The Image of the Terrorist ‘‘Threat’’ in the Russian Official Press: the Moscow Theatre Crisis

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The Image of the Terrorist ‘‘Threat’’ in the Russian Official Press: the Moscow Theatre Crisis (2002) and the Beslan Hostage Crisis (2004)

Aglaya Snetkov

University of Birmingham

High profile terrorist acts or teratky in Russia have punctuated Russo-Chechen relations in recent years. A number of factual political and crisis management analyses of these acts, with regards to the development of the Russo-Chechen relations, have already been produced1; less work has been published on the presentation of these taratky in the Russian official media. However, since official political commentary on the subject of Chechnya has been curtailed since 1999, media analyses of such events have become important information sources and may be seen as key turning points in Russian governmental discourse on Chechnya and terrorism in Russia.
This paper stems from a larger project, which looked at the evolution of the official debate on Chechnya and the North Caucasus between 2002 and 2004. Two case studies were especially selected for comparison: the Moscow Theatre hostage taking (Dubrovka) (2002) and the Beslan School siege (2004). These were chosen because of their importance in the recent past, the large amounts of discourse generated at the time, and some researchers’ characterisation of such crises as turning points in the development of governmental policy and discourse on a specific issue.

The remit of the paper precludes one to present all the findings of this study, and this paper will pick out perhaps the most important aspect of the official discourse on this subject: the presentation of the ‘‘threat’’ in the Russian official media. The overall aspect of this image, as will be argued below, was the ongoing attempt by the Russian officials at times of terakty and beyond to remove the Chechen issue from the political agenda. Although this paper agrees with those who have argued that the Russian government has since 1999 tried to characterise the ‘‘threat’’ faced by Russia as that of international terrorism, this paper challenges the assumption that this discourse has remained the same throughout this period particularly in the official media. Instead the official media discourse actually shows a substantial degree of change and evolution since 1999, making it crucial to continue analysing the official media presentation of terakty to keep abreast of the official debate on the subject of Chechnya and the North Caucasus.

This paper will begin by providing a brief background to Russo-Chechen relations as well as a brief outline of the two episodes. It will then proceed to discuss in turn the different aspects of the image of the ‘‘threat’’, such as the nature of the ‘threat’, its location, the magnitude of this danger and the solutions offered to curtail it. The sources for this study have primarily been the main state newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta (RG) and official speeches reproduced in other media sources.2 To give a fuller picture of official discourse on these terakty, all related texts published in RG in the month after each event were analysed. To provide some impression of alternative discourses presented in the Russian media in this period, official presentations were supplemented with contrasting discourses, primarily taken from independent newspapers, such as Kommersant, Noviye Izvestia and Novaya gazeta.

The Context
Chechnya is a Muslim region situated in the North Caucasus that unlike some of its neighbours has traditionally resisted assimilation into the Russian empire since 18 century and it had declared it independence from Russia in 1991 as the USSR was collapsing. Chechens are Sufi Muslims, traditionally a pacifist branch of Islam. However since the end of the USSR, and the subsequent economic collapse coupled with the ‘post-Soviet structural and ideological crisis’th, a more fundamentalist and militant form of Islam that the Russian authorities have labelled ‘Wahhabism’3, has gained in popularity in Chechnya and its neighbouring republics, such as Dagestan. A number of analyses from the ground have suggested that this growth of Islamic militancy in the region is mostly connected with the dislocation and alienation experienced, primarily by the younger generation in the region, due to socio-economic problems affecting both Chechnya and North Caucasus as a whole. At the same time, the increasing practice of Islam in the region could be seen as a return to local traditions, in a region where Islam in, some form or another, persisted even under Soviet rule. The numbers of followers of such fundamentalist forms of Islam, which advocate the ‘jihad’ against Russia, continues to be very small, although they seem to be on the increase since the mid-1990s.

The current conflict began in 1994 and has continued until the present, with a brief respite between 1996 and 1999. Its origins are contested, some characterising this issue as a personality clash between the leaders of these two entities, Yeltsin and Dudaev,4others focusing on it as a Russian attempt to maintain unity following the USSR’s collapse, or on Chechnya’s key role as an energy resource provider or most recently by Trenin, Malashenko and Lieven as a commercial war of ‘tangle of shady deals and clandestine contracts’5. The Khvasavyurt Agreement in August 1996 effectively granted Chechnya de-facto independence. The interim-peace period 1996-99, under the leadership of the elected President Maskhadov was marred by a rise in corruption, kidnappings, and black markets 6.

