The Beslan school siege tragedy filled the editorial pages of European newspapers Monday. It was Russian papers that dished out the harshest criticism for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"If the terrorists really wanted to escape in the chaos -- as the crisis squad later claimed -- they would have done it at night," Moscow’s Russki Kurjer suggested. "In the darkness, the police would not have shot at people running from the school; so, the kidnappers would have succeeded in getting away." The papers editors said they would not have stormed the school during the daytime -- and doubted claims that the terrorists provoked the police into entering the building.
The Kommersant, also from Moscow, mourned the series of terrorist attacks that led up to the Chechen election. "In the last 10 days two planes have crashed, a bomb has exploded near a Moscow underground station and a school has been seized. The people who promised to protect us have let us down."
Other Eastern European papers blamed Putin’s Chechnya policy. The Gazeta Wyborcza out of Warsaw expected that "sooner or later, Chechnya will become independent; because Chechens aren’t Russians. Moscow has to learn a lesson from its Afghanistan war." The paper wondered "how many people will have to die before it’s clear that Russia won’t win in Chechnya?"
The Eveninmentul Zilei from Romania cited Putin’s speech to the country, in which he said, "We’ve shown ourselves to be weak in Chechnya, and we were defeated." The paper then went on to ask "Who is we? "Who is speaking? The czar of catastrophes? The man who let 118 people suffocate in the Kursk submarine? The gas-king that killed 117 people in a Moscow theatre?" The paper ended its commentary with a cryptic message, "Russia’s future is in the past. That is: nowhere."
Western European papers were no less forgiving of Putin. "All over the world, there are special forces trained to shut down kidnappers and save their hostages," the Salzburger Nachrichten pointed out. "But in Russia, the hostages only get second attention." The paper saw nothing that showed that "for the Russian leadership, the hostages were of primary importance."
Trouw, from The Hague, was disappointed at Western governments for not getting involved in peace efforts in Chechnya. "Chechnya cannot simply be left to Vladimir Putin," the paper warned.
Bad coordination in fighting terrorists is the result of bad international relations among Europe, Russia, and the United States, La Stampa from Rome opined. On one hand, the paper observed, "French President Jacques Chirac negotiates with Iraqi kidnappers and argues with the Iraqi government," while on the other hand "Putin uses a hard hand to mobilize the country."
The Aftenposten from Oslo expressed its hope that Putin will turn to political, not military, solutions in Chechnya. "Russia is an ethnic quilt with huge potential for war and a damaged political culture for peaceful and democratic solutions," the paper remarked before it counseled the Washington and Moscow to work together to combat terrorism. "Iraq should be a warning against too much belief in the use of force," the Aftenposten concluded.