Vladimir Putin has not inspired greater confidence in himself or in his government by his response to the Beslan crisis, but he has won more freedom of maneuver to use even harsher methods against the Chechen separatists and their supporters. Such would seem to be the implications of a “blitz-poll” of 500 Muscovites conducted last week by Yuri Levada’s Analytical Center, an independent opinion-research organization. The survey asked “who, in your opinion, bears the most responsibility for this incident?” A slim plurality, some 34 percent, chose “the special services and the FSB, which have not been able to guarantee the security of citizens and to prevent terrorist attacks.” Another 33 percent blamed “the guerrillas and terrorists who are trying to achieve their goals without regard for human lives.” Some 29 percent blamed “the leadership of Russia, which is continuing the war in Chechnya.”
Muscovites’ low level of confidence in their own government seems to have fallen even lower since the Dubrovka hostage tragedy two years ago. In October 2002, Levada’s pollsters asked a sample of Muscovites, “Do you think that the Russian authorities and special services can now guarantee the security of citizens and prevent future terrorist attacks of this kind?” On that occasion some 34 percent said Yes, 52 percent No. Asked the same question last week, only 19 percent said Yes and 77 percent No.
On the other hand, it would seem that the Putin administration will now find more popular support for greater ruthlessness in Chechnya. When asked, “What would most likely now guarantee the security of citizens,” in October 2002, some 28 percent of Muscovites chose “quick and decisive operations to crush the guerrillas in Chechnya”; but in September 2004, 42 percent chose that answer.
Another plus from Putin’s standpoint is that the Kremlin’s claims about “international terrorists” having organized the Beslan atrocity seem to have persuaded almost half of Muscovites. Asked “Who do you think stands behind the terrorists who seized the school,” some 48 percent said “international terrorist organizations.”