The NIS Observed: An Analytical Review
Volume IX Number 14 (15 September 2004)

Russian Federation

Executive Branch by Susan J. Cavan
Security Services by Eric Beene
Armed Forces by Jeff Kubiak and Kyle Colton

Newly Independent States

Western Region by Elena Selyuk
Caucasus by J. Ariela Shapiro

Central Asia by Fabian Adami

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President Putin addressed Russia’s shocked population following the terrible resolution of the hostage taking of school children, their parents and teachers in North Ossetia. Rather than take the opportunity to calm and reassure the population or focus on reptilian traits in the perpetrators, threatening to bomb them in their "outhouses" and vowing revenge, Putin took a longer view of events, focusing on the foundational shifts and detritus of empire caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"We all hoped for change, change for the better. But many of the changes that took place found us unprepared. (…) [W]e need to admit that we did not fully understand the complexity and the dangers of the processes at work in our own country and the world. (…) [W]e proved unable to react adequately. We showed ourselves to be weak. And the weak get beaten." (1)

He went on to assert that the vulnerability of the fledgling Russian state of the 1990s allowed those who believed that Russia "still represents a threat to them" to attack by various means, including terrorism. (2) The frequency of the recent attacks (including the airplane explosions and the Moscow subway bombing), along with the barbarity of this particular incident however, led Putin to claim that Russia is in the midst of a "total, cruel and full-scale war," which requires the mobilization of the entire nation as well as the creation of a "more effective security system" and "an organized and united civil society." (3)

Reaction to and analysis of Putin’s address generally presumed the creation of a security services über-agency to coordinate threat response, crisis management and inter-agency cooperation, particularly for the North Caucasus region. Gleb Pavlovsky, President of the Effective Policy Fund and onetime Kremlin pet ideologue, identified the general problem confronting authorities as "the discrepancy between our political system, on the one hand, and the state of society and its security needs, on the other." (4) Pavlovsky’s remedy requires "restoring the political system described in the Constitution. Today it is paralyzed and seized by anonymous power groups, which are responsible for corruption both in the power structures and in politics. (5)

It now appears that prognosticators were correct: President Putin, in a special government meeting on September 13, urged that special focus be given the creation of a unified vertical power structure, with regional governments eschewing elections to their executive branches in favor of selection by legislative assemblies. (6) He further proposed dropping the system of single-mandate constituencies, by which half of the Duma is elected, relying instead on party-based proportional representation — convenient for a President who effectively controls the major parliamentary parties. Apparently, Putin recognized the potential criticism inherent in his proposals and spent some time in his address on the 13th describing the "Public Chamber" that would provide for the input of citizens and serve as "a platform for dialogue." (7) Unfortunately, an amorphous discussion club, even if it has the right to criticize the security services, does not approach the right of citizens to elect representatives to a legislative body, which is actually permitted to initiate legislation.

In addition to the proposed electoral reforms, Putin created a Federal Commission on the North Caucasus, to be headed by the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Southern Federal District. He promptly appointed his right-hand reformer, Dmitri Kozak, to the post. (8) The appointment of Kozak suggests that Kremlin policy vis-à-vis the Caucasus will be approached with long-term, strategic interests in mind, rather than heavy-handed and vengeance driven security actions. Kozak, who is responsible for Putin-era efforts at judicial reform, regional reform and the well-devised, but poorly implemented, bureaucratic restructuring has developed a pattern of tackling issues of corruption and negligence through institutional avenues, (rather than the personality-centric efforts of the Yel’tsin years), albeit with a mottled record of success.

Putin also touched blood-curdlingly often on the need for stricter security measures: against the financial channels of terrorists, against those who "hide behind religious, nationalist and other slogans," and proactively on the need to preempt terrorists "to destroy them, so to speak, in their own lair. And, if the situation requires it, to get them from abroad." (9)

It may also be valuable to keep in mind further comments by Gleb Pavlovsky, who stepped further into the fray than has Putin, but voiced what most fear are this president’s views. "We cannot tolerate the fact that terrorists are referred to as "rebels" in the official documents of our partners…. We must insist that any, even token support of terrorists, is an unfriendly act of complicity. (…) A new level of reasonable cruelty (though not aggressiveness) is needed with regard to our neighbors. One cannot ignore the fact that the terrorists came to Ossetia after Mr. Saakashvili unfroze the Georgia-Ossetia conflict. Previously, it did not occur to any terrorist to go in there." (10)

As much sympathy as the attack in Beslan may elicit in us all, it bears remembering that Russia must not be allowed to rationalize expansion and hostility toward the post-Soviet independent states on its borders, even though they invoke the War on Terror as justification.

Sergei Markov, President of the Political Studies Institute, anticipates new acts of terrorism in the near future. He highlighted the increasingly international nature of terrorism in Russia, worrying that, despite rhetoric to the contrary; the security services have focused primarily on "Chechen separatism" and have ignored the "new military-political force" that has "turned the Chechen separatists into mercenaries." (11)

Stanislav Belkovsky, Head of the National Strategy Institute calls both for a radical restructuring of the political elite with the strengthening of executive power, and a reconcentration of authority for the security services in the re-creation of "a sort of analogue to the KGB of the former USSR." (12)

Some of the country’s most insightful journalists, Masha Gessen, Yulia Latynina, Pavel Felgenhauer among others, chose to scrutinize the events in Beslan and its aftermath not in light of President Putin’s address, but rather by the administration’s actions. Whether the framework was the willful disregard of history and Russia’s record of abuses in Chechnya, or the "monstrous incompetence" of the political, security and military officials, their analyses seemed to share an unsettling conclusion, best summed by Felgenhauer, "Terrorists in Russia display a blatant disregard for human life, and the Kremlin does the same." (13)

While Russian commentators were left to extrapolate from Putin’s remarks to predict a course of behavior, foreign analysts were treated to a special three-hour session with the President. While a transcript has yet to be published, it is clear that the journalists came away from the meeting with a clear message for western leaders: Criticism of Russian actions in Chechnya, in the wake of Beslan, is no longer acceptable behavior. Russia must be accepted as a partner in the war on terrorism and its enemies must not be given comfort by word or deed. The suggestion that Russia should have negotiated with the hostage-takers in Beslan generated an angry analogy from Putin: "I don't advise you to meet Bin Laden, invite him to Brussels and NATO or the White House, hold talks with him, and let him dictate what he wants so that he will then leave you alone. But you tell us that we should talk to everyone, including child-killers." (14)

Putin, his new Chief of the General Staff, Yuri Baluyevsky, and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have all made clear that they intend to make use of a doctrine of pre-emptive strike. The circumstances and target of such a strike may be unclear, as yet, but Georgia and its troublesome Pankisi Gorge, surfaces repeatedly as a possible mark. Disturbingly, the issue of the identity (nationality and financing) of the Beslan hostage-takers seems to have taken a back seat to plans for retribution.

While U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has spoken out about President Putin’s program to realign the "vertical of executive power" in Russia, it would be far more edifying to see a strong U.S. stance on the territorial integrity of the sovereign states of the former Soviet Union. If sovereignty still obtains in the international community, then foreign interference in independent states is a more appropriate topic for criticism then domestic authoritarianism, however disconcerting. It bears noting that before the United States attacked Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, proof was offered to (and accepted by) neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, that our targets were indeed the culprits of the September 11th attacks.



