In the tiny Russian city of Beslan, the whole world saw the bloody horror of terrorism. Hundreds of children and adults were slaughtered by insane thugs, and all of us were shocked beyond comprehension by what we endured. The enormity of this crime is overwhelming. Indeed, Beslan turned out to be our national tragedy, a tragedy for the entire international community — a powerful reminder that we are all really at war.
We shall never forget the great heroism of local Russians who leapt forward to protect children with their own bodies. We shall never forget the heroism of our commandos who stormed the terrorist positions when it became clear that the children were being shot. At the same time, to echo the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, we as a nation were not fully prepared for such an attack. A thorough investigation has been launched, as is appropriate for a disaster of such a scale. But it is already clear that terrorists will never stop killing us if they are not stopped and eliminated with all the power and might of our nation and that of the civilized world.
Russia faces a challenge that has not been experienced by any country on such a threatening level. This challenge requires new answers and new approaches to security. That means, among other things, better interaction of our agencies responsible for law enforcement in the North Caucasus. In addition, we should be better prepared to react when an emergency situation occurs.
Russia after these September days of grief and sorrow will never be the same. It is inevitable, as is true for America after September 11. Now Russia is at the forefront of the fight against international terrorism. We are the main target of these forces of evil. But we have the resolve and strength to destroy them. We will never be beaten by them.
In fact, when our military leaders declare that Russia is ready to reach the terrorists and their bases wherever they are, we mean it. And it is only reassuring that our American partners fully understand this point. One cannot sit and wait until the enemy strikes on one’s own territory.
And Americans should be as vigorous as ever in addressing this global threat of terrorism. No one should be lulled into a false sense of security because no terrorist attack has occurred on American soil since September 11. It is clear that no nation can cope with terrorism singlehandedly. What is needed is a concerted effort by the civilized world to give a resolute rebuff to this type of brutality. Political messages should now be complemented by practical steps and genuine international cooperation.
That is why it is so appalling to hear some advocate a very different approach. To suggest that we should yield to the demands of terrorists and those who stand behind them is equivalent to inviting even more vicious and terrifying acts of terror. Giving in and giving up means giving a green light for new attacks and new victims. My country will never follow this path of self-destruction.
There are some “experts” for whom people like those who committed a crime against humanity in Beslan are “rebels,” “separatists” or even “freedom fighters.” It is hard to believe that one can have good intentions in this exercise of distinguishing between “good” terrorists and “bad” ones.
There is no chance whatever for negotiations with those who practice this form of modern barbarism. How would Americans react if after the destruction of the World Trade Center, influential voices in Russia suggested reaching an accommodation with al Qaeda and starting a dialogue with Osama bin Laden? This kind of hypocrisy is contrary to common decency and common sense alike.
We have reached a stage when any double standards in our perceptions of terrorism and terrorists should be ruled out. By double standards, I also mean overlooking actions such as providing shelter to terrorists and their accomplices who are fugitives sought by international law enforcement. We will never be able to create a common international front against terrorism if such double-standards are permitted. I want to believe that after Beslan there should be one — only one — established standard for fighting terrorism.
We are encouraged by the huge outpouring of sympathy, compassion and solidarity from the American people. When I witness such sincere expressions of sorrow and sympathy and willingness to help, when I look at the sea of flowers at the gate of our embassy or when I see wet eyes of Americans as they stand in lines along with hundreds of others who come to the embassy to express their sorrow in the book of condolences, I feel that Russians and Americans are together against a common enemy.
I am grateful to America inside the Beltway. I am grateful to President Bush, to all members of his administration, to men and women on Capitol Hill for their expressions of sympathy and resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with Russia in our common fight against terrorism. For me, these statements resonate with that remarkable phone call that came from Mr. Putin to Mr. Bush on September 11, 2001. And I wholeheartedly thank the U.S. government and American families for all their generosity in providing us with very considerable medical and other humanitarian assistance, which is so badly needed for the victims of Beslan.
On a personal note, I have never seen so many American children at our embassy. They shared the pain of this tragedy with the Russian kids. Nor have I seen so many high-ranking U.S. government officials show up at one time at the embassy to convey such powerful, sincere feelings of common loss to the Russian people.
These tragic days brought about not only heartbreaking news and tears. They also have helped to move our peoples closer to each other. And one of the great tasks is to translate these feelings of sympathy into practical deeds. We must do whatever it takes so that the memory of the victims of September 11 and the tragedy of Beslan will guide us in our common struggle against terror.
Yuri Ushakov is the Russian ambassador to the United States.