Russia Threatens Pre-emptive Strikes Against Terrorists

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Following President Bush's terrorist pre-emption strategy, Russia has pledged to attack terror bases wherever they are, in the aftermath of the Beslan school hostage siege.

"As for making pre-emptive strikes at terrorist bases, we will make every effort to liquidate terrorist bases in any region of the world," chief of general staff General Yury Baluyevsky told reporters after meeting with NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, U.S. General James Jones.

"The choice of the means of destruction will depend on the circumstances in this or that region," Baluyevsky said, adding that Russia was not planning nuclear strikes.

The pledge comes along with an offer of a 300-million-ruble ($10-million) reward for information leading to the "neutralization" of two Chechen leaders blamed for the school siege in southern region of North Ossetia, which killed 336 people, half of them children.

"Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov, the leaders of bandit formations, have committed inhuman terrorist acts," Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement promising anonymity and safety to anyone providing information about the two.

State Duma deputy Guennady Gudkov said there was no doubt about Basayev's complicity. Russia should pay whatever it takes to prevent him from planning further attacks -- be it 300 million rubles or twice that amount.

The pre-emptive strike threat drew support from Britain, where foreign secretary Jack Straw said the reaction was "understandable."

"The United Nations charter does give the right of self-defense, and the U.N. itself has accepted that an imminent or likely threat of terrorism certainly entitles any state to take appropriate action," he said.

Not all of Russian military experts were convinced by the talk of pre-emptive strikes.

Retired General Leonid Ivashov, former deputy chief of general staff, dismissed it as "a bluff," saying Russia did not have the weaponry, including cruise missiles and strategic bombers, to hit targets anywhere in the world.

In 2002, the Kremlin accused neighboring Georgia of sheltering Chechen terrorists and warned of preventive strikes against terrorist bases beyond Russia's borders, but they never materialized.

Moscow's carrot-and-stick approach followed President Vladimir Putin's call to do more to combat the terrorist threat. He told the nation the Russian people needed to mobilize to help the authorities in the fight, and also promised to revamp the way authorities approached the task.

Russia plans an immediate overhaul of its security services and law enforcement agencies, "to step up action against terrorism, organized crime, and corruption," presidential aide Aslambek Aslakhanov said Wednesday.

Putin has ruled out a public parliamentary probe into the crisis, saying it could turn into a "political show." His government would hold an internal investigation into the siege.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has called for a public investigation, however. He was quoted Wednesday as saying "a clear and careful analysis" of the siege was needed, "with the participation of parliament and the public."

Meanwhile, Moscow on Wednesday took issue with a State Department spokesman's comment that "ultimately there needs to be a political solution" to the crisis in Chechnya, where separatist rebels have been fighting central government rule for a decade.

"We solve our internal problems ourselves and there is no need to search for an American route to political normalization in Chechnya," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in televised remarks.

Putin has also criticized the West for suggesting that Moscow negotiate with Chechen separatists, whom he called "child killers" every bit as bad as Osama bin Laden.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher made it clear Wednesday that U.S. government believed there was no justification or excuse for the atrocity at Beslan.

"The people who took over the school are terrorists, plain and simple. Groups that sponsor them are terrorists, plain and simple. They need to be fought, they need to be eliminated, and we stand with Russia very closely as they face that threat of terrorism."

The U.S. has flown three C-130 military cargo planes into Beslan carrying emergency medical equipment including burn and trauma kits.

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