  1. Address by President Vladimir Putin, 4 Sep 04 via (
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Izvestiya, 6 Sep 04; Official Kremlin International Broadcast via Lexis-Nexis.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Speech at the Enlarged Government Meeting, President Putin, 13 Sep 04 via
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Izvestiya, Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. "Disregard for Human Life," by Pavel Felgenhauer in The Moscow Times. 7 Sep 04 via Lexis-Nexis; "What drives the separatists to commit such terrible outrages?" by Masha Gessen in, 04 Sep 04 via Johnson’s Russia List, #8537, 7 Sep 04; "Heroism and Monstrous Incompetence," by Yulia Latynina in The Moscow Times, 8 Sep 04 via JRL, #8537.
  14. The Independent, "School Massacre" by Mary Dejevsky, 7 Sep 04 via Lexis-Nexis.



By Susan J. Cavan (





The Putin administration relies heavily on its special forces units, particularly in the most serious situations, such as the Beslan school siege, where they were dispatched to rescue the hostages. Although Russian leadership claims that they performed admirably are clearly unsupportable in light of the tremendous loss of life, these units are developing a track record, in terms of both players and tactics, that bears careful analysis.

What happened?

Early in the siege, President Vladimir Putin cut short his holiday and returned to Moscow to meet with members of his security team, including FSB director Nikolai Patrushev and MVD (Interior) Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev. (1) Shortly after, Putin sent Patrushev and Nurgaliyev to Beslan, but they were not visibly active during the rest of the siege. Instead, former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and Dr. Leonid Roshal, a key figure during the Moscow theater siege in 2002, assumed roles as negotiators, although it is unclear whether they represented the government. The government official sent to contact the hostage-takers was Aslambek Aslakhanov, President Putin's spokesman and adviser on Chechnya, but he did not arrive until after the firefight had begun. (2) Regional security service head Valeri Andreyev appeared to be the most visible government official, although his statements were reminiscent of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the infamous Iraqi information minister, since he severely underreported the number of hostages to the local press and citizens, who almost certainly were aware of the higher figures. (3)

Security forces, including local police forces, members of the Russian army, and the FSB Alfa and Vympel units (and possibly also members of the Interior Ministry’s OMON unit) quickly surrounded the besieged school. (4) The small town saw many of its citizens surrounding the school as well, some even armed with personal weapons. On-scene negotiators talked to the hostage-takers, but only 26 women and children were released, on the afternoon of 2 September (5) Although President Putin stated that his main aim was to save the lives of the hostages, it seemed a difficult task to pursue especially given his policy of absolutely no negotiations with terrorists.

The siege quickly settled into a stand-off, with the hostage-takers keeping all hostages in the center of the school gymnasium surrounded by explosives set to go off with simple foot-triggers, or other mechanisms designed for easy activation should the building be stormed or gassed, as special forces notoriously had done in the Moscow NORD-OST theater siege. Hostage-takers also brought along dogs, presumably as an added defense against such an attack. (6)

The stand-off broke on the morning of 3 September shortly after the rebels agreed to allow the bodies of the dead to be removed. It is unclear precisely how the siege broke: either armed civilians, perhaps out of frustration, fired first, causing the hostage-takers to believe they were being stormed and then to detonate the explosives; or the hostage-takers unintentionally detonated one of the explosives, causing the civilians and special forces to assume the hostages were in immediate peril, which sent them charging at the school. (7) In either case, pandemonium prevailed within and outside the school, characterized by a wild firefight of indiscriminate shooting. When the violence ended some ten hours later, over 350 hostages had been killed along with most if not all of the 30-plus hostage-takers, and hundreds more had been injured. Well over a dozen special forces troops were killed as well, including the commander of the Alfa unit. (8)


By the measure President Putin set early in the siege–saving the hostages–the actions of the government certainly were not crowned by success. In terms of capturing or killing the hostage-takers, he may have found grounds for consolation. But neither Putin’s aim of enhancing his country’s security nor the separatists' declared aim of enhancing the prospect of Chechen independence, was furthered in this action, making it a tragedy from every perspective.

It is useful to trace the development of the mass hostage-taking tactic in Russia over the past decade to see how it has evolved and where it is likely to be headed. The first such event on record was the 1995 siege of the Budyonnovsk city hospital by Chechen separatists. Hostage-takers held upwards of 2,000 hostages in a multi-day siege in which Russian security forces repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to storm the hospital. Shamil Basaev, Chechen rebel commander and leader of this siege, demanded that Russian forces be removed immediately from Chechnya or all hostages would be killed. He stated further that he had no apprehension about dying himself, and neither did any of his cohorts. Negotiators secured the release of over 200 hostages at one point, but fighting followed again shortly. As a stand-off developed, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin personally called Basaev, appealing for a solution (these telephone negotiations were broadcast to a side audience). In the end, all remaining hostages were released and the hostage-takers themselves were allowed to escape to Chechnya. Altogether, over 100 hostages were killed. (9)

Approximately six months later, separatists took over another hospital in Kizlyar, with another 2,000 hostages. The outcome was similar, this time 23 hostages were killed and all the hostage-takers returned to Chechnya. (10)

In 1996 a de facto peace agreement with Chechnya was reached that fell apart after several years with the beginning of the Second Chechen War. In 2002, over 40 Chechen separatists took over a Moscow theater during a crowded performance, taking over 700 hostages. This three-day siege featured similar demands for the removal of Russian troops from Chechnya in exchange for the hostages. This time, hostage-takers rigged bombs around the theater to preclude special forces from storming the building. These special forces, specifically the FSB Alfa unit, were reported to be practicing on a replica theater building during the stand-off in preparation for a siege. In a rather innovative approach, Russian special forces pumped a gas into the theater to incapacitate the hostages (and the captives) before taking the building. While this ended the stand-off, it resulted in the loss of approximately 140 of the hostages (mostly due to the effects of the gas), and most or all of the hostage-takers. (11)

With each of these events, including the school siege at Beslan, both hostage-takers and would-be rescuers appear to have taken lessons from previous events. The early events may have taught the hostage-takers that should the primary plan fail, it was possible to negotiate an escape. They may have taken note also of the popularity of the attacks among many Chechens–being able to take the battle to Russia proper may have been intended as a morale booster.

It is likely the Beslan hostage-takers paid particular attention to events at the Moscow theater, perhaps the least successful hostage-taking action to that point. To guard against the effects of another gas attack, they smashed the windows and brought in dogs. Against storming by special forces, they rigged the explosives with what were effectively hair triggers. They ensured that their determination was unmistakable by sacrificing two of the women hostage-takers early in the siege. Finally, they asked for specific persons to help with negotiations, individuals that they expected to work with them.

The Russian forces at Beslan appear to have kept the previous sieges in mind as well. While the tactics special forces used in the 2002 theater siege showed innovation, the loss of so many hostages was viewed as extreme and essentially precluded the repeated use of gas. Early in the Beslan siege, Putin himself declared that special forces would not storm the school, presumably a move to give the local population some confidence that government forces themselves would not cause unnecessary loss of life. Specific FSB units were employed repeatedly in these sieges, probably to exploit any experience gained. In both the theater and the school drama, these special forces were reported to be practicing a rescue attempt during the stand-off. As the previous events had lasted three to five days each, it appears that the government forces in Beslan assumed they would have more time to plan for a rescue than the 52 hours between the school take-over and the beginning of the firefight. One notable difference in the case of the Beslan siege, however, was the intervention of armed locals related to the hostages, clearly a complicating factor that had not been well-considered. Christian Northern Ossetia is traditionally pro-Russian, so little local sympathy for the Chechen cause was to be expected, but neither was the natural anger of parents of the hostage children, wishing to kill the captors.

