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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Beslan's role as Russian catalyst
By Steven Eke
BBC Russian affairs analyst

Soldier carries child from school
The response by Russian forces has been questioned by relatives
The Beslan school siege was the single worst civilian tragedy of the long-running Chechen conflict, an event which had resonance the world over.

It focused attention on the situation in the North Caucasus, both revealing the region's poor security situation, and laying bare the corruption and incompetence of its security and police forces.

The tragedy also led to an unusual, concerted effort by the relatives of those killed, to hold the authorities, at the highest levels, to account.

After Beslan, the Russian authorities could no longer assert that their policies had brought stability and peace to ordinary Russians.

The whole of Russia, indeed the whole world, saw the same harrowing images from Beslan's School Number One.

They revealed the moral depravity to which the unending conflict in Chechnya had led, and forced the authorities in Moscow to admit that the North Caucasus stood on the edge of an abyss.

Pressure

Relatives of those killed in the Beslan siege hold pictures during the trial on 16 May 2006
Relatives and survivors say the full story is yet to be told
It was found that corrupt police had played their part in effectively assisting the hostage-takers in their plan. The security and special forces were totally unprepared for a mass hostage-taking situation.

Russia responded by appointing a special envoy to the North Caucasus, and gave him the task of trying to clean up its endemic corruption. Some officials have been replaced, but there has been little progress in improving what are often wretched economic conditions.

Relatives of the children killed formed an outspoken pressure group, and, remarkably, went on to secure an audience with President Vladimir Putin himself. They complained that official inquiries, which concluded that the authorities' actions were correct and justified, were whitewashes.

Importantly, the Beslan tragedy provoked a debate, and a subsequent split, in the Chechen rebel camp.

While part of it refused to apologise for the deaths of more than 180 children, others realised that the event had undermined whatever legitimacy their goals had previously had.

Today, the North Caucasus remains a restive and dangerous place. But since Beslan, there have been no major Chechen rebel attacks on civilian targets.



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