The resumption of the conflict in 1999 was triggered by a Chechen raid into Dagestan, aiming to forge a common Islamic union between the two republics, and apartment bombings in Moscow. Since 2001, the Russian government has argued that the large-scale fighting has ceased, and it has begun its policy of ‘normalisation’ in Chechnya, aiming to transfer control of the administration to Chechens. Hostilities are on-going to the present day.
Chechnya is a highly mythologized region in traditional Russian accounts. In the writings of 19 century Russian poets and novelists, like Lermontov, Tolstoy and Pushkin, Chechnya has often been presented in a romanticised way, on the one hand presenting the Chechen people as lone and noble fighters, at other times more like savages. Russia’s role in such accounts has traditionally been as a civilising influence in the regionth. Since 1991, the rise in racial prejudice in Russia has led to a renewal in the racialisation of the Caucasus, as the “other”, in the official press7. Lynch argues that Putin inherited Russia ‘at its weakest’, and has tried to present Chechnya as the place where ‘Russia’s rebirth was to start’8. The second conflict has also been portrayed as an anti-terrorist operation, rather than a secessionist conflict. In 2001 the blurring of Chechnya and terrorism into a single phenomenon was brought onto a new level when President Putin aligned Russia with the American-led war on terror, and presented his fight in Chechnya as part of an international war on terror.
At the same time as Chechnya was being equated more and more with international terrorism, the media coverage of developments within the republic and the North Caucasus in general has been severely curtailed since 1999. This was in part due to the increasing state control over the reporting of this conflict, but also because the region had become very dangerous for reporters to travel to, and as noted by Oates and White a general ‘Chechen fatigue’ had set among the Russian public, whose interest in this issue had significantly dwindled since the first conflict9. As a result, little information comes through about events on the ground in Chechnya, and the official position on this issue has come to dominate one in a number of key media outlets, such as television and certain newspapers, such as Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
Turning to the two chosen case studies, extensive chronologies of the two terakty may be found elsewhere10, and a brief outline of the two events will suffice here. The Moscow Theatre siege began on 23 October 2002, when 53 armed men and women seized the Moscow Dubrovka Theatre, during a performance. This siege, with 979 hostages, lasted 58 hours, and ended with the death of 128 hostages, largely during the rescue, three days later on the 26 October The storming of the building by the Russian special counterterrorism forces and the controversial use of gas, which overwhelmed both terrorists and hostages, became a contentious issue in the aftermath of the rescue.
The Beslan school siege unfolded far away from Moscow in a small town in North Ossetia. The major differences between the two terakty were that Beslan was part of a wider terrorist campaign in August and September 2004,11 and that the target was a school, involving a large numbers of children. On 1 September 2004, 38 armed rebels entered School Number One during an assembly celebrating the new academic year. The militants held the 1,200 hostages, including teachers, children, parents, siblings, relatives and friends, in a small school gymnasium, and mined the school building. On 3 September, Special Forces stormed the building after a bomb appeared to have exploded inside and hostages had begun to escape from a hole in the building. In total 300 people died, half of them children, 200 were missing and many more were wounded.
Both of these terakty came to be seen as great tragedies in recent Russian history, and this paper now analyses how the terrorist ‘threat’ was covered by the official press during these two incidents.

