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Participants discuss the events
Written by   
, 27 2002

The Moscow hostage drama

On ‘Radio Liberty

http://www.svoboda.org/programs/ftf/2002/ftf.102702.asp

Peter Weill: This broadcast of the program ‘Face the event’ is dedicated to the Moscow hostage drama. According to the Russian Ministry of Health, by the middle of Sunday afternoon 118of the Dubrovka hostages have died and hundreds remain hospitalized. Today the entire morning will be given over to this topic with our correspondent Oleg Kusov.

Oleg Kusov: According to the general data, following the assault on the theatrical center there were about 550hospitalized. Mostof them were taken to the hospital nearest to Melnikov Street: municipal hospital #13, which received 349. Asour correspondents were able to find out, there were no victims suffering from gunshot wounds almost all of them were suffering from poisoning by the gas that was applied during the raid. During the early part of Saturday, officials denied the use of a gas during the raid, but later they were forced to admit to it. Journalists on duty at the hospitals were able to learn most of the victims arrived in a state of intoxication. Medical staff at the hospitals stated that most of the victims were very sick and many unconscious, and there was a risk that they would choke on their own vomit. Friends and relatives, however, were not allowed to visit those affected by the gas. Theimpression was that the authorities were trying to hide the true conditions of the former hostages from their relatives and the press. Working at municipal hospital #13th on Saturday was our correspondent, Lyubov Chizhova.

Lyubov Chizhova: The ambulances began arriving at Moscow hospital #13 on Velozavodskaya Street immediately after the assault and release of the hostages. Police immediately cordoned off the hospital territory, and relatives and journalists were not allowed into the admissions department. People languished for about three hours in anticipation. Ispoke with one woman who was awaiting news at the hospital.

Woman: We got information that our son is here. Ourson works at ‘Nord-Ost’.

Lyubov Chizhova: How did you find out that he is here?

Woman: We called home from Melnikov, and they said he is at the 13th (hospital).

Lyubov Chizhova: An older woman, a nurse at the hospital, came out to the gates and described how the people who were brought in are feeling.

Older nurse: They are all nauseous. Theyall they state that they were gassed. Thehead physician is taking good care of them, and everyone has received timely assistance.

Lyubov Chizhova: Already on Saturday, however, physicians at #13 allowed four former hostages to go home. Relatives immediately whisked them away. Noone would talk with journalists, and the people were too busy hugging and crying. Itis known that a majority of the victims who remain at hospital #13 were gassed. According to doctors, many have nausea and dizziness. There is information that some of the hostages are in the surgical ward.

Oleg Kusov: Of the 42people brought to the Sklifosofsky Medical Center, hospital personnel and investigators were able to identify all but 12. Mostcould give their names. Frominformal remarks by the hospital staff, one can assume that a sleeping gas with narcotic and nerve-paralytic properties was used within the theatrical center. Alittle later the police started to thwart any attempt by journalists to speak with staff, and the hospital door was sealed shut. Bythis time relatives of the former hostages had gathered in front, but they were unable to find anything out from the doctors or the police. Outof despair, people have begun to panic. Atabout noon, medics hung the numbers of the hospital hotline on the door. Mycolleague Mariana Torocheshnikova tried to call these numbers, and here is what she found:

Mariana Torocheshnikova: The information center hotline continuously receives data from the Moscow hospitals that have received rescued hostages. Lists are compiled by surname and initials, and include a statement about their state of health. Mostof the hospitalized, according to the hotline operator, are in serious condition. Manyare diagnosed with ‘intoxication’, and practically all are in a state of nervous shock. Itis almost impossible to get through on the telephone hotline. Theoperator explained that speaking with everyone in turn takes a long time. Thesearch for relatives, he says, is complicated by the fact that currently only a few more than 300have been identified, while, according to various sources, there are from 400to 550 in various hospitals. Inaddition, during these calls the operators often must provide relatives of the former hostages with psychological assistance. Hereare the phone numbers of the hotlines where you can receive information: 239-52-86, 239-69-21, and 276-25-76.

Oleg Kusov: On Sunday, the 13th municipal hospital reported that by that evening they were ready to release 200(former hostages). Thelists of the remaining victims will supposedly be posted the next day. Relatives of victims, however, are not leaving this or other hospitals. Itis clear that after what happened they do not believe the authorities or the doctors, since they jumbled up the data concerning the injured and dead, and which hospitals they were admitted to. Theyare trying to see if their loved ones are still alive, even though they realize that they will be suffer until the end of their days with traumas they have received during these three days.