Perhaps the most striking aspect was the apparent lack of coordination among government forces. Was Andreyev, the regional security head, actually in charge and was he obfuscating details purposely early in the crisis, or was he simply unprepared for the spotlight, making up numbers as he spoke? Did the police purposely set up a loose cordon that allowed armed civilians through or was it simply sloppy? Were the special forces taken by surprise by the firefight, or did they intend to force the hostage-takers’ hands? President Putin has conceded the need for investigations, but it is unclear what results will be made public. (12) In fact, Putin’s own policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists (13) left few options. The local police was unable to prevent a sizable cache of explosives and truckloads of hostages taken from entering the school on the first day of classes. Was this the result of incompetence, corruption, or both? The special forces, assuming they are the most professional and dependable of all Russian military entities, seemed singularly inept to handle the situation. Whether they had a hand in the start of the firefight or not–the loss of so many of their numbers along with the hostages (caught in the cross-fire), must be viewed as a catastrophic failure. However, even the most capable western forces might have had considerable difficulty responding to a Beslan-style siege.


While Putin’s internal investigation will provide ample justification for any punishment he sees fit, it is unlikely any senior administration official will be sacked for this, especially as so many of them are long-time associates of the president. At best there may be a minor cabinet shuffle.

An easy scapegoat for this catastrophe is the regional security services director, Valeri Andreyev. Not only was he egregious in his presentation of misinformation, his subordinates failed to prevent the siege in the first place. North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiyev has accepted his failings in the attack and handed in his resignation. Aleksandr Dzasokhov, the president of North Ossetia, has vowed to dismiss the entire regional government as well (excluding himself, of course).

It is unlikely that any personnel moves, however warranted the dismissal may be, will preclude the next hostage-taking event, or even the loss of more hostages. Real change at the tactical and operational level must include scenario-based training involving all elements of the chain of command and all involved organizations–FSB, the Interior Ministry, Army and Police forces (especially Moscow police)–not to prevent the next crisis, but to bring it to a more effective end. A helpful addition to the process would be the inclusion of a dedicated negotiations team to work with hostage-takers not to assess their policy demands but to help trade time for lives and attempt to free hostages without gunfire, Putin’s no-negotiations policy notwithstanding.

Preventing such events, however, is more problematic. Undoubtedly a more effective response capability will reduce the perceived value of such events in the future, but with hostage-takers placing little value on their own lives, it is likely the threat of such events will continue to exist.

Source Notes:

  1. "As it happened: Russian school siege," BBC News World Edition, 4 Sep 04, and Yulia Latynina, "Heroism and Monstrous Incompetence," Moscow Times, 8 Sep 04, via Johnson’s Russia List, 8357, 7 Sep 04.
  2. BBC News World Edition, ibid. and Yulia Kalinina, "The Impotent Ones," Moskovskii komsomolets, 10 Sep 04 via CDI Russia Weekly, 10 Sep 04.
  3. "Force ruled out in Russian siege," BBC News UK Edition, (
  4. "Military Officials Cited on Measures Following Beslan School Seizure," Nezavisimaya gazeta, 2 Sep 04 p. 3; FBIS-SOV.2004.0902 via World News Connection.
  5. "As it happened: Russian school siege," BBC News World Edition, Ibid.
  6. "School siege: Eyewitness accounts," BBC News World Edition 7 Sep 04, ( and "Russia School Plot Appears Months Old," Associated Press, 6 Sep 04, (
  7. Various accounts of the siege in Izvestiya, 6 Sep 04, (, translated by PROMT (
  8. "Frantic search for missing as Beslan begins to bury its dead," by Nick Paton Walsh, Guardian Unlimited, 6 Sep 04, online at (,2763,1298035,00.html).
  9. "Assault at High Noon," Time Europe, 26 Jun 95, (
  10. "2,000 hostages freed in Kizlyar siege," CNN World News, 10 Jan 96, (
  11. "140 die in theatre siege climax,", 27 Oct 02, (
  12. "Putin agrees to Beslan commission," Associated Press, 10 Sep 04, (,2763,1301870,00.html).
  13. "Was It Just a Warning Shot?" by Pavel Felgenhauer Moscow Times, 31 Oct 02, via Johnson’s Russia List, 6524, 31 Oct 02.

By Eric Beene (






With attention focused on terrorist attacks within its national borders, the Russian government has released proposed government spending figures for 2005. Despite the distractions, the Russian and foreign media quickly noted the 28% increase in funding for the armed forces. Russians, who in the past may have looked to their vaunted military to provide security against the perceived threat presented by NATO and the West, probably took little comfort in the announcement of significant funding increases for the military sector. Some accused the government of turning decidedly militarist and others wondered, "what if the Ground Forces and their funding are increasing not only to fight terrorists and gunmen?" (1) While significant issues cloud straight-line evaluation of the budget news, closer analysis of the officially released numbers and administration commentary can provide insight into military planning and government data.

The Moscow-based military analyst, Pavel Felgenhauer, explains that the budget announcement presents a highly suspect set of numbers for three reasons: 1) the increase scarcely compensates for the years of neglect of the armed forces (a position highlighted by former Chief of the General Staff, General Anatoli Kvashnin during budget discussions back in June 2004) (2); 2) the numbers do not take inflation into account. Inflation in Russia has been very high, and, according to Felgenhauer, "they say that next year, they’ll be able to lower it to below 10 percent annually…so in reality, the increase in defense spending is around 15 percent;" 3) and perhaps most importantly, the lack of transparency with regard to Russian expenditures renders impossible verifying budget or spending statistics (3) The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, in fact provided an example when he went to great lengths to explain that the 2005 budget "…will enable us to accomplish the key strategic task of spending 60 percent of the total amount on the upkeep of the armed forces and 40 percent on their development (acquisition and training)." This, according to Ivanov, shifts the balance from the 70/30 balance that existed back in 2001, and is in line with a recommendation made by the Security Council at a meeting in 2000. (4) However, none of the numbers released by the government allow anyone to verify this percentage. In fact, if one takes the amount allocated to the maintenance of the armed forces (R383 billion) and divides it by the published total defense expenditure (R528 billion), the result is about 72.5%. With no ability to drill any deeper into the numbers, one can only take Minister Ivanov at his word.

Despite the problems noted above, some valuable points may be gleaned from the budget numbers and statements by government officials regarding the defense budget. Sergei Ivanov took several occasions to speak about his work with the finance and economic development ministers to allocate an additional R30 billion for defense above the original budgeted amount, making it clear that this additional sum would be spent on the purchase of armaments. (5) According to Ivanov, substantial sums have been spent on research in the last several years, but, the time has come to start buying weapons for the army and navy. (6)

In addition to acquisition spending proposed by the new budget, an additional R3.5 billion will be poured into defense industries in the context of "mobilization preparation of the national economy;" This section receives one of the largest percentage increases of the proposed budget. In 2002, approximately 2,300 enterprises competed for R.5 billion; In 2005, the 1,300 defense companies that remain will compete for R3.5 billion. (7) This 700% increase in budget allocation, combined with the stated increase in acquisitions budget, highlights the government's recognition that the defense industry requires a serious injection of investment.

After years of reliance on foreign military sales with virtually no acquisition by the Russian military, the defense industry now needs the government to rectify the imbalance. The investment in acquisition, while probably useful in mollifying some powerful generals (and perhaps representing barter deals for support), may make an even more important contribution in maintaining a steady stream of revenue from sales of military hardware to foreign countries. Sergei Ivanov has alluded several times to the plans for a considerable number of research and design projects to be completed next year and ready for adoption into service. (8) It is time for research and development to pay off in production of new weapons. Russia may stand to gain by this investment, not necessarily because it will make the Russian military more capable, but because it will improve its position in the international arms marketplace. One example is the new MI-28N Havoc helicopter, a much-awaited product that will enjoy a stronger niche in the international arms markets, if the Russian military adopts it. "Foreign customers’ decision to buy aircraft depends greatly on whether the aircraft is adopted for service in the manufacturing country" claims Rostvertol Company Director, General Boris Slyusar. "The MI-28N’s fielding in Russia will make the aircraft more competitive in the international market…." (9) So government spending on acquisition in 2005 is tied undoubtedly to the "ready for production" results of years of research investment. The Russian military will not be able to afford large numbers of these weapons, but its purchase of any of these systems will mean real income for the Russian defense industry from foreign buyers.