The presentation of the ‘threat’ in the official Russian media
The main aim of the official media coverage of the Chechen issue since 1999 has been to explain away the resumption of fighting in Chechnya. This was primarily done in the official media, and most specifically Rossiiskaya Gazeta, by framing the issue in the language of the war on terror. This discourse was also frequently adopted by the Chechen separatists themselves, as seen during the Dubrovka and Beslan incidents, however it is not within the scope of this paper to address this issue fully, and it will be referred to only in passing below. Nevertheless, debates on the nature of the new phenomenon of ‘war on terror’ and ‘Islamic terrorism’ are ongoing, ranging from issues on ‘Just war theory’,12 to neo-imperialism and ‘new wars’,13 most of which seek to define the nature of terrorism in the modern world and how to counteract it. In 2002 and 2004, borrowing and remodelling certain features of this international discourse was key for the construction of the image of the ‘threat’ in the official press. To maintain the Russian government’s hegemonic discourse during these terakty and in their aftermath, and deflect any criticisms of its policy in the region, the image portrayed underwent considerable changes in 2002 and 2004. A close analysis of the reports from Rossiiskaya Gazeta suggests that the image of the ‘threat’ shifted from being centred on Chechnya and its own problems to a diffused, less clearly defined danger emanating from international Islamic terrorists targeting the whole of North Caucasus and threatening the very existence of the Russian Federation. This shift in emphasis was not an overnight change, but was part of a much longer process, going back to 1999, when the then Prime Minister Putin first declared the resumption of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya. However, as will be highlighted below, solutions for how to resolve the Chechen/North Caucasian problem did not appear to have moved at the same rate as the remodelling of the ‘threat’ in the official Russian media.
The constant image of the ‘threat’
I believe in the necessity to first present a general image of how the terrorist ‘threat’ was presented in the official media by drawing out the common themes in this discourse since 1999. These themes were in evidence in both 2002 and 2004 and it is possible to proceed from here to an analysis of the differences between the image of the ‘threat’ between Dubrovka and Beslan.

By grounding these two terakty in the language of the ‘war against terrorism’, as early as 1999, and again in 2002 and 2004, the official media fused the rise of international Islamic terrorist movements with Russia’s domestic problems in Chechnya and terrorism, into a ‘single phenomenon’14. By presenting this danger as an “invisible threat without borders” , as was noted by the Russian Justice Minister, Yuri Tchaika in Rossiiskaya Gazeta in 2004, the official position highlighted the international nature of this ‘threat’ and presented this danger as an enveloping ‘threat’, engulfing the whole world, not just Russia. At this stage one should be mindful of the fact that the Russian official media was by no means the only media in the world which made a point of connecting domestic separatist problems with the international situation and the perceived danger of international terrorism. In fact, this approach was taken by a very large number of countries with domestic terrorism such as Spain, the Central Asian states and China15. The influence of this danger on the regional situation inside Russia was also brought out, particularly when in September 2004 Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported President Putin saying that “Exactly here [North Caucasus] that the ideology of international terrorism is especially active”.