Peter Weill: Since Israel is the country with the most experience in fighting terrorists, how does they rate the actions of the Russian security forces? Israeli medical specialists unanimously agree that the gas used at Dubrovka had nerve-paralyzing properties. Hereis our Tel Aviv correspondent Victoria Munblit:

Victoria Munblit: You cannot overstate the joy that has choked the Israeli press and public with regards to the hostage rescue operation by the Russian security forces. First of all, despite the fact that more than a hundred hostages died, the operation is considered to be extremely successful. Observers, the military, and experts in the fight against terror insist that there was no alternative, and that, had they delayed, the death of every hostage was inevitable. Fromthe standpoint of the Israeli experts, the release of hundreds of people, even at the cost of tens, is undoubtedly a successful operation. Itshould be noted that in Israel there is special admiration not only for the release of hostages, but for, how do Iput this? Forthe unconventional solution to the situation, or, in other words, the use of gas.

Reasonable observers argue that, because the situation was unprecedented, that is, due to the record number of hostages, the response should also be unprecedented. Moreemotional commentators maintain that Russia has put a big, fat period at the end of the argument about what actions are allowable against terrorists, and has set a new milestone in the fight against terror. Thenewspapers ‘Maariv’ and ‘Yediot Ahronot’ are unanimous in asserting that, though the decision to use gas may seem to some to be too cocky or too harsh, at the time the decisions to conduct Operation Entebbe and the bombing the Iraqi reactor also produced the same impressions. Inthis case, the newspaper also published that the unanimous opinion of Israeli medics is that the gas that was applied was not a soporific, but had nerve-paralytic properties, and in order to ensure that it acted instantly it was used in fairly large quantities. Thisagrees with commentators who note that the Russian authorities were doing everything possible to prevent survivors from communicating with the outside world, and especially with the press.

Dissonance from the universal enthusiasm was a cautious statement from retired Major General Omer bar-Lev, the former chief of the Israeli commando unit ‘Sayret Metkal’, which carried out Operation Entebbe. “The Russians had no choice, but still the use of gas in practice is problematic and dangerous,” he said. AnIsraeli journalist speaking on Channel Two said that the ecstasy caused by Russian security service operation shows the extent to which Israeli society has matured with regards to tough decisions in the fight against terror.

Peter Weill: Our correspondent Mumin Shakirov spent the entire night of the assault on Dubrovka. Weasked him to prepare a chronicle of events:

Mumin Shakirov: The long and difficult and at times fruitless negotiations by Members of Parliament, public officials and physicians during the early hours of the hostage crisis still let us hope that it could be possible to delay a tragedy. Theterrorists, thanks to the efforts of the MPs, released hostages, but they hardened their position and demanded to meet with officials who could really have an impact on the Chechen problem. Themurder of a woman spectator at ‘Nord-Ost’ a few hours after the seizure of the theatrical center was the first signal to those closely watching the situation on Melnikov Street. Nowit appears that the security agencies were preparing an assault, and the signal were waiting for was received from the terrorists at around five in the morning of October 26th. Russian Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev reported this to journalists:

Vladimir Vasilyev: The headquarters accepted every one of the terrorists’ conditions, and even accepted their most difficult and sometimes far-fetched claims and statements and provided anyone they wished to be their negotiator. Wetried to meet all of the terrorist demands. Atsomewhere around 5:15 am there was shooting noted, and explosions. Agroup of hostages struggled out of the building, and there was a real threat (to the lives of the hostages), so because of this a special operational plan was implemented.

Mumin Shakirov: The loud explosion and continuous shooting over the course of 1520minutes speak for themselves, and television and radio journalists near the scene who were closely monitoring the situation went on the air and reported what was happening around the theatrical center on Melnikov Street. Commandos from ‘Alfa’ group managed to destroy the main body of the terrorists. Footage of the assault was later shown on every Russian television channel, but the operation could not be done without special equipment. General Vladimir Vasilyev was forced to admit as much.

Vladimir Vasilyev: Now there is a lot of talk about whether or not gas was used. Iam authorized to state that special means were used. Itallowed us, as you saw on television, to neutralize them, including the suicide bomber women who were packed with explosives and literally keeping their fingers on the detonators. Onemore thing: even now not every explosive device has been defused.