A more disappointing inference that might be derived from the budget discourse is that military reforms have failed and there is no effort to revive them, especially the much-discussed professional "contract" force revamp. Despite Sergei Ivanov’s recent assertion that military reforms have been successfully accomplished, it is generally accepted even by those with a role in government, that the reforms have scarcely started and have had little impact. Viktor Yasmann, in an article for RFE/RL, cites a recent Russian Security Council’s report as having argued "that the lack of real military reform — combined with corruption and mismanagement — have led to the accelerating deterioration of the material status of the military." The report further claims that "the state is no longer in a position to maintain and control the armed forces. Therefore it closes its eyes to corruption and plunder." (10) In addition to these problems, the military has huge recruiting and retention problems with regard to its contract servicemen. The Army reports that it will likely meet its 2004 recruiting goal of 15,700 contract soldiers, although the recruits are, on the whole, once again considered to be qualitatively deficient for the creation of a truly professional force. (11) Most experts consider the 2005 recruiting goal of 54,500 simply out of reach. (12) The primary issues cited by those opting not to sign a contract, or by those who resigned from contracted units, are pay and housing. (13) Despite the claims of the Russian Finance Minister, Aleksei Kudrin, that the plan to transfer to contract service "is fully funded, and as from 2008 the country will be able to [afford] a one-year conscription service," the 2005 budget showed no marked increase in prospective pay for contract soldiers that would allow the military to overcome problems with the program. (14) Even Defense Minister Ivanov highlighted a R3 billion deficit in funds required for housing, noting that this problem wouldn’t be solved until at least 2015. (15)

Analyzing Russian defense spending is problematic, but nothing in the budget numbers or surrounding rhetoric should comfort Russian citizens that the armed forces will mend themselves quickly with this increase in funding. The defense industry looks like the winner. Even if the Russian military buys little new hardware, the adoption of new weapon systems will mean a boon in military sales for the defense industries. The program to transition the armed forces to a contract, professional force appears to be on life support, being kept alive more for appearance than out of genuine enthusiasm for its potential.

Source Notes:

  1. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 19 Aug 2004 via Lexis-Nexis.
  2. Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, No. 32, 27 Aug 04; What the Papers Say (WPS) via Lexis-Nexis.
  3., Feature Article, 24 Aug 04.
  4. ITAR-TASS, 27 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0827 via World News Connection.
  5. ITAR-TASS, 27 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0827 via World News Connection; Izvestiya, 31 Aug 04; WPS via Lexis-Nexis; Izvestiya, 31 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0831 via World News Connection.
  6. Izvestiya, 31 Aug 2004; WPS via Lexis-Nexis.
  7. Izvestiya, 31 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0831 via World News Connection.
  8. ITAR-TASS, 1 Sep 04 via Lexis-Nexis.
  9. Moscow Agentstvo voyennykh novostey WWW-Text in English, 0604 GMT, 2 Sep 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0902 via World News Connection.
  10., Feature Article, 25 Aug 04.
  11. (
  12. Financial Times, 27 Aug 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  13. Financial Times, 27 Aug 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis and
  14. ITAR-TASS, 26 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0826 via World News Connection.
  15. ITAR-TASS, 27 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0827 via World News Connection.

By Jeff Kubiak



Russian reaction to President Bush's proposed troop realignment plan

President Bush announced a long anticipated plan to realign U.S. military forces stationed abroad. The plan, outlined in a speech in Ohio on August 16, encompasses the return of two Army divisions from bases in Germany and changes to force levels in other Cold War era locations. The plan calls for increasing the U.S. presence at bases in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and possibly Africa.

The realignment could close some U.S. military installations in Europe and help fulfill Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 2005 requirements. At the same time, the United States would make greater use of training and logistics bases on the soil of its new Eastern European allies, where overall costs are lower and environmental concerns and requirements less stringent than Western European ranges.

The moves are meant to give the U.S. military increased combat power and more flexibility in dealing with the smaller military engagements that are likely to characterize the continued prosecution of the U.S.-led Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). President Bush pointed out the intention of the reorganization: "The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century." (1)

Initial Russian reaction to the proposed U.S. troop realignment was rather muted. The proposed troop movement has been discussed openly since the end of the Cold War (and NATO's first eastern expansion), and therefore is not a startling initiative. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a point to inform Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov about the plan during their meeting in St. Petersburg, prior to President Bush's speech. The Russian Defense Minister told journalists, "We know about the United States' plans to reconfigure its forces, and we understand him." (2) He added, "I see nothing alarming in these plans." (3) It may be difficult for "great power" nationalists to grasp, but Russia has little choice but to accept U.S. realignment. Additionally, Russia understands the logic behind the plan. A force of highly mobile, combat-ready troops, based near areas of instability has been on Moscow’s military transformation wish list for several years.

The wave of recent terror attacks in Russia quickly overshadowed the U.S. troop realignment and will have a much greater near term influence on Russian military policy. Due to the numbers of attacks and deaths, especially in Beslan, President Putin is under public pressure to produce immediate results, but the decision as to an appropriate response, as well as to Russian participation in GWOT will have a huge impact on long term Russian military policy toward the United States and NATO.

Putin’s NATO-Russia Council option

Putin, using the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) as the vehicle, could increase Russia’s involvement in the GWOT and increase military cooperation with U.S. and NATO troops. He took an encouraging step toward strengthening the NRC relationship by requesting an emergency meeting of the NRC after the Beslan school crisis; this marked the first such request by Russia after a terrorist incident. During the meeting, the NRC discussed ways of expanding joint measures in the fight against terrorism. The council also issued a statement condemning "the outrageous terrorist attacks perpetrated against the people of the Russian Federation." (4) Both NATO and Russia agreed to strengthen and intensify their common antiterrorism efforts, including the creation of a specific action plan.

The meeting was a first step, but if Russia truly wants to be a primary player within the American-led GWOT and expand its partnership with NATO, more must be done. The U.S. would look for Russia to sacrifice some of its traditional, long held influence in Central Asia, and instead characterize the U.S. troop relocation as a stabilizing move against international terrorism rather than a Russian failure to protect its own borders. More robust Russian participation in the NATO-Russian Council, especially along the lines of direct military and intelligence cooperation could also promote an antiterrorism partnership. Russia should exploit joint basing opportunities within the Central Asian region; a joint terrorism response base between the U.S. Ganci Air Base and the Russian Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan would be a logical place to start.

Putin’s traditional (Cold War) option

Putin’s other option is to counter the U.S. Troop realignment and not to participate in the GWOT. Putin could easily spin the realignment as further erosion of Russian world standing and continue to point to American and Western European sympathy for and contact with "moderate" Chechen separatists. Russia could even try to undermine or counterbalance U.S. influence by increasing Russian troops in Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Tajikistan. The increased Russian military presence would suggest a more active and aggressive role in all the former Soviet Republics in the name of counterterrorism. If Putin chooses not to embrace the troop realignment, Russia could look to establish counter-terrorist alliances outside of the NRC. Russia could even strengthen its ties with countries on the U.S. State Department's list of sponsors of state terrorism, such as Iran.