The official discourse also highlighted the involvement of fundamentalist Muslim, particularly the ‘black widows’16 in 2002, to re-emphasise the now-familiar image of Islamic fundamentalism operating in Russia and elsewhere, by drawing similarities between events in Chechnya and the phenomenon of Islamic suicide bombers in Palestine.17 In this respect two points are worth making. Firstly, the media emphasis on the external appearance of Islam, such as long descriptions of the women involved in the hostage taking in 2002 and their Islamic dress or the bearded male terrorists, betrayed the lack of any in depth consideration of the nature of Islamic belief in Chechnya or the North Caucasus. Secondly, most of the debate on Islam focused on macro level global developments, such as the perceived a clash of civilisation ongoing in the contemporary world, between the progressive modernity of the civilised world and the backward Islamic world. In this battle, Russia was positioned at the front18. The totality of this clash was also highlighted in Rossiiskaya Gazeta’s suggestion that the aim of these Islamic terrorists was “to make their own type of Islam as the one and only religion in the world”19. Whilst certain Islamic leaders in Chechnya may have seen the Russo-Chechen conflict in such religious terms, interestingly the Russian official media also tied up terrorist demands, primarily centred on the removal of Russian troops in Chechnya, within this issue of a clash of civilisations. This increasingly negative portrayal of Islam in Russia, and ongoing pressure put by the Russian authorities on various Muslim institutions outside official control in North Caucasus in the last few years, as well as the increasingly important role played by the Russian Orthodox Church and Slavic identity in general, definitely makes this an issue to watch very carefully both now and in the future.
It is beyond this paper’s scope to discuss in detail the validity of what Halbach calls the ‘interference theory’,20 i.e. the exact connections between international terrorism, the rise of Islam in Russia, and Russian domestic terrorism. Horsman though urges caution about widespread conspiracy theories with regards to the involvement of international terrorists in Chechnya.21 It is clear that such links existed and were at times crucial. Nevertheless, despite the increasing international Islamisation of the actors involved in this conflict, its sources remain domestic.22 Acknowledging links between secessionism and these terakty could have been politically problematic, and could have undermined the state’s policy of Chechenisation, which aimed to stabilise the situation in Chechnya by handing over the running of local affairs to pro-Russian Chechen groups, which according to the official position should have reduced the ‘threat’ to Russia’s security.
Presenting terrorism as a homogeneous ‘threat’ has also become a feature of both international and Russian discourse on terrorism since 9/11. In Russia’s case, this paper would argue this enabled the official discourse to merge the previous, and now awkward, Chechen administration (which had been democratically elected by the Chechen people in 1997, but which had gone into opposition since the resumption of hostilities in 1999) with terrorism, into an image of a single general ‘threat’. This attempt to de-legitimize the previously elected administration of Aslan Maskhadov was clear in a comment in RG that “This force [terrorists] is linked with the worldwide terrorist Islamic movement…and Chechen separatists are nothing more than errand boys for them”23. A similar attitude was also suggested by RG’s comment that “War is ongoing for the political survival of Maskhadov and Basaev”24, quashing any suggestion that the previous administration might be fighting for higher moral or national reasons, such as the Chechen people or independence. The media also tried to use these two terakty as case in point, to counteract the repeated suggestion in certain domestic and international circles that Russia should negotiate with Maskhadov. As noted by RG commentator, if after Dubrovka, critics have not realised the real nature of the previous Chechen administration, then they must after Beslan25. This comment on the one hand fell within the usual position adopted by national governments such as the US not to negotiate with terrorists. However one may also query whether this discursive stance was taken in the attempt to weaken Maskhadov’s position in the eyes of the West, and protect Russian control inside Chechnya, by once more attempting to reduce the legitimacy of the previous Chechen administration.
Crucially this image of this ‘threat’ as a homogeneous force did not differentiate between different motivations for opposition to Russia’s policy in Chechnya or the North Caucasus. All were presented as terrorists. By contrast, Lord Judd26, in his report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), identified three distinct groups with different aims: 1) Al Qaeda extremists committed to jihad; 2) opportunistic criminals with vested material interests in the war; 3) political leaders who, although misguided, justifiably desired a secure political and cultural identity for Chechens, whom they see as humiliated and oppressed.27 Commentators in other newspapers also highlighted the importance of local issues. For example, Tatyana Vorosheikina, in Vremya MN in October 2002,28 described how Russian anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya against civilians motivated some people to retaliate. For Semyan Novoprudsky, in Vremya Novostei September 2004,29 the key issue was that this conflict had turned into a business, involving not only terrorists but many important people. No such discussion was seen on the pages of RG, and official discourse seems to have ignored these issues.
Russell presents this as an ‘apparent paradox’ in Russia’s war on terror, which enabled Russia to characterise opponents as terrorists, whilst continuing its own special operations on the ground. He argues that such ‘wars’, against terrorism, crime, or poverty, follow different rules to normal warfare. Classifying the target as a societal problem, rather than a geographical entity, allowed the state to choose who is a terrorist, and bypass traditional rules of warfare, obligatory on both sides.30
Spatial shift of the locus of the ‘threat’
At this point, the paper will now turn to analysing some of the key changes which had occurred in the presentation of the ‘threat’ to Russia from the Chechen and North Caucasian terrorists, between 2002 and 2004.
This study shows that one of the key changes which occurred between 2002 and 2004 was the spatial locus of this ‘threat’-shifting from Chechnya between 1999 and 2003, but becoming North Caucasus in 2004. Increasing instability in North Caucasus has, of course, been documented in the last few years and certain communalities, at least in terms of growing Islamisation of the opposition, could be detected. Whilst this change in rhetoric could partially be a reflection of changing realities in the region- it could also be characterised as a further attempt by the government to remove Chechnya from the political agenda, at least at the time of another terakt. Thus, in 2002 Putin talked about: “they [terrorists] and those who stand behind them, are precisely scared of future …stabilisation in Chechen republic”.31 This line also sought to isolate ‘bad’ Chechen ‘fighters’ from ‘good’, ‘ordinary’ Chechens, prepared to collaborate with Russia, a distinction widely seen in RG in 2002.32
By 2004 the focus of the official press had shifted to ‘the situation in North Caucasus’,33 rather than in Chechnya. Whilst the image of the North Caucasus as a victim of terror and a base of terror was being created, Chechnya effectively disappeared from the discursive lexicon. Sergei Lavrov actively acknowledged this change, when he said after the Beslan siege that: ‘As to the criminals, neither the President Vladimir Putin, nor other officials said it was an attack by Chechens’.34
Opposition discourse did not witness the same shift, and generally continued to identify Chechnya as the source of instability. S. Novoprudsky, in Vremya Novostei in 2004,35 discussed the roots of the ‘Chechen’, not ‘North Caucasian’, conflict. It is true that the Beslan tragedy took place outside Chechnya, and involved non-Chechen fighters, but this was not unprecedented; earlier terakty, like the 5th December 2003 train crash, or the Dubrovka terakt, also occurred outside Chechnya. Furthermore, despite the policy of normalisation, Russian response to the situation in Chechnya was markedly different from that in the North Caucasus. In 2004 sweeping operations targeting insurgents and ‘Islamic terrorists’ and their sympathisers and travel restrictions were still primarily being deployed in Chechnya and not in the rest of North Caucasus, although the epicentre of operations seemed to have widened by 2005 and 2006. Thus this change in rhetoric is perhaps best characterised as a government attempt to remove Chechnya, which it had failed to resolve, from the political agenda, rather than an acknowledgment of changing realities in the North Caucasus.
The level of the ‘threat’