Mumin Shakirov: The use of this special means would later have a significant impact on the outcome of the operation. Atthat time, the military reported a brilliantly conducted anti-terrorist campaign. Theevacuation of the hostages was done at a furious pace. About one hundred ambulances and dozens of buses continuously transported the rescued hostages to city hospitals. Reporters had to quickly make a corridor for the departure and arrival of special vehicles. Ataround 8:00 am, FSB deputy chief of public relations Sergei Ignatchenko told reporters that the operation was complete, but sappers were continuing the clear the theater. Anhour later an urgent command given to evacuate everyone to a certain distance away from the building. Thethreat of an explosion was imminent, said the security services. Hundreds of people inside the police cordon left the area around the theatrical center. 4hours after the assault, Moscow Vice-mayor Valery Shantsev approached the press and also reported on the successful operation, but he did not say a word about casualties. Thisfell upon Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev. Atthe time he stated that the number of hostages killed during the storming of the building was 67. 34terrorists were killed, but now these figures are considerably out of date.

TV and radio companies, and news agencies, have finished their three days of work at Dubrovka. Nowthe area around the theatrical center is open to traffic, though the building itself is still cordoned off by soldiers. Muscovites are laying flowers on the lawn around Theater Square, and October 28th has been declared to be a day of mourning for the nation.

Peter Weill: As you know, Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to visit Germany, but he postponed his trip because of the hostage crisis. InGermany the finale to the events in Moscow was seen as tragic, though inevitable. OurGerman correspondent Yevgeny Bovkun:

Yevgeny Bovkun: Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met the news of the hostages’ release with relief. Despite contradictory statements from officials in Moscow, and the as yet unclear details about the operation carried out by the ‘Alfa’ unit, in his brief statement to press Schroeder stressed that the Germany government was pleased that significant numbers of hostages were now safe.

The Chancellor expressed his deep condolences to the relatives of the victims, personally and on behalf of all Germans. According to Schroeder, “this hostage taking once again has convinced everyone that terrorism cannot be justified, and that civilized society can never live with the threat of terrorism.” “Terrorism cannot be justified by anything, and this fully applies to the Chechen conflict,” Joschka Fischer repeated after him, recalling that the federal government has long insisted on a political solution to the problem.

Experts in the German security services predicted a violent denouement (to the events in Moscow). “An assault was inevitable for two reasons,” said Rolf Top-Hoven of the Criminal Investigative Department. “First of all, the terrorists’ main demand was too radical. Secondly, it was clear that they would carry out their threat to eliminate the hostages. Thisleft the authorities no choice.” At the same time, many German politicians criticized the position of President Putin and the actions of the police and FSB, under whose nose the terrorists virtually unhindered for two months prepared the theater capture. “October 23rd,” wrote one newspaper. “Is for Russia’s security services the same intelligence failure as September 11th was for America’s.” The terrorist nature of the hostage taking and its consequences are not in doubt in political and social circles throughout Germany. According Uwe Halbach, an expert at the Science and Politics Foundation, “the radical Islamic specter of the Chechen resistance has moved it into the camp of international terrorism, against which the West is struggling.” “Most of the problems associated with the Chechen conflict would remain unresolved even in the event of Russian troops being withdrawn from Chechnya,” assumed Iris Kempe of the Munich Center for Applied Political Science. Thecommon opinion in the German media is that the tragedy in the Moscow theater was not the last link in a chain of tragic confrontations between society and terrorism, and not just in Russia.

Peter Weill: During the hostage crisis, many Russian politicians and public figures followed the events and made efforts to resolve the crisis. MyMoscow colleague Melanie Bachina gathered the views of some of these:

Melanie Bachina: Over the past two days the terrorists tried to hold talks with Russian politicians. Among them was SPS leader Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov: My last communication with one of the terrorists more of a conversation actually was in the evening, somewhere around 11pm. Hewas very harsh, and Iwill speak frankly that we had agreed that if the ‘sweeps’ in Chechnya were not stopped, and if it was peaceful and quiet there, as it was yesterday (Friday) Ofcourse, Irealize that this is not Vienna or London: our Chechnya is a special place, but still that day passed in relative calm and we agreed that if this happened they would release these ninth graders from a Moscow school who were in almost full strength with their teacher. Thiswas our agreement, but then he said: “No, you arrested Barayev’s cousin, and we didn’t agree on this.” So Isaid: “No, we agreed that there wouldn’t be any ‘sweeps’, there wouldn’t be any bombing, there wouldn’t be any senseless victims, but we never agreed on whether or not Barayev’s cousin would be arrested.” The conversation was very harsh. Ido not want to retell every detail, but there were many things said, and most importantly, suddenly he announced: “We can never negotiate with you about anything. You’re pawns. Callup Basayev, we can talk with him about everything.” Itold him: “You know, we’re still responsible for giving our word,” but, nonetheless, they did not want to make any concessions and in the end Itold him that it was not going to happen and that we must keep our word, but apparently he was unable to do that, just as none of them were.

