Staunton, September 1 – Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is having an impact on how people view his past actions, leading more Russians to approve of his actions at Beslan a decade ago and some Poles to renew their questions about whether Putin was involved in the 2010 downing of a plane in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed.
Ten years ago, the tragedy at the Beslan school occurred, an event that shook Russian society especially because many Russians at the time blamed the security services rather than the militants for the massive loss of life among children. But a new Levada Center poll finds that in the wake of Ukraine, Russians are less critical of what Moscow did at Beslan than they were.
As reported by today’s “Kommersant,” 62 percent of Russians are now certain that Russian officials “did everything possible to save the hostages,” an increase from 46 percent saying that a year ago and from the 54 percent who agreed with that position immediately after the events (kommersant.ru/doc/2557219).
Moreover, the new poll found that only 14 percent of Russians consider the storming of the school by the security services during which the children lost their lives as “unsatisfactory,” down from 61 percent who took that view in 2004. At the same time, the number viewing what the special services did in a positive way rose to 56 percent from four percent in 2004.
And those who question what the authorities did that cost 334 lives, including 186 children, have fallen in numbers. Today only four percent of Russians believe that the authorities needed the tragedy because they couldn’t negotiate with the separatists, down from 14 percent a decade ago.
Moreover, the share of those who think that the authorities acted as they did at that North Caucasus school “only in order to save face” has fallen from 34 percent to 14 percent. All these trends, Levada Center experts say, are related to what is going on in Ukraine and the support Vladimir Putin has for his actions there.
But the Ukrainian events and especially Moscow’s obvious duplicity about them has had a different consequence abroad, leading some to reconsider whether they should have accepted Putin’s statements about his past actions and conclude that some of the things that they had thought were beyond the pale might not have been.
Perhaps the most dramatic indication of that shift is the declaration by former Polish interior minister Antony Macerevic that he is now convinced that Putin ordered the shooting down of the Polish plane on April 10, 2010, that was carrying then Polish President Lech Kaczynski (gordonua.com/news/worldnews/Eks-glava-MVD-Polshi-Putin-ubil-Kachinskogo-chtoby-napast-na-Ukrainu-38700.html).
In a speech last week, Macerevic said that “the aggression of Russia must not surprise anyone. The Polish national elite died because Putin was preparing for aggression, but our politicians do not see this. Instead of supporting Kaczynski whatever mistake he made, they gave his life into the hands of Russia, into the solicitous hands of a KGB officer,” Vladimir Putin.
Had the world listened to Kuczynski then or had the Polish president survived and continued his warnings about Russian intentions, the former Polish minister said, the situation in Ukraine might have been avoided by timely action. And that is exactly what Putin wanted to prevent from happening.
Whatever the truth about the April 2010 Polish plane downing is – and the jury is still out -- the increasing disconnect between what Putin says and what people can see with their own eyes seems certain to reopen discussion of a variety of events in which some suspect he acted in ways very different than he has claimed.
Perhaps the most sensitive of these concerns the killing of more than 300 Russians in the apartment bombings in 1999, an event that Putin successfully blamed on the Chechens and used to both restart the Chechen war and boost himself into the Russian presidency but one that many investigators have long suspected he was directly involved in.
The asking of such questions may corrode his standing, first abroad where the Kremlin leader’s dishonesty is most obvious and then inside Russia where Putin’s propagandists have worked hard to hide it. And both developments are yet another indication that Putin like others who have based their rule on dishonesty may win some battles but will ultimately lose the war.