President Putin is most likely to choose a path between the two extremes. The NATO option, as previously discussed, will not give Putin a quick victory nor will it provide the show of strength needed after the Beslan school tragedy. It is likely that all the discussions with NATO and references to the GWOT are designed to cultivate Western goodwill and are not likely to produce any radical change in Russia's current policy. President Putin is likely to adopt a harder stance on Chechnya and consolidate even more power in the Security Services. In Moscow, on 8 September, Chief of the General Staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, met with NATO's Supreme Allied Commander U.S. General James Jones, where he claimed that "Russia is prepared, if necessary, to conduct preemptive strikes against terrorist bases anywhere in the world." (5) Based on this assertion, it is likely that President Putin and the Russian military will take a much more aggressive and direct role in the affairs of former Soviet Republics. President Putin seems intent on taking unilateral action against perceived threats and justifying his actions with President Bush’s preemptive policy on terrorism and NATO policy in Yugoslavia as models.

President Putin’s primary aims are not increasing Russia’s role in the GWOT, Russian, U.S. and NATO interaction, or even decreasing U.S. influence in Central Asia, his central focus is the aggressive prosecution of the Chechen war and, more broadly, the confrontation with terrorism throughout Russia and the former Soviet Republics. His level of NRC or GWOT participation appears intended primarily to limit U.S. and NATO opposition to and criticism of his activities.

In the end, President Putin may welcome the U.S. presence in Central Asia and possibly other locations. U.S. influence and stabilization could slow or block some avenues of international terrorist support for radical Chechen elements. He will not however, welcome any international assistance or interference in his "anti-terrorism" policies in Chechnya, any other part of Russia or any former Soviet Republic.

Source Notes:

  1., 18 Aug 04.
  2. Moscow Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0818 via World News Connection.
  3. Moscow Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18 Aug 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0818 via World News Connection.
  4., 07 Sep 04.
  5. RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 8, No. 172, Part I, 9 Sept 04.

By Kyle J. Colton (






Lukashenko proposes a referendum to stay in power

On 7 September, Lukashenko overstepped the boundaries of the constitution that he himself had set and announced a referendum, which would allow him to run for a third term, or for an indefinite number of terms, for that matter. The referendum question will be phrased as follows: Will you allow the first President of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, to participate as a presidential candidate in the 2006 presidential elections, and will you accept the following version of Article 81, Part 1 of the constitution: "The president is elected for a five-year term by a direct, universal, free and secret ballot?" (1)

Significantly, Lukashenko made the announcement just a few days after the hostage tragedy in Beslan — when the attention of the Russian leader, and most of the world, was focused on the consequences of the hostage drama. The Chairman of the Central Election Committee of Belarus, Lydia Ermoshina, claimed that the announcement had been planned in advance for 6-7 September, and the fact that it coincided with the post-Beslan mourning period in Russia was pure coincidence. "It was impossible to move the announcement to several days [earlier], as it was necessary to create territorial election committees." (2) In any event, Lukashenko did not hesitate to use post-Beslan emotions and compassion in his favor. During the time of the Moscow antiterrorist rally, the Belarus authorities decided to support the Russians by holding a similar rally in the center of Minsk. However, soon after the gathering in the square began, the militia informed the public that the rally was being moved to 9 p.m. — the time of the president’s statement about the upcoming referendum. Just to ensure that the crowd did not miss the presidential declaration, a huge screen with speakers was installed in the square.

As a justification for asking to remove the limit on the number of terms he may serve, Lukashenko talked about his successes, such as elimination of pension arrears, increases in average salary, support of rural communities, increased construction, etc. He also attacked his opponents for planning to destroy Belarusia's "clear lakes and forests, and unpilfered economy," should they come to power, and named as his primary goal the protection of Belarus from those who threatened Belarus’ "peaceful and creative way of life." (3)

Effect on the opposition

The referendum to allow Lukashenko to run for a third term will take place on 17 October — the same day as the parliamentary elections. Speaking of which, the president’s announcement of his intention to run for a third term is likely to increase the opposition's chances to win seats in the parliamentary elections — a windfall for a weak Belarusian opposition. Thus, instead of trying to convince Belarusian voters of the relevance of each party’s political vision, the opposition groups simply will have to stress that they are against changing the constitution and against allowing Lukashenko to run for a third term. This slogan will give the opposition a chance to speak with one voice and, given that more than half of all Belarusians do not support Lukashenko’s bid to stay in power, is likely to mean gains for to the opposition parties. "In this situation, the referendum itself and not the [parliamentary] candidates will be our main rival," said Anatoliy Lebed’ko, the Chairman of the United Civil Party. (4)

During the months leading to the parliamentary elections, the opposition had been largely marginalized. Until lately, the authorities excluded opposition representatives from the polling station commissions. The main opposition organization, the Five-Plus Popular Coalition Initiative, is not even a registered organization and those carrying out activities on its behalf can be arrested and imprisoned. A member of the Coordinating Committee Free Belarus, Dzmitryy Baradka, who is also a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, was not allowed to travel abroad. A head of the Barysaw passport and visa service was instructed by the KGB to "hold off" issuing him an exit visa (a remnant of the Soviet past). (5)

It can be hoped only that Belarusians have enough courage and perseverance not to allow the last dictator of Europe to stay in power. For this to happen, the Belarusians will have to give voice to their indignation and demand a fair election. First steps are being taken already. The morning of 13 September was marked by an internet action of protest against Lukashenko ruling Belarus forever — "Tell Lukasheko No!" The details of this protest action can be found on .


(Almost) All against one.

Twenty-six candidates are registered to run for president on 31 October — a number, which, when compared to one predetermined communist party candidate during pre-independence times, might seem a sign of progress toward democracy. It is, of course, anything but. The majority of candidates will simply aid the current prime minister, Yanukovich, gain the presidency. Many presidential contenders are only minor regional players on the Ukrainian political scene and, as a rule, do not head significant party structures (e.g., Rzhavskiy, Nechiporuk, Boiko). According to the recent poll in Ukraine, voters do not know anything about 13 of the 26 candidates (the poll was conducted among 2000 persons in 111 residential areas). (6)

There are several factors in play when it comes to benefiting from such decoy candidates. The first, is the number of representatives on the election committees. Analysts say that Yanukovich already outnumbers Yushchenko in terms of "his" representatives by five to one. (7) Needless to say, election monitoring and preventing election fraud will be five times as hard for Yushchenko’s representatives. Second, "pro-Yanukovich" candidates, given their combined air time, which they use mostly to attack Yushchenko, can jeopardize substantially Yushchenko’s chances to win this election. This amount of negative information coming from such a large number of presidential candidates is bound to have an impact on the population's psyche, especially given Yushchenko’s limited air time to disprove the allegations. Dmytro Kochynskyy (the ultranationalist Bratstvo organization leader) does not even hide his (government supported) goal of the pre-election campaign — to impede Yushchenko in his attempts to become the president. (8)

Such an election strategy by the authorities, combined with non-transparent pre-elections practices, is already producing the desired results. The Ukrainian on-line periodical, Zerkalo nedeli, recently published the results of the distribution of the 675 leading posts on the territorial election committees. The assignments were determined by a computer (that no one ever saw) and the opposition leaders were definitely out of luck. Neither Yushchenko nor Moroz got a single representative in any of the nine okrugs of Zaporozhskaya oblast’, and were likewise shut out of Sumskaya and Nikolaevskaya oblast’ — regions where the most fierce and intense battle is projected to take place. But the computer generously allocated them more than enough representatives in the regions where the opposition has strong popular support (e.g. Poltavskaya oblast’) anyway. (9) In other regions, where Yushchenko’s supporters have not even filed for a quota of the leading posts on the election (as their influence is strong enough without the positions), they received 14! Both Yushchenko and Moroz are indignant that they have not even seen the mysterious computer, which managed to further jeopardize their chances for victory. (10) They probably never will, have the opportunity since the rest of the candidates are, naturally, content with the distribution results.