The level of the ‘threat’ to Russia increased exponentially between 2002 and 2004, suggesting either that the official presentation of the ‘threat’ continued to evolve with the changing circumstances and events on the ground, or that the official media was trying to portray this ‘threat’ as a new phenomenon. No mention was made in the official press that the Russian authorities or the presidency were in any way to blame for the occurrence of the two terakty or that the Russian state had failed the Chechen issue sooner as they had promised to in 1999. The omission of this issue reinforces the impression that the Chechen conflict was continuously being disassociated from the image of the ‘threat’ by 2004. These two suggestive interpretations should not, however, be seen as mutually exclusive, rather both are useful when analysing the extent to which Russia was said to be in danger from this type of terrorism.
Therefore, in 2002, Rossiiskaya Gazeta still presented this ‘threat’ as a manageable and surmountable danger, even if the Moscow Theatre terakt was said to have been carried out by well organised, decisive and fanatical fighters. Their aims, in many ways, were also portrayed as very specific, for example to get the attention of the international community for their cause. This was the view suggested by the Deputy Chair of Council of Ministers of Checheno-Igushetia, Lema Kasaev, quoted in RG on the 26 of October 2002, that ‘the terrorists are, above all, trying to create more external impact, they are not working for Russia, but mainly for the international community’th. The refusal to concede to terrorist demands, unlike during the 1995 and 1996, terakty was above all presented as a major victory for the Russian government. The Moscow Theatre crisis in this way was meant to become Russia’s Stalingrad, when as noted in RG on the 29 October 2002 “when a self-confident and arrogant enemy understood for the first time its defeat and Russia could once again feel pride in itself and its people”th
However, the recurrence of another terakt on such a large scale in 2004, shattered any mood of optimism, in the Russian official press, about the possibility of defeating this danger in the near future. Thus, in 2004, President Putin, quoted in RG, characterised this danger as a war which “do[es[ not end quickly”36. Whereas in 2002, this ‘threat’ was still presented as localised and manageable, by 2004, this ‘threat’ was perceived as much larger and all engulfing, with RG reporting that “Those who carry out terakty want the disintegration of Russia”37. However, as Coalson astutely notes, the change in rhetoric in 2004 was perhaps not only a reflection of the actual growing, and more importantly, widening instability on the ground now including most of the North Caucasus, but primarily a way for the Russian government to deflect blame for failing to prevent the terakt by presenting the ‘threat’ and groups organising such attacks as so dangerous, monumental and new that it could not be dealt with immediately. Indeed, by 2004, even the Russian public seemed to share this particular interpretation of the danger faced by Russia and opinion polls in September 2004 indicated that most people expected such attacks to continue.38
Measures proposed to tackle this ‘threat’
Bhatia argues that the discourse of the ‘war on terror’ presents terrorist attacks as “a matter of a pure ‘evil’, with no history or reason”,39 which one cannot negotiate with. This was essentially the position taken by Russian official discourse in 2002 and 2004. Any concessions to the terrorists, both during the terakty and in general, such as a withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya would, according to Tretyakov in RG, lead to a terrorist takeover of the entire North Caucasus, the collapse of Russia and the triumph of violence and death.40 Halbach suggests the treaty of Khassavjurt, ending the first Chechen war, was regarded as treason in certain groups of the Russian elite, and was not to be repeated.41 As noted earlier, the issue of negotiations also became contentious in the Russian and Western press, and the government used particularly emotive and defensive language to reinforce its position. For example, Y. Ushakov, the Russian Ambassador to the US wrote in Washington Post in September 2004, that ‘child-killers come closer to Osama Bin Laden…It is unimaginable that any US administration would ever negotiate with Al Qaeda’.42
The solutions offered to overcome this danger on the ground were both domestic and international. Whereas the image of the ‘threat’ evolved between 2002 and 2004, the thinking behind how to deal with it in practice remained the same.
Domestically, the focus was on finding a political solution for regional socio-economic problems, which were said to be making Chechnya and the North Caucasus fertile ground for international terrorism. In 2002, official discourse still championed the Chechenisation programme. For example, according to T Borisov in RG: ‘If Chechens feel that they are really returning to rebuild houses, that conditions are being created for peaceful work, then the stream of those who want to go to the mountains will dry out [i.e. join the terrorists]’.43 The state proposed extending this programme by holding a referendum for a new Chechen constitution, fresh presidential elections, and the implementation of Russian laws in Chechnya. In 2004 the focus moved towards bringing in key political figures from outside. This took the form of a Special Federal Commission on the North Caucasus, led by the new plenipotentiary envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, the re-establishment of the Ministry for Regions and Ethnicity; and the launch of an integrated security system in the region under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The aim was to improve the socio-economic situation in the whole of the North Caucasus.
Despite changes in rhetoric and emphasis, both of these measures had been tried in the past and had not succeeded. Already by 2002, Russia’s reconstruction policy in Chechnya had largely failed. Chechnya continued to suffer from 80 percent of unemployment, and 80 percent of housing had been destroyed during fighting and had not been rebuilt.44 Halbach argues Russian authorities lacked the necessary local support in the region for these policies to succeed. Nor was this achieved by 2004, as the assassinations of the Chechen President Kadyrov in 2004, and subsequent terakty in Moscow and elsewhere in 2003 and 2004, show. Lynch also notes that most of the sub-parts of the post-Beslan plan were tried previously and failed.45
This paper suggests, however, the continuous omission of some of the aspects of this conflict from the official discourse have hampered efforts to find a workable solution. Firstly, neither in 2002 or 2004 did the government address the issue of the Russian sweeping operations in Chechnya, such as Alkhan Kala in June 2001 or Semovodsk in July 2001, or the trauma associated with these for local populations.46 Secondly, governmental discourse overlooked the war’s effect on the new generation in Chechnya. According to Aslambek Aslakhanov, Duma Deputy for Chechnya, they ‘grew up under the rule that whoever has the greatest number of guns and armed people behind him is right. They live under their own traditions and customs’,47 and were now actively participating in terakty against Russia. This paper argues that it was this lack of careful analysis of developments on the ground, which resulted in the persistent failure of the Russian policy in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Other solutions with regards to strengthening the state and the nation, were also suggested, particularly in 2004.
Internationally, after each terakt, the official media tried to get approval for the official actions during terakty. These two episodes were also used in an attempt to alleviate Western criticism for Russian actions in Chechnya, and in part also try to show to Russian people (and possible domestic opposition) that Russian actions during the two terakty were supported by the West. In this way foreign charitable collections and letters of support played a prominent role in domestic news coverage of the 2002 and 2004 terakty in RG.48 However, because there was no fundamental shift in the Western position towards Russia on the issue of Chechnya, this feeling of solidarity so prominent in the initial coverage of the two terakty petered out after that. Subsequent commentaries about the West and the Russian attempt to eradicate international terrorism, highlighted the negative and insufficient role played by the West in the global fight on terrorism. RG characterised Russia as a vital link in the fight against terrorism to protect Western civilisation, which should be helped by its Western allies to prevent the spread of terrorism to other countries.49 By 2004 Russian official media no longer seem to portray the West in the positive light with regards to the fight against terrorism. The West was still portrayed as a potential ally, an ally who should understand the situation Russia is in, and do its duty by helping Russia in fighting this ‘threat’, however RG was largely pessimistic about the prospect of this happening.

