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Monday, 28 October, 2002, 17:45 GMT
Putin: Foreign support but also concern
President Putin with one of the victims in hospital
President Putin with one of the victims in hospital


Foreign governments, especially the United States, rallied to the support of President Putin in the aftermath of the theatre tragedy - but worries remain that Russia has still not emerged as an open and fully democratised country.

This might have implications for future dealings with Russia, especially if questions about what kind of gas was used in the rescue operation remain unanswered.

Secrecy remains

Support came on Monday from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In a statement to the UK parliament Mr Blair said the Russian authorities had had to act when the Chechen rebels started to kill hostages, and there were "no easy, risk-free, safe solutions".

He also linked events in Moscow, the Bali bombings and Monday's killing of an American diplomat in Jordan as parts of a "horrifying" new brand of terrorism.

However, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics Margot Light said that there were two areas of concern.

The first was the secrecy which had surrounded the rescue operation and its aftermath.


The way in which relatives have been treated so insensitively is quite shocking to Western eyes.

Professor Margot Light
"The compartmentalisation of the Soviet system is alive and strong," she commented. "Secrecy remains, especially concerning anything which might reflect badly on the government and anything which involves the military."

Professor Light is also highly critical of the treatment of the relatives. "The way in which relatives have been treated so insensitively is quite shocking to western eyes. It is crass. They are not being treated as citizens."

"This suggests that Russia might have democratised in terms of elections, but relations between society and authority have a long way to go."

She said that it had to reflect on President Putin since he had taken charge and just as the secrecy surrounding the Kursk submarine disaster had dented his popularity, so this might, too.

Strong leader


Mr Putin's decisiveness and cool nerves were admirable

The Times, London
But she predicted that in the end President Putin might again emerge as the "strong leader which most Russians want".

And that seems to be a widespread international view. The London "Times" said that Mr Putin's "decisiveness and cool nerves were admirable. Few people believe he had any alternative."

The White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refrained from criticising Mr Putin, blaming the "hostage- takers who put people's lives in harm's way in the first place".

The European Union issued a bland statement of support for the way in which the Russian Government had exercised "all possible restraint in this extremely difficult situation".

Danish accommodation

Anxious relatives outside Hospital Number 13
Police are not letting relatives into hospitals
An example of the allowances being made for Russia came when the Danish Government, currently holding the Presidency of the EU, decided to move the EU-Russia summit from Copenhagen to Brussels on 11 November after being criticised by Moscow for allowing a conference of Chechen rebels to be held in Copenhagen.

"We don't want relations with Russia to be harmed in any way," was the comment of the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller.

Common interest

Behind the American support for Russia lies a common interest in fighting Mr Bush's declared war on terror.

And right now, George Bush needs Vladimir Putin more than ever. This week, the diplomatic struggle by the United States to get a common UN Security Council approach to Iraq is likely to reach a climax.

Russia and France have been resisting American and British attempts to put threats against Iraq into a resolution laying down new conditions for weapons inspections. So criticising Mr Putin now would be bad diplomacy.

This is a continuation of a line taken soon after the 11 September attacks. The deal was that Russia would support the war on terror and the Americans would turn a blind eye to the war in Chechnya.

The deal is still holding.


Siege reports

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27 Oct 02 | Europe
28 Oct 02 | Europe
28 Oct 02 | Europe
26 Oct 02 | Europe
27 Oct 02 | UK
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