Meeting on Friday with mothers of children killed in the Beslan school a year ago, President Vladimir Putin promised a thorough investigation into how the crisis was handled, but told them that Russia was not able to protect its citizens against terrorism.
Members of the Beslan delegation, who have been fiercely critical of the investigation and the Kremlin's reluctance to assign blame for the botched handling of the crisis, expressed satisfaction at finally meeting with the president.
On Sunday, however, they said they had expected him to publicly apologize on Saturday for the deaths of 331 hostages, more than half of them children.
Putin, wearing a black suit, was visibly nervous Friday, shifting in his chair several times as he addressed the eight-person, black-clad delegation from Beslan at a large oval table.
"It's difficult to start this conversation. I won't make a secret of that," he said in televised remarks at the start of the meeting. The location of the meeting was not announced. Kommersant reported that it took place at "one of the government residences" in Moscow.
"The feelings that you are experiencing are understandable for any mother, any father, any normal person," Putin said.
None of the people from Beslan was shown speaking on camera. The broadcast lasted about two minutes and was limited to Putin's opening remarks.
"I must say immediately: I agree with those who believe that the state is not in a condition to provide for the security of its citizens to the extent necessary," Putin said.
He then attempted to deflect the blame by saying no government could fully protect its people from terrorism, pointing to Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorist acts in Madrid and London.
"Developed, powerful governments with functioning economies and well-performing intelligence services are currently unable to prevent terrorist acts," he said. "To say nothing about our country, which sustained enormous losses during the collapse of the Soviet Union, economically and in the social sphere."
Putin also responded to criticism of the choice of Friday for the long-sought meeting with the mothers, who had to interrupt their mourning during the Sept. 1-3 anniversary to come to Moscow. Putin said he had wanted to wait for the investigation into the attack to produce sufficient information before meeting with them. Also, the meeting Friday preceded the national Day of Solidarity with the Victims of Terrorist Acts, on Sept. 3, which was declared last year in the aftermath of the attack, he said.
Putin wrapped up his opening remarks saying, "I am ready to answer all your questions." At that point, the broadcast ended.
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