To conclude, this study therefore suggests that the presentation of the ‘threat’ to Russian security from the terrorists underwent a substantial transformation between 2002 and 2004. Whilst the links between Islamic international terrorism and Chechnya continued to dominate much of the coverage of the Beslan crisis in 2004, the focus of the official media was no longer on Chechnya, but had shifted onto the North Caucasus, and the level of this ‘threat’ had also significantly risen by 2004. Evidence above suggests that whilst in 2002 the terrorist ‘threat’ was still largely presented in the official press as a discreet and manageable problem, largely connected with developments within Chechnya, by 2004 this was presented as a much greater ‘threat’, possibly ‘threatening the very existence of Russia, or even the ‘civilised’ world.
At this stage, one would suggest that this change in discourse was a mixture of the Russian government and the official press responding to the apparent increase in instability and growing unrest in the whole of the North Caucasus, which was no longer confined to Chechnya. But as was suggested above it was probably also an attempt to retain legitimacy in the face of ongoing terakty in the heart of Russia, and explain away the state failure to resolve the Chechen crisis sooner. By presenting the terrorist ‘threat’ as part of a new, much larger and more endemic danger in the modern world, the official press seemed keen on supporting the government’s actions both during and after the Beslan crisis in September 2004.
The study also sheds some light on how the Chechen issue itself is currently being discussed in the official media. One of the key themes to come from this piece of research is that the official press continue to frame the terrorist ‘threat’ in terms of ‘a clash of civilisations’, which suggests a zero sum game approach to the Chechen issue on the part of the official press and perhaps even the Russian officials, and may go some way to explain the continuous focus on a military solution to the growing instability in the North Caucasus. What is continually missing in the official coverage of this issue is a frank discussion of developments in the region, such as socio-economic problems across the North Caucasus, but also the increasing attempt by the Russian authorities to clamp down on any form of unofficial Islam, be it mosques, Islamic schools or organisations. This omission means that Russian policies in the region continuously fail to deliver positive results, and instability on the ground remains high. Whether the Russian government, or their press, is prepared to address this issue in its fullest form is perhaps at this stage unlikely, nevertheless the spread of instability into the ethnically Russian, or traditionally peaceful regions in the North Caucasus, is quite likely in the near future, which may in the end force the Russian government to come up with a more workable solution for the crisis than has been discussed up till now.

