» Monday, September 6, 2004

Beslan School Siege

Asked if the Prime Minister would be speaking to President Putin in the light of the horrific outcome of the school siege in Beslan, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had sent a note to the President on Friday in which he had said, “I have been closely watching the terrible developments in North Ossetia. It is hard to express my revulsion at the inhumanity of terrorists prepared to put children and their parents through such suffering. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, the families and friends of those killed, those injured and all of the Russian people at this time”. Obviously the Prime Minister would want to speak personally to President Putin at some point. However, since Russia was taking part in two days of mourning, we recognised that now was not the appropriate time.

Asked to remind journalists of the Prime Minister’s position on the Chechnya issue, the PMOS said that this was a time for respecting the hurt and anguish in Russia. It would not be appropriate to get drawn into a discussion about political controversies while Russia mourned its dead.

Asked for a reaction to reports that Arabs had been among the hostage-takers, the PMOS said that this was a matter which was best left to the Russian authorities on the ground. No doubt it would take time for the situation to be clarified. In the meantime, as the Prime Minister had indicated in his letter on Friday, the important thing was to express our complete solidarity with the people of Russia who had suffered this terrible atrocity. Our thoughts were with them and we would neither say nor do anything which would detract from their grief in any way.

Questioned as to whether the UK might offer military support to Russia to help improve security, the PMOS said that as the Foreign Secretary had indicated on the Today Programme this morning, we stood ready to help if the Russian authorities believed we could do so in any way. However, he was not aware of any requests which had been made at this stage. Asked if the help being offered should be seen in the context of the Dutch Government’s demand on Russia to explain how the tragedy had been allowed to happen, the PMOS said no. We believed our assistance to be an appropriate response to a horrible atrocity which had been visited upon the Russian people. That was why we felt it was important to stress our solidarity with a government and with a people who had been the victims of such an appalling act. It was for others to respond in their own ways.

Asked if the British Government might re-examine the extradition orders for Chechen separatists which had been dismissed last year, the PMOS said that normal procedures had been followed, as you would expect. It would therefore be very wrong of him to pass comment on them.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that the siege in Beslan and its terrible aftermath was a world-changing event, the PMOS said that, unfortunately, each event such as this was unique and horrible in its own right. Each one should therefore be judged by itself. Of course there were wider implications. However, at this particular time, it was important to mark the tragedy of those who had been killed and acknowledge the hurt and outrage felt in Russia before attempting to draw out any possible consequences for elsewhere. Asked if Downing Street agreed with the Foreign Secretary’s assessment this morning that the outrage was on a par with Nazism, the PMOS said the Foreign Secretary had been illustrating the point that the people who carried out such atrocities wanted to cause as many casualties as possible. In Beslan for example, they had clearly shown an utter disregard for the sanctity of human life which, as Mr Straw had been pointing out, was of a similar nature to that shown by previous regimes, such as Nazism.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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