Controversial Danube canal

On 26 August, Kuchma held a ceremony to open a Danube-Black Sea shipping canal. Before the opening of the canal, Ukrainian ships were compelled to pay a fee to Romania for the use of the passage to the Black Sea. The new canal, which will enable the passage of 1000 ships a year, may bring $50 million yearly profit to Ukraine. (11) The construction of the canal evoked harsh reactions from the E.U, the U.S. and Romania, which previously had a monopoly on navigation in the Danube delta. At present, the area in which the canal was built is protected by UNESCO and an international convention for protection of marshlands. (12) Protesters claim the canal will endanger 3,500 unique species, while Kuchma is claiming that all environmental norms were observed in constructing the canal. Romania is submitting a lawsuit to the International Court of Justice. while President Kuchma is saying that Romania is driven solely by the economic reasons.

Explosions in Ukraine

Two explosions took place in Ukraine on 20 and 30 August. The first one was a market blast in Kiev, which killed one woman. The second one took place in Ivano-Frankivsk, near the building that houses the election headquarters of presidential candidate and New Force party leader, Yuriy Zbitnyev. (13) The police claim that the explosions were intended to destabilize the country before the upcoming presidential elections. Roman Bezsmertnyy, the head of Yushchenko’s central election headquarters, declared that Yushchenko’s Ukrainian People’s Party had not been involved in the blasts. (14)

Source Notes:

  1. Belarusian television, 07 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  2. Charter 97 website, 08 Sep 04 via .
  3. Belarusian television, 07 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  4. "Party Leaders Talk About the Referendum," 08 Sep 04 via .
  5. Charter-97 website, 27 Aug 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  6. ITAR-TASS News Agency, 11 Sep 04 via Lexis-Nexis.
  7. TV5 Kanal, 30 Aug 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ukrainskaya Pravda website, 21 Aug 04 via
  11. Ibid.
  12. ANSA English Media Service, 26 Aug 04 via Lexis-Nexis.
  13. Ibid.
  14. UNIAN news agency, 30 Aug 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  15. UNIAN news agency, 28 Aug 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.

By Elena Selyuk (



Caucasus Report

The Beslan hostage crisis of 1-3 Sep demonstrates the total failure of Putin’s Chechen policy to resolve effectively the Chechen conflict and prevent its expansion into North Ossetia, Dagestan and Ingushetia. In addition, the Beslan tragedy marks an escalation in Russia’s civil war. The terrorists who seized School No. 1 used new tactics by targeting children, withholding food and drink from the hostages and firing into their backs when they tried to escape. These methods stand in stark contrast to those of the June raid in Ingushetia, in which guerillas tried to avoid targeting civilians of any age. On the Russian side, the authorities suppressed information and spread misinformation about the number of hostages, the ethnic identities of the hostage-takers, the number of casualties among both the hostage-takers and the hostages, and the fate of the hostage-takers that escaped the assault on the school. The Russian authorities even used ridiculous methods to prevent two of Moscow’s most outspoken and respected journalists, Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya gazeta and Andrei Babitsky of Radio Liberty, from reaching Beslan. Politkovskaya was poisoned under suspicious circumstances while on her way to cover the hostage crisis in Beslan; Babitsky was apprehended at Moscow's Vnukovo airport and charged with "minor hooliganism" and given a 5-day jail sentence. The Russian misinformation scheme stems from a realization that its total military and political incompetence during the Beslan crisis is partially responsible for the horrific body count of the terrorist attack. An account of the Beslan hostage crisis follows, but many questions remain unanswered as to the true behavior and intentions of the hostage-takers and the Russian authorities.

On Wednesday, 1 September, as parents, teachers and students were gathering for first-day of school festivities at School Number 1 in Beslan, they were interrupted by a group of militants. These militants drove into the school courtyard, surrounded the children and adults and divided the hostages into two groups. The children, with a few teachers, were taken into the gymnasium on the ground floor of the school, while most of the adults were placed in second floor classrooms. According to interviews with ex-hostages, the hostage-takers initially gave food and drink to their captives. (1) As news of the attack spread, parents and relatives gathered outside the school buildings and police reinforcements arrived. At 11:30 a.m., North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov arrived at Beslan while Putin returned to Moscow, cutting short his vacation in Sochi. Soon after Dzasokhov arrived, the hostage takers requested talks with former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, current Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, well-known pediatrician Leonid Roshal and Russian presidential aide on Chechnya Aslambek Aslakhanov. In addition, the hostage-takers announced their first demand: the release of detainees involved in the June raid in Ingushetia. (2) Towards the late afternoon, Russian Federal Forces arrived and an FSB spokesman informed journalists that the terrorists had seized about 300 persons. (3) In fact, it later would become evident that the militants held about 1,200 hostages. At this point, government officials knew that they were lying to journalists as the school had more than 800 registered pupils for the scholastic year. However, it was only on 4 September that North Ossetian presidential aide Lev Dzugayev admitted for the first time that the number of hostages in the school exceeded 1,000. (4)

According to testimonies of former hostages, the militants spent the next couple of hours laying down mines and booby traps throughout the gymnasium building. (5) It is still unclear how the terrorists brought their weapons into the school. Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov claimed, in his report to President Vladimir Putin, that the hostage takers brought their arsenal with them. However, former hostages recognized a few of the terrorists and added that during the crisis, the militants were retrieving hidden weapons and explosives planted throughout the school. According to an Agence France-Presse report, the hostage-takers first scouted out two others schools before settling on School #1, as it was undergoing major renovation over the summer, including the construction of a new gym floor. The militants then disguised themselves as workers and brought in bombs, rocket launchers and other weapons, stashing these munitions in a case in the basement under the new gym floor. (6)

On 1 September, shortly after 1:00 p.m., the hostage takers dropped a note from one of the windows outlining their main demand: the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. (7) Initially, the demand was widely reported by Russian news agencies, but it quickly disappeared from reports and was not reiterated until the afternoon of 2 September. The hostage-takers also threatened to blow up the building if it was stormed and that for every militant killed, 50 hostages would die. (8)

During the afternoon of 1 September, Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based spokesman for Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, made rejected Kremlin claims of Maskhadov's involvement in the Beslan crisis. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Zakaev denied not only Maskhadov’s involvement in the crisis, and denounced the terrorist attack as "horrific and unnatural," but also contradicted Russian statements that there were Arab and African mercenaries among the terrorists. (9)

Shortly before nightfall, Doctor Roshal arrived in Beslan and began holding talks with the hostage-takers. The talks lasted throughout the night in the Emergency Ministry Headquarters set up in the immediate vicinity of the school. At noon on 2 September, Lev Dzugaev stated that "technical talks" with the hostage-takers were continuing, and that the militants were close to accepting food, water and medicine. However, at this point the hostage-takers’ main demand of Russian troop withdrawal from Chechnya remained relatively unpublicized, and Russian news sources continued to report that only (approximately) 350 hostages were being held. At this point, and perhaps in reaction to Russian misinformation, the behavior of the hostage-takers changed precipitously. According to interviews with ex-hostages, on the afternoon of 2 September, when the food and water in the school ran out, the hostage-takers refused offers of food and medicine from Dr. Roshal. In an interview with Novaya gazeta, two teachers relayed that they overheard the terrorists boasting that they would kill as many hostages as was needed to meet the figures cited by Russian authorities. (10) In other words, of the 1,200 hostages, the terrorists would shoot 850 so that only 350 remained.

