havoc.

The violent resolution of the siege in Beslan marks the moment of truth for Vladimir Putin's leadership. His rise to power five years ago was built largely on his vow to crush the Chechen rebellion after the devastating apartment bombings in Moscow. Like George Bush or Ariel Sharon he founded his leadership on the strength of a promise to restore law and order, stability and security. Security was our priority. Putin was strong, articulate, handsome and apparently honest - the antithesis of the Yeltsin era which had been marked by corruption, lack of discipline and havoc.

So we made sacrifices. To allow Putin to achieve his goals we stood by as he closed newspapers and shut down liberal political parties. Everything that did not fit into his strategy of security and stability was labelled "anti-government". We were told that all these sacrifices were necessary to allow Russia to make a great leap forward. Like Deng Xiaoping's China, everything would have to be sacrificed for the sake of that greater goal. So now we have government TV where all the news programmes begin with the President's activities. We have a puppet parliament and intellectual dissidents once again leaving for the West. It was no coincidence that it was the independent media which were most critical of the war in Chechnya.

But the phenomenon that most characterises Putin's era is Russia's transformation into what many of us now call the land of the siloviki. Derived from sila which is Russian for power, it translates loosely as hardliners. It describes the influx into the apparatus of senior government of people with backgrounds in the KGB or the military. They constitute the faction that Putin depends on for power, and they are everywhere.

But now, in Putin's second term, we have also come to realise that despite the hardliners' grip on power, there is no security. One tragedy is followed by another. You could say that Russia's entire population has been taken hostage.

In recent days, those of us in the Russian media who sought answers from people in authority quickly realised that there was absolutely no coherent counter-terrorism strategy in place. Before the siege in Beslan, we had the explosion at an underground station that killed 10, and last week the crashing of two commercial airliners. We switch on the television to find some new terrorist atrocity under way. And this in the fifth year of rule by the hardliners.

The tragedy is that Russian society now accepts as inevitable that every few months we must face something like this. Contrast this with the reaction in Spain after the bombs in Madrid. The people turned out in their millions. Three days after Monday's bomb in Moscow, I passed the spot where the attack took place. The only thing out of the ordinary was a few bouquets of flowers on the pavement alongside the usual beggars and tramps. Even as the school siege was unfolding most people in Moscow continued their lives as normal. Of course they were shocked and appalled, but they saw no point in manifesting that anger in public.

The reason is that Putin and his hardline factions have done much to eliminate civic society. We the Russian people, as if hypnotised, have handed over control and responsibility in exchange for the promise of security. The trouble is Chechnya keeps on exposing the brutal truth that security is an illusion. Yet for Putin and his closest associates, to negotiate with terrorists would be a sign of weakness.

In any case, even this latest tragedy will not make Russians reconsider their attitudes to Chechnya. What most of them want is for Putin to adopt an even tougher line. Anyone identifiably from the Caucasus is already viewed in Russia as a potential terrorist. The anger felt at the ongoing vulnerability to terror may eventually spill out on to the streets; ethnic tensions will rise, perhaps resulting even in pogroms against Chechens or others from the Caucasus.

But for Putin and the siloviki, Beslan could be as devastating a blow as the humiliation for the Kremlin in 1995 when the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev took hundreds of patients hostage in a hospital in Budyonnovsk. More than 100 died during a botched raid by the Russian security services.

Leaders who build their power on the promise of security and stability can certainly rally their nations in moments of attack. But their weakness is that the ground on which their leadership is founded is so narrow. If they fail, the consequences are dramatic. Russian society is slow and people are patient. But sooner or later that patience will run out.

The author is a staff writer for the Russian newspaper 'Kommersant'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map