Melanie Bachina: Sergei Yushenkov also shares his impressions of the events last night at Dubrovka:

Sergei Yushenkov: Ican evaluate everything when everything becomes known, and everything is clear, but Ican already conclude one thing, though it is as old as the hills: one cannot, even if they have lofty goals, use such despicable methods and techniques. These turn our goals into their opposites. Itis, after all, understandable that the terrorists have really a very narrow base of support in the peace parties, both within our country, and in Chechnya. Andyet, Ihope that sanity will prevail, and that our country’s leadership does not ride this wave, this wave of hatred for the terrorists, and that the authorities do not use public approval of their actions as permission to return once again to the familiar refrain of war to the very end, peace through to victory, by destroying everyone and everything and so on. Inthe end every war ends at the negotiating table.

Melanie Bachina: Journalist Anna Politkovskaya was among those who negotiated with the terrorists on the last day before the assault. Hereis how she remembers the events of that day:

Anna Politkovskaya: Unfortunately, Ionly know what Isaw with my own eyes. Thetalks, if you can even call them talks, these contacts, Iwill put it like that, these were contacts basically about what they wanted and what they would exchange so that the children were fed. Wasit possible to bring yogurt? Whencould we bring water? Howwe were to bring in the water? Andso on and so forth. Aswell as requests to speak to the hostages and requests to contact them. Thatis about it.

Melanie Bachina: Many Russian politicians tried to speak with the terrorists and they requested you as well. Howwas it difficult, psychologically, for those who went there to talk with them? Imean your personal impressions of how it all was.

Anna Politkovskaya: Ido not know about the others. Itwas very difficult for me, because Iwas responsible for my word, which Ifelt was very high because lives depended on everything Isaid and the tone in which Isaid it. Andthis for me, of course, was very difficult, because, of course, Iam not a professional negotiator or even a psychologist or psychotherapist. Thiswas thrust upon me, and Iwas very afraid of doing harm, let me put it this way.

Melanie Bachina: Anna, can you tell us now how you, personally, feel about what happened last night, about the assault? Howinevitable was it, or was it still somehow possible to agree to something? Imean your personal feelings.

Anna Politkovskaya: Iam absolutely certain that there was still a chance to negotiate. Ibelieve it because of what the militants said, what they demanded, and how they acted. Itseemed to me that we could bargain with them, and that we just needed to make a great effort. There were options, but Iam absolutely convinced that the security services were obligated to prepare for an assault in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Thatis, if they were not prepared, it would be incomprehensible given the money they receive. Butit seems to me that on that night they still had not exhausted every possibility of getting the hostages released.

Peter Weill: After the events in Moscow, Chechens, who are ordinary Russian citizens of Chechen ethnicity, have been the object of a new wave of persecution. Vladimir Dolin:

Vladimir Dolin: In Moscow the search is on for participants in the hostage taking at the theatrical center that may have escaped. Simultaneously, authorities at the Internal Ministry have begun an all-out ‘sweep’ of Chechens from Moscow. OnFriday the police raided the Gelagayev family’s apartment, and the head of the family was detained. Thatthe evening Alikhan Gelagayev was released, and he says that while he was at the Petrovka police station they demanded he confess to providing intellectual and financial support to the terrorists. OnSaturday, police visited the home of well-known attorney Abdullah Khamzayev.

Abdullah Khamzayev: In the morning Iwas awakened, my grandson said that two police officers were standing at the door, demanding to be let into the apartment. Iwent and they told me that there was a written order for every Chechen and Dagestani in the city of Moscow, without exception, to submit to a so-called housing inspection. Eachof us was to answer questions, for example, about long we have lived in Moscow, what we do and, in general, why we were in Moscow, what means of transportation we own and who and when someone came to visit. Inshort, evidence about our actions and a written description of our lives. Giving substantive testimony about oneself or about members of ones family is a violation of Article 51of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Theytold me that there was a written order received by the head of every police department. Iwas subjected to this humiliating procedure, this illegal invasion of my home. Iam a Chechen who has given 45years of his life to strengthen this government while a responsible employee of the Soviet and Russian prosecutor’s office. Inmy old age Ihave lived to see that they can use ethnicity to break into my home and search me and do whatever they want.

