After the Beslan school seige, when 330 mainly children died during an operation to free hostages from fighters seeking independence for Chechnya, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said the rebels' families should be kidnapped in response.
That drew an outcry from human-rights groups who said such a policy would drag the police down to the rebels' level.
In an interview with the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid, Ustinov said his comments had been misconstrued, but said relatives of fighters could help negotiate with the rebels in future hostage-takings.
"The state has a responsibility to its citizens. But citizens must also have a responsibility to society and the state," Ustinov said.
"And if a clan or a family raises such a terrorist, why should it not bear the moral responsibility?"
The Beslan school siege claimed
330 lives, most of them children
Ustinov added, "No one is saying that the relatives will be held responsible, or that some kind of reprisals will be taken against them. But they definitely should be used to help free hostages. You need to use everything you have to free people."
Russia has been thinking hard over how to prevent more attacks such as Beslan, when pro-Chechen rebels seized a school and more than 1000 people for two days.
Ustinov said Chechens had to be persuaded that the 10-year rebellion against Russian rule was pointless.
"Opposition does not end in destruction ... . It will end only when the residents of Chechnya see it is senseless."
Many human-rights group say that after Ustinov's comments about taking relatives hostages, the pro-Moscow forces in Chechnya extended an already de facto policy of taking hostages in a bid to force rebels to surrender.
"Opposition does not end in destruction ... . It will end only when the residents of Chechnya see it is senseless"
Several of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov's relatives have been missing since December, and some commentators linked their disappearance to his decision to call for a ceasefire this month.
He has denied being influenced by his relatives' fate, saying they are not more important than any other Chechen.
Chechnya's pro-Moscow authorities have denied kidnapping Maskhadov's relatives.