(AFP) MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia warned the West not to “interfere” over Chechnya, as Moscow moved to shore up security in the volatile Northern Caucasus region after the Beslan school tragedy.
“When Western countries urge Russia to rethink its tactics in Chechnya, I would advise them not to interfere with how Russia conducts its internal affairs,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
His tough remarks showed Russia’s exasperation over the stance of the United States in particular towards Chechen rebels accused by Moscow of involvement in the hostage siege.
Western countries “bear direct responsibility for the tragedy of the Chechen people when they give political asylum to terrorists,” said Lavrov, referring to the decision by the United States and Britain to grant asylum to two allies of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.
The comments marked a further hardening of rhetoric after Washington infuriated Moscow earlier this week by recommending that Russia opened talks with Chechen separatists.
In an interview with the Vremya Novostei newspaper, Lavrov retorted that policies in Washington were being shaped “by the same people who took an active part in forming policies during the Cold War.”
Russia has put a 10 million dollar bounty on the heads of Maskhadov and the notorious rebel commander Shamil Basayev, said by Moscow to have coordinated the seizure of 1,200 hostages as Beslan’s School No 1.
As Lavrov fumed, the interior ministry announced the creation of new anti-terror commissions for the republics and regions of the Northern Caucasus which would coordinate security forces’ operations to counter terror.
The security forces have come under harsh criticism for failing to prevent the hostage-taking in the first place and also for their unplanned raid that ended the siege but resulted in a horrific bloodbath and hundreds dead.
“Working executive groups have been created that will coordinate the activities of the security forces to avert the threat of terrorism and also to prevent attacks by illegal armed groups,” Interior Minister Rashid Nuraliyev said.
Nuraliyev told President Vladimir Putin (news – web sites) at a meeting broadcast on national television that the anti-terror commissions would be staffed by senior officers from the interior ministry and security services, who would work directly with the heads the Northern Caucasus regions.
While the decision represented a clear response to criticism of the handling of the crisis, there was still no sign of contrition by officials in Moscow.
“There is no sense of sacking people on a federal level in this situation,” a high-ranking security source told Izvestia. “What happens if just after appointing the new people there is — God forbid — another act of terror?”
It appeared that local authorities were taking the flak, after the president of North Ossetia vowed to fire his government by the end of the week.
Alexander Dzasokhov, president of the southern republic where the hostage taking took place, has given ambiguous signals on his own future, and on Thursday called an official rally in the regional capital Vladikavkaz to shore up support.
The peaceful event contrasted with the angry scenes at an anti-government event the day earlier, where protestors called for Dzasokhov to resign and forced him to appear on the balcony of the parliament building to make a statement.
Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov reaffirmed the military’s intent to strike at terror bases within Russia’s borders or even abroad, but also made clear neither the navy nor the air force would be employed in such strikes.
“A war has been declared against us and we have to use the means available to us for self-defense,” the Interfax agency quoted him as saying.
The government meanwhile announced plans for aid for bereaved families. Some 100,000 rubles (3,400 dollars, 2,800 euros) were to be given to families for every family member they lost, as well as another 18,000 rubles for funerals.
Those badly wounded were to receive 50,000 rubles (1,700 dollars) and everyone held hostage will be given 15,000 rubles (500 dollars).