During Dr. Roshal’s visit to the school, the FSB announced that resolution of the standoff excluded any use of force. (11) Later that afternoon, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and FSB Head Nikolai Patrushev arrived in Beslan to coordinate military operations and to establish a crisis team. After Dr. Roshal’s failure to mediate with the militants, Ruslan Aushev, the former president of Ingushetia, entered the school to negotiate. Aushev's efforts resulted in the release of twenty-six hostages. (12) At around 8:00 p.m., Dzasokhov and Aushev telephoned Zakaev in London and requested that Maskhadov use his influence to end the hostage crisis. (13) This conversation was not publicized until 6 September, by which time the Russian government had decided not to pursue the Maskhadov option. However, it is unlikely that such a high-level contact was established without Putin’s direct knowledge and authorization. Maskhadov’s immediate response was a statement on the website harshly condemning the hostage-takers, a political move that the Russian authorities chose to ignore. (14)

Overnight September 2-3, three Russian tanks arrived outside the school. Soon afterwards, shots were fired from the school which wounded a police officer in the near vicinity. On the morning of 3 September, Dzasokhov and Aushev again telephoned Zakaev and he relayed Maskhadov’s willingness to do anything in his power to aid in the resolution of the crisis. (15)

Shortly before noon, President Dzasokhov held a meeting with relatives of the hostages at a Beslan cultural center. He informed the Beslan citizens that there were actually over 500 hostages held in the school (a fact they must have known by that time), while reiterating the hostage takers' main demand of the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. During the council meeting, Dzasokhov’s spokesman publicly announced that the hostage-takers had agreed to hand over the bodies of several persons killed during the standoff, while adding that the militants had presented a new demand: total Chechen independence. (16)

Although the Emergency Situation Ministry seemingly ignored the new terrorist demand, it reacted quickly to the opportunity to gain access to the school building. In order to take the bodies away, the Emergency Situation Ministry sent a car, containing several emergency personnel, to the school. According to the official version of events, two explosions went off inside the school, which demolished one of the outside walls of the gymnasium. (17) As group of hostages began to flee through the ruined wall, the hostage-takers started shooting at the emergency personnel, the hostages and the crowd waiting outside the school. Once the hostage-takers began firing, the Russian forces stormed the building and, within minutes, four Russian combat helicopters joined the battle. (18) At some point during the firefight, the roof of the gymnasium collapsed, trapping hostages, Russian federal forces and hostage-takers inside. Outside the school, mayhem erupted as groups of hostages, adults and children alike, poured forth, with gunfire from all sides.

Contradictory reports however, have emerged from former hostages and eyewitness accounts. An emergency staffer who drove up to the school in the minutes before the siege was broken, reported that there were no initial explosions. The emergency worker claims someone opened fire from outside the school, at which point the militants fired back. The explosions soon followed. Other witnesses suggest that the initial gunfire might have come from among the crowd of parents and relatives waiting outside the school. Some say the explosions were actually Russian tank fire, which blew off part of the school's roof. (19)

Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer also doubts the Kremlin's version of an unplanned, last-minute decision to storm the school, saying the appearance of attack helicopters points to a coordinated, pre-planned move. Felgenhauer adds that although there is an air base near Beslan, the helicopters could not have made it to the school in less than half an hour. (20)

By 3:00 p.m., the Russian military forces claimed control of most of the school, but the shooting did not subside until late into the night. Indeed, despite a public statement by the North Ossetian Interior Ministry that none of the hostages were left in the gymnasium by 4:00 p.m., both the BBC and CNN reported that people were escaping the building at 5:00 p.m. (21) According to Interfax, militants were still holding hostage children captive until 8:00 p.m. (22) As the firefight tapered off, the terrorists split into three groups and tried to leave the city. The first group, of about 5 people, remained in the school and exchanged fire with the Special Forces while the second group tried to break through to the southern suburb of the city toward the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz. The third group, who changed their clothes, mixed in with local residents. (23) As of 4 September, 32 bodies of militants had been recovered in the Beslan school building and Special Forces were still searching for 4 other terrorists. (24)

After the hostage-takers had been neutralized, the hostages were taken to mobile hospitals and the three Beslan hospitals; the worst cases were sent out to Moscow and Vladikavkaz. On 5 September, the Russian authorities reported the official number of deaths to be 394, with 210 taken from the debris and 120 as yet unidentified. The total number hospitalized was 704 people, with 173 discharged and a remaining 531 people receiving medical care. (25)

At present, the identity of the terrorists is one of the most contentious elements of the hostage crisis. In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, the Russian authorities claimed that the militants included 10 Arabs and 1 African. (26) However, as of 9 September, the authorities had yet to produce any evidence for the claim that such a large number of hostage-takers were from outside the Russian Federation. On 4 September, Novaya gazeta reported that ex-hostages had told representatives of the Memorial human rights group that the terrorists included Ingush, Chechens, Ossetians and Russians. (27) The Novaya gazeta report was validated by two independent stories published on September 9 by The St. Petersburg Times and the BBC that identified ten of the terrorists involved in the Beslan hostage crisis. Of the ten, six were of Chechen descent, with two being born in Kazakhstan, while two were Ingush and two were Ossetian. (28) In a dubious statement given on 4 September, the so-called Islamic brigade of "Riyadus Salikh’iyn", a shadowy militant group established three years ago by Basaev, assumed responsibility for the Beslan tragedy. However, Basaev's quick denial of involvement in the hostage crisis casts doubt on the Salikh’iyn participation in the attack. (29) Although ten hostage-takers have been recognized, there is no information available about the identities of the other 26 militants or their organizational affiliations. Indeed, the Russian authorities guaranteed this information gap by annihilating rather then apprehending the militants during and after the firefight.

The inept and dubious behavior of the Russian political establishment during and in the immediate aftermath of the Beslan crisis indicates that it does not take the terrorists seriously. Rather, both Putin’s public denial of any link between Beslan and Chechnya and his current initiative to launch preemptive strikes on terror camps anywhere they threaten Russia foretell a further escalation of the Chechen conflict that may encompass the entire North Caucasus.

Source Notes:

  1. Novaya gazeta, 6 Sep 04;What the Papers Say; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  2. Itar-Tass, 1 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  3. Prime-Tass, 1 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  4. Itar-Tass, 4 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  5. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 6 Sep 04; WPS; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  6. Agence France-Presse, 5 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  7. Itar-Tass, 1 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  8. RIA Ros Business News, 1 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  9. See RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 3 Sep 04 via ( .
  10. Novaya gazeta, 7 Sep 04;WPS; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  11. Prime-Tass, 2 Sep 04; Financial Times; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  12. Agence France-Presse, 2 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  13. Moscow Times, 6 Sep 04; via BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  14. See Chechen Official Website, 2 Sep 04, "Maskhadov Condemns Hostage-Takers" via ( .
  15. Agence France-Presse, 6 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets; Izvestia, 6 Sep 04; WPS; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  16. BBC Monitoring, 2 Sep 04 via ISI Emerging Markets.
  17. Interfax, 3 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  18. Prime-Tass, 3 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  19. Izvestia, 8 Sep 04; WPS; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  20., 7 Sep 04 via Chechnya Weekly, 8 Sep, 04, Vol. 5 Issue 34.
  21. BBC Monitoring, 3 Sep 04 via Lexis-Nexis; CNN Coverage, 3 Sep 04 via ISI Emerging Markets.
  22. Interfax, 3 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  23. Rosbalt News Agency, 4 Sep 04; WPS;BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  24. BBC Monitoring, 4 Sep 04 via ISI Emerging Markets.
  25. Agence France-Presse, 5 Sep 04;BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis; RBC News, 6 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  26. Prime-Tass, 4 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.
  27. Novaya gazeta, 4 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via Lexis-Nexis.
  28. The St. Petersburg Times, 9 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Merging Markets; BBC Monitoring, 9 Sep 04 via ISI Emerging Markets.
  29. Itar-Tass, 4 Sep 04; Financial Times; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets.