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Yemolianova, G.M., ‘Sufism and politics in the North Caucasus’, Nationalities Papers 29.4, 2001

1 M A Alexseev, ‘Chechnya, 9/11, the Moscow hostage crisis and opportunity for political settlement, PONARS Policy Memo 250, 2002,; U Halbach, ‘War on the edge of Europe: the Chechen conflict in a new light’, SWP Comments 4, November 2002, ; E Stepanova, ‘From Dubrovka to Beslan’, PONARS Policy Memos, N347, November 2004,; A Dolnik and R Pilch, ‘The Moscow Theatre hostage crisis: the perpetrators, their tactics and the Russian response’, International Negotiation, Vol. 8, 2003; D Lynch, ‘”The enemy is at the gate”, Russia after Beslan’, International Affairs, Vol. 81, No 1, 2005

2 However, because Rossiiskaya Gazeta, although the official newspaper of the Russian government, remains a part of the free press, which may deviate from the official line, I indicate when an opinion is expressed by a commentator from RG or a Russian official.

th G. M. Yemolianova, ‘Sufism and politics in the North Caucasus’, Nationalities Papers 29.4, 2001, p. 668.

3 The term ‘Wahhabism’ in Russia is used to describe the more militant form of Islamic which has been spreading throughout the North Caucasus since the mid-1990s. It more readily advocates the use of jihad i.e. the holy war against opponents of Islam. Debates are ongoing about the nature of this phenomenon, such as the extent to which it is indigenous, or was brought in from abroad, such as the Middle East, how widespread it is, whether its rise is more due to economic and social problems, rather religious factors.

4 J. Hughes, ‘Chechnya: the causes of a protracted post-Soviet conflict’, Civil Wars 11, 2001.

5 D. V. Trenin, A. V. Malashenko, and A. Lieven, Russia’s restless frontier: the Chechen factor in post-Soviet Russia, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2004, p. 16.

6 D V Trenin, A V Malashenko, A Lieven, 2004, p 39

th D V Trenin, A V Malashenko, A Lieven, 2004, p 65

7 M. L. Roman, ‘Making Caucasians black: Moscow since the fall of Communism and the racialisation of non-Russians’, Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 18.2, 2002, p. 31.

