Staunton, September 3 – Most analysts suggest that the turning point for Vladimir Putin in his dealings with the West and with the Russian population came in 2014 with the invasion of Ukraine or at the earlier in 2008 when he invaded Georgia or in 2007 when the Kremlin leader delivered his tough speech at the Munich Security Forum.
But in fact, Semyon Novoprudsky says, the turning point came earlier in the wake of the September 3, 2004, terrorist incident at Beslan. The very next day, Putin laid out the new approach he has followed ever since (spektr.press/slabyh-byut-kak-terakt-v-beslane-stal-tochkoj-nevozvrata-a-rossiya-okazalas-v-kolce-vragov-perechityvaem-rech-prezidenta-15-letnej-davnosti/).
That speech (kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/22589) is “now practically forgotten,” the Moscow commentator says, even though in its implications for Russia and the world, it is at least the equal of the still-much-cited Munich address of three years later. That is unfortunate, Novoprudsky says; and in his commentary, he seeks to rectify the situation.
In his 2004 speech, Putin said that Russia, once an unchallengeable nuclear power had become “defenseless” and that foreigners were seeking to take advantage of this. To prevent this, Russia must re-miltarize and impose discipline domestically so that these outsiders cannot hurt Russia any more.
In saying this, Putin shifted all the blame for Beslan and much else from domestic problems onto outside forces, a shift that he has continued to insist on and thus has refused to acknowledge or address ever since. Responding to these threats from outside trumps everything else, Putin insisted and still insists, Novoprudsky says.
The reason for that in Putin’s mind was and is simple: Any manifestation of weakness opens the way to attack. “They beat the weak,” he said in 2004; and that has been his mantra ever since. Conversely, for Putin, the strong are those who are capable of beating others, be they Georgia, Ukraine, or the Russian opposition.
For Putin then and now, terrorism is a tool others use in pursuit of their goals. And thus Beslan was for him not the result of domestic difficulties but a stratagem developed by outsiders who wanted and want to dismember Russia. Beslan was “an attack on our country,” Putin said in the wake of the 2004 attack.
On the one hand, after Beslan, “Russia itself became an exporter of terrorism,” Novoprudsky says. And on the other, in the name of defending Russian from foreign foes, Putin began tightening the screws at home, making the heads of federal subjects appointed positions and eliminating elections more generally.
Since Beslan, “the image of ‘Russia surrounded by enemies’ has been firmly implanted in the consciousness of the Russian authorities. And those who demand from the powers that be civic freedoms and the observation of laws since that time have been called ‘a fifth column,’ ‘national traitors,’ and even ‘abettors of terrorism.’”