The Hour of Serious and Responsible Diplomacy: A Farewell to Arms?

Exactly 20 years ago, the world witnessed one of the most gruesome terrorist attacks on Russian soil. It was the year 2004, and the world trembled at an action carried out by a group that illuminated their demand for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya with firearms. During the first day of classes in the city of Beslan (Republic of North Ossetia-Alania), hundreds of people were held hostage for three days by a large, heavily armed group determined to resist with blood and fire, the incursion of Russian government security forces. In that scenario, the world held its breath. The lives of hundreds of children, with their parents, mothers, and relatives, depended on the decisions made for their release.

The result: approximately 334 adults and 186 children died.

It was not the first time that attacks of this nature had struck the Russian civilian population. In 2002, a group led by men and women stormed the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. That fateful night resulted in nearly 200 deaths.

The recent attack on Friday, March 22, 2024, bears, in its methodology, certain similarities to the dramatic experiences of Beslan and Dubrovka. They were not the only attacks in Russia.

The war between Russia and Ukraine perhaps provoked the most significant turning point in the naturally tense relationship between a Chechnya that historically claimed its independence (as other Caucasian republics had been able to achieve after the collapse of the USSR) and Russia. For various reasons, some not entirely revealed, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov not only looked favorably upon Russia's invasion of Ukraine but also provided military support to Moscow for combat on Ukrainian territory.

The different reflections and analyses surrounding the most serious terrorist attack on Russian soil in the last twenty years recall the methodology employed by the radicalized and Islamist Chechen groups. Violent incursion, preparation, rapid deployment, weapons used, deaths of innocent people in a closed and crowded space.

However, other data must be analyzed that could indicate further clues, particularly the context of international war in which Russia finds itself involved.

In 2002 and 2004 (the time when the aforementioned attacks took place), the context expressed the "fight against terrorism" that the US incorporated into its National Security Strategy following the September 11 attacks (2001). Western military interventions became frequent after this scenario. Afghanistan and Iraq were the most prominent. However, the double standards to which the powers have accustomed us, tipped the balance against Russia for the events at the Beslan school (the European Court of Human Rights condemned the Russian state for the conduct of its security forces, accusing them of using excessive force to end the hostage situation), while the same was not done against the US when it decided to intervene militarily in Afghanistan in 2001 (and stay there for 20 years) and even less so after its incursion into Iraq (no longer seeking terrorists but falsely accusing that country of possessing weapons of mass destruction).

Today the context is different. The world appears excessively competitive, excessively violent, excessively fractured. Alliances proliferate as a product of competition for space, for the co-option of new partners, for energy resources, for commercial ambitions as tactical resources in strategies to contain others. AUKUS, IPEF, CSTO, SCO, an expanded and renewed NATO, Abraham Accords, are some of those that, once again, compose and express a balance of power that seeks to renew itself. Since Donald Trump's presidency, the war on terrorism has disappeared from the scene and China and Russia have been installed as powers that the US must neutralize. The same occurs in the National Security Strategy presented by the Biden administration. China appears as a global threat to the international order that the US seeks to sustain, and Russia as a localized threat. Over time, Ukraine has become what some analysts call "the sacrificed geopolitical lamb." The recent terrorist attack in Russia could worsen things. If the Chechen track is definitively discounted if the jihadist track proves to be unsupported (it will be the task of the FSB), if suspicions of a proxy or false flag attack are confirmed and a strategy of desperation prevails in the face of a Ukraine/NATO defeat in the war, the possibility of a massive response from Russia repels any expectation of an end to the conflict. It is time for diplomacy to display its art.


Verónica Pérez Taffi President of AERIA (Argentine Association of Studies in International Relations). PhD candidate in International Relations at USAL. Professor at USAL, UNTREF, UNDAV, and UP.

Other reviews