8 D. Lynch, 2005, p. 143.

9 S. Oates and S. White, ‘Politics and the media in postcommunist Russia’, Politics 23.1, 2003.

10Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty coverage of the two hostage crisis can be found at: for the Moscow Theatre Crisis 2002 see:, for the Beslan School Crisis 2004 see:

th A. Dolnik and R. Pilch, 2003, p. 581.

11 In August 2003, terrorists hijacked and exploded two planes from Domodedovo Airport, and a suicide bomber had blown herself up outside a Moscow Metro station.

12 G. Oberleitner, ‘A just war against terror’, Peace Review 16.3, 2004, pp. 263-268.

13 P. Shearman and M. Sussex, ‘Globalization, “New War”, and the War in Chechnya’, in R. Sakwa (ed.), Chechnya: from Past to Future, London: Anthem Press, 2005, p. 199.

14D V Trenin, A V Malashenko, A Lieven, 2004, p 79

B Iamshamov, in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, thereafter RG, 02/09/04

15 See for Central Asia see S Horsman, ‘Themes in official discourse on terrorism in Central Asia’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 26, No 1, 2005, discussion on Spain and China see J Mariner, Our many and varied wars on terror, 2002,

16 ‘Black widows’ was a term used to describe female terrorists.

17 J. Russell, ‘Terrorists, bandits, spooks and thieves: Russian demonisation of Chechens before and since 9/11’, Third world quarterly 26.1, 2005, p. 112.

18 RG 27/09/04

19 RG 27/09/04

20 U. Halbach, 2002, p. 1.

21 S. Horsman, 2005, p. 203.

22 J. Wilhelmson, ‘Between a rock and a hard place: the Islamisation of the Chechen separatist movement’, Europe-Asia Studies 57.1, 2005, p. 48.

23 RG 03/09/04

24 RG 16/09/04

25 Y. Bogomolov in RG, 16 September, 2004.

26 Lord Judd was a rapporteur on Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during the Dubrovka and Beslan terakty

27 C. W. Blandy, ‘Chechnya, normalization’, paper 40, Conflict Research Center, Caucasus Series, June 2003, p. 48.

28 Tatyana Vorosheikina, in Vremya MN in 29 October 2002

29 Semyan Novoprudsky, in Vremya Novostei, 6 September 2004

30 J. Russell, ‘A war by any other name: Chechnya, 11 September and the war against terrorism’, in R. Sakwa (ed.), Chechnya from Past to Future, London: Anthem Press, 2005, p. 240.

31 S. Ptichkin in RG, 25 October, 2002.

32 A. Sharov in RG, 26 October, 2002.

33 President Putin’s address to the nation, 4 September, 2004,

34 Sergei Lavrov, transcript of remarks and replies to media questions by Minister of Foreign Affairs at press conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Silvan Shalom, 6 September, 2004,

35 S. Novoprudsky in Vremya Novostei, 6 September, 2004.

th The Deputy Chair of Council of Ministers of Checheno-Igushetia, Lema Kasaev asserted that ‘the terrorists are above all trying to get create more external impact, they are not working for Russia, but mainly for the international community’, by A. Sharov in RG, 26 October, 2002.

th RG 29/10/02

36 RG September 2004

37 RG 14/09/04

38 N. Konygina, Izvestia, 8 September, 2004.

39 M. V. Bhatia, 2005, p. 17.

40 V. Tretyakov in RG, 29 October, 2002.

41 U. Halbach, 2002, p. 6.

42 Y. Ushakov in Washington Post, 8 September 2004.

43 T. Borisov, in RG, 31 October, 2002.

44 U. Halbach, 2002, p. 4.

45 D. Lynch, 2005, pp. 159-160.

46 Human Rights Watch, ‘Russia, Chechnya, swept under: torture, forced disappearances, and extra judicial killings during sweep operations in Chechnya’, Vol. 14, No 2, February 2002, pp. 13-46.

47 G Feifer, 25 October 2002, ‘Russia: Chechen hostage takes represent new generation of militants’. Radio Free Europe,

48 M. Makaritchev in RG 30 October, 2002 and N. Sorokina in RG 3 September, 2004.

49 Leonid Radzhikhovski in RG 7 September, 2004.

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