By J. Ariela Shapiro (






Kazakh elections

On 19 September, Kazakhstan will hold its second parliamentary elections for the Majlis (lower house), since obtaining independence in 1991. The previous round of elections, held in October 1999, resulted in a substantial boost for President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Otan party, as well as several other pro-Presidential parties. But the election was marred by what international organizations, including the OSCE, described as "widespread, universal and illegal meddling with the election process by the executive branch." (1)

During the spring and summer months of this year, President Nazarbaev instituted changes to the electoral system, which he hoped would present an image to observers and the outside world of a free and fair vote. First, Nazarbaev announced in March that a significant number of electoral districts would vote electronically (using the Saylau Voting System). In his address to Parliament on 1 September, Nazarbaev argued that the new system would allow an election to take place "in line with international standards." (2)

It is no surprise that approval for the Saylau Voting Computers, and the electronic vote, has also come from the CIS: Speaking to the Kazakh press at the end of a two-day visit to Kazakhstan, CIS Executive Council Chairman Vladimir Rushailo stated that he was convinced that the system would return an "impartial" result. (3) On the same day, the Kazakh Central Election Commission announced that the system had passed its final tests, and proven itself "technically reliable" in time for the 19 September polls. (4)

Secondly, Kazakhstan held its first formal, televised debates in which all twelve registered parties participated. The five debates which have taken place so far, occurred between 20 August and 3 September. (5) The format for the discussions involved opening and closing statements, as well as question and answer periods for each party. Reports on the debates indicate that there was some direct criticism of President Nazarbaev, specifically by Serikbolsyn Abdildin, leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. (6)

It is evident that President Nazarbaev hopes that the "transparency" of the political process, as shown by the debates, coupled with electronic voting, will lend these elections an air of legitimacy. But events which began occurring over the summer and which are continue even now, indicate that this election will be no less corrupt or unfair than the last.

In July, Nazarbaev made a political move that can be viewed as a deliberate attempt to suborn one of the country’s three opposition parties, Ak Zhol. On 12 July, Nazarbaev appointed Altynbek Sarsenbayev, a co-chairman of Ak Zhol, to the post of Information Minister. (7) In an interview with Vremya on 15 July, Sarsenbayev stated that he had accepted the post only after receiving an assurance from Nazarbaev that the election would take place in an "open and honest" fashion. (8) Twelve days after Sarsenbayev was brought into Nazarbayev's government, Ak Zhol’s second co-chairman, Bolat Abilov, was convicted of slander, after a relatively short trial.

Abilov was tried because a Deputy, Mukhtar Tinikeev, whom he had accused of bribing election officials, decided to press charges. Abilov received an 18-month suspended sentence on the slander charge. Under the terms of Kazakh law, he is banned from participating in next week’s elections. (9) In a statement that must be viewed with some skepticism, Tinikeev has denied strenuously any political motivation behind his decision to press charges. What is clear, is that these two events (as Nurbolat Masanov, a prominent Nazarbaev opponent, has stated), amount to an attempt to "divide and conquer," or neutralize the opposition. (10)

These same parties have made clear their opposition to the use of computers in the polls. They have been openly critical, maintaining that the system is open to abuse, and could be subject to "manipulations." (11) This opinion is shared by Robert Barry, the OSCE’s Head of Mission in Kazakhstan, who has voiced publicly his misgivings ahead of the elections. (12)

It is possible that the situation concerning the voting machines could become more serious. Both the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan announced on 31 August that they might boycott the election. Asylbek Kozakhmetov, co-chairman of the coordinating council between the two parties, stated that Nazarbaev must limit electronic voting to 2-3% of the population rather than the planned 10%. (13) Kozakhmetov had gone as far as registering a lawsuit with the Kazakh Supreme Court, which has been dismissed, in which he argued that the possibility of "equal elections" would be damaged if the electorate was divided between paper and electronic ballots. (14) The issue of electronic voting was not the only one raised by Kozakhmetov: he also demanded that President Nazarbaev release Galymzhan Zhkiyanov, the leader of Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, who has been imprisoned since 2002. Zhkiyanov was convicted of ‘abuse of power’ in what was widely seen at the time as a politically motivated case designed to remove a serious opponent of the President. (15) In light of the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Kozakhmetov’s case, it will be interesting to see whether the Communist and Democratic Choice Parties follow through on their threats and actually boycott the elections. Such an action would mean that no opposition parties are running in the elections, leaving President Nazarbaev with an embarrassing legitimacy question.

But it must be asked also whether President Nazarbaev is attempting simply to ensure a comprehensive victory for himself and his supporters, or does he have a deeper motivation for his actions?

In October 2003, a new political party, called Asar (All Together) was formed. The party's chairman is Dariga Nazarbaeva, President Nazarbayev's oldest daughter, who also heads Kazakhstan’s largest media company, Khabar. It has long been rumored that Nazarbaeva’s brother-in-law, Timur Kubilayev has been "vying" with her for influence. (16) During the past week, Nazarbaeva has spoken on television about the forthcoming elections. She was highly critical of her father's Otan Party, although she avoided personally attacking Nazarbaev. According to Nazarbaeva, Otan has resorted to "bullying" tactics in the forthcoming elections, despite the fact that "90 per cent" of the Kazakh people are "ready to vote for the incumbent president of the country." (17) Nazarbaeva also spoke out about voting practices in the country, urging that the electorate should be educated on its rights and duties, including the fact that "secrecy of the ballot is guaranteed by the constitution, and that there are no technical or other administrative methods to find out who voted and how." (18)

Despite Timur Kibulayev’s presence in the succession battle, it has also been suspected for some time that President Nazarbaev favors his oldest daughter’s accession. In order for a smooth transition to take place, her opponents must be removed or at least discredited. Thus, it is possible that Ak Zhol, the Communist Party, and the Democratic Choice Parties have all been discredited or suborned with the specific aim of pushing Nazarbaeva and her party into the political forefront. Her recent statements may be part of a calculated move designed to bolster her public image, ensuring that she emerges as the only viable successor to President Nazarbaev.

Sources Notes:

  1. Eurasianet, 25 October 1999, (
  2. Kazakh Television First Channel, 1 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  3. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 25 Aug 04 via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  4. RFE/RL, 24 Aug 04 via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  5. Kazakh Television First Channel, 3 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  6. Newsline-Transcaucasus & Central Asia, 23 Aug 04; RFE/RL via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  7. Eurasia Insight, 23 July 2004, via (
  8. Ibid.
  9. RFE/RL Human Rights, 31 Jul 04 via Eurasianet, (
  10. Ibid.
  11. Kazinform-Official Vestnik, 25 Aug 04 via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  12. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 25 Aug 04 via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  13. Kazakhstan Daily Digest, 9 Sep 04 via Eurasianet (
  14. Moscow-Interfax,1421 GMT, 1 Sep 04; FBIS-SOV-2004-0902 via World News Connection.
  15. Eurasia Insight, 12 Aug 04 via Eurasianet (
  16. EIU-Riskwire-Political Stability, 3 Sep 04; The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  17. Khabar Television Almaty, 7 Sep 04; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database.
  18. Ibid.

by Fabian Adami (




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