Five years after Beslan tragedy, questions linger
Half of all Russians surveyed say they don't know the whole truth about how more than 300 people, mostly children, were killed when the military raided the school where they were held hostage.
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Then-President Vladimir Putin used the tragedy to ratchet up Kremlin control, strengthen the powers of the security services, and cancel elections for regional governors.Skip to next paragraph
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The Beslan tragedy was the last of a series of horrific terrorist strikes that killed more than 1,000 Russians during the first four years of President Putin's Kremlin tenure, and changed Russia fundamentally.
"Russians became much more nationalistic under the impact of these events, and much less tolerant," says Irina Zvigelskaya, an expert with the independent Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Moscow. "We were already living in an authoritarian state, and it became more so."
Many experts say Russia's security services have not learned the lessons of Beslan, and if a similar attack were to occur again they would likely make the same mistakes.
"Law enforcement is focused on fighting terrorists, and not on protecting citizens," says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The number of victims at Beslan, and other terrorist tragedies, was due to the lack of concern for peoples' lives, and there are no signs of any changes in that."
The Kremlin has since claimed that rebellious Chechnya, the main source of a decade of terrorism, has been pacified. But extremist attacks continue to proliferate around the mainly-Muslim northern Caucasus region, albeit not on the scale of Beslan.
"The main reason we haven't seen another tragedy like Beslan is because the rebels have changed tactics," says Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, an online news service that focuses on Russia's security services. "They no longer operate in big units, but have broken up into small cells which target officials and law enforcement personnel."
One lesson the Kremlin does appear to have learned is to keep journalists well away from the scene, if another major terrorist strike should occur. "The laws have been changed to prohibit journalists from gathering any information, not just from terrorists, but even from the local population," says Mr. Soldatov.
"If – God forbid – another Beslan should happen, journalists will not be allowed to go anywhere near the action," he says.