MOSCOW (Sept. 3)—In response to the ongoing hostage situation at a middle school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin firmly reiterated his nation's hard-line policy against terrorists and their hostages Tuesday.

Russian troops prepare to storm the school.

"Russia does not tolerate terrorism," Putin announced at a press conference. "We deal with terrorists swiftly and completely. This is a warning to terrorists, hostages, rescue workers, bystanders...all those involved in terrorist activities: You will be shown no mercy."

The situation in the southern Russian town of Beslan began Wednesday when armed multinational terrorists stormed a small school on the first day of classes, taking more than 1,200 teachers, children, and parents hostage.

Now, on the third day of the conflict, Russian security forces await the command to terminate the standoff.

"The Russian government will not accede to the terrorists' demands, nor will it be swayed by hostage pleas for mercy," Putin said. "Without the parents and children as hostages, the terrorists would be powerless. Anyone who assists terrorist monsters—in any capacity—is an enemy to the Russian people and will be treated as such."

Putin first publicly announced the country's anti-terrorist stance in October 2002, when 40 Chechen terrorists seized a crowded Moscow theater, taking more than 700 hostages and demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. In accordance with Russia's zero-tolerance policy, government forces from Russia's elite Spetsnaz commando unit of the Federal Security Service pumped an aerosol anaesthetic into the theater, killing all of the terrorists and 128 of the hostages.

"The Moscow theater crisis was a perfect example of my willingness to do everything necessary to battle terrorists," Putin said. "As prime minister, my first job is to keep the Russian people safe. Terrorists want to destroy Russia, but we will not let them. Make no mistake: Terrorists—and those who happen to be near them—will meet with a swift, terrible end."

Although Russian laws limit press coverage of terrorist incidents, citizens who do know about the ongoing crisis have applauded Putin's hardline stance.

"To ensure the stability of our country, we need to take a firm stance against terrorists," said Tamara Dmitriyevna, a professor at Rostov State University. "Yes, we can play intellectual games and draw parallels between Putin and Stalin, but any citizen who is not currently being held hostage will tell you that there is an openness and an honesty in Russia that never existed before. Citizens are not being killed secretly anymore."

Although many international leaders have criticized the Russian government's position, President Bush released a statement commending Putin for his leadership in the war on terror.

"The enemies of freedom have no friend in Vladimir Putin," Bush's statement read. "He goes to any means necessary to protect his people and make the world a safer place. As the world knows, you are either with us or with the terrorists. God help those who are with the terrorists."