Vladimir Dolin: At the information office of the Interior Ministry’s general directorate in Moscow, they refused to confirm or deny the existence of an order to go about the apartments of Chechens and Dagestanis. Theoffice of the representative of the Chechen Republic under the Russian president, however, has received calls and letters about the extra-judicial arrest and detention of Chechens. EdiIsayev, head of information for the Chechen mission:

Edi Isayev: Some law enforcement agencies did not understand our president, Vladimir Putin, when he instructed that in no case can the terrorist attack be linked with these people, Chechens living in Moscow and the Moscow region, or in other regions of our country. Wedid not expect this. Thatis not to say that there are no mass arrests of Chechens, but we have the facts. Hereis a recent example: just now a friend called up about a citizen, one Yaha Neserhoeva. Galina Mozhayeva and her friend from the city of Ukhta were at this concert (‘Nord-Ost’). Ialready mentioned there were Chechens and Ingush at the concert, and when they were told they could leave, they refused out of solidarity with those they were with. Galina Mozhayeva is at hospital #7 and she has just now come to. Shesays: “I was with my girlfriend Yaha Neserhoeva, and her fate is unknown.” We received a report that Neserhoeva’s apartment was searched and that they took everything that she owns: cassettes, videotapes and other things, and they sealed her apartment. Shehas a residence permit and lives in Moscow. Justyesterday they arrested four boys: Magomed Bashayev, Ibrahim Bashayev, Umar Asmayev, and Magomed Vasiyev. Theguys were told to either confess to weapons or drugs, they were blackmailed and a gun was planted. There are very worrying signals coming from the Tver region. FromTambov, in general, Iwould say that the police there have probably allowed similar provocations where some spiteful critics wanted to foment ethnic strife among our people by pasting flyers on buildings inhabited by Chechens: “Crush the Chechens, kill the Chechens and people from the Caucasus.” Ibelieve, unfortunately, that these are the facts, and Ithink a real provocation is underway. Onceagain Iappeal to the law enforcement agencies to in no way have allow such massive persecution of Chechens living in the city of Moscow.

Vladimir Dolin: Edi Isayev gave the numbers of the mission’s hotline where relatives and friends of persons who have been illegally detained may call. Theyare: 203-63-52 and 203-63-47, and by fax: 203-93-14. Minister Boris Gryzlov has ordered agencies of the Interior Ministry to counter any possible manifestation of extremism directed against people from the Caucasus, even though Boris Gryzlov’s subordinates themselves often exhibit such extremism.

Peter Weill: Well-known American political scientist Marshall Goldman believes that solving the Chechen problem is now not the work for the military, but for politicians. OurNew York correspondent Ian Runov contacted Goldman:

Ian Runov: Professor Goldman told me that he has mixed feelings right now. Onthe one hand, he is glad that most of the hostages are alive, but on the other had it is still awful that some innocents died. Onlythe first part of the operation is complete, and what is important now is what the second part will be. Ashistory has shown, violence breeds counter-violence, and so on without end. Theparties are obliged to find a compromise solution, and it is time to think things through and come to the negotiating table. Whatcomes to mind is how France, which was in a fight with Algerian separatists, decided to grant Algeria independence and thus end the war. Itis clear that Chechnya is not Algeria, which is far from France, and it is not like Afghanistan is to America. InAfghanistan it was enough to change the regime, but it is not the regime in Chechnya that is at war with Russia. Theanalogy with the United States, that once finished in Afghanistan it is ready to force regime change in Iraq, is also not applicable to Chechnya. Marshall Goldman therefore believes that now the military must step aside for the diplomats, but in Chechnya both sides must abandon terrorist tactics and elect competent, recognized leaders who can negotiate on behalf of the entire populace.

Marshall Goldman rated of President Putin highly for rapprochement with the U.S. on combating terrorism and the Israel problem, but this course, according to Marshall Goldman, is being resisted by the Russian military, and by some diplomats. Itis now possible that the Russian Defense Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs realize that in the fight against international terrorism, including Chechen terrorism, Russia should cooperate with America, and not the regimes of Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Thisis the opinion of American political scientist Professor Marshall Goldman.

American newspapers today described in detail the storming of a Moscow theater, and wrote about the first victim of terrorists: the heroic, or reckless, Olga Romanova. Authors of articles considered the assault to have been justified, and noted the speed and professionalism of the operation that rescued a majority of the hostages.

Broadway theaters have been frightened by the events in Moscow, and so they have undertaken special security measures. Philip Smith, president of the Schubert organization, which owns 16theaters on Broadway, said that security at theaters has been doubled since Chechen terrorists seized the Moscow theater. Thecorporation has set up their own security teams and is coordinating its actions with the New York City Police Department. Another theater corporation, the Nederlander organization, which owns nine Broadway theaters, has also reinforced security.

Peter Weill: We asked Semyon Mirsky, our correspondent in France, to summarize the European reaction to the events in Moscow:

Semyon Mirsky: There is a river of messages addressed to: Moscow, the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ingeneral they are two-sided: the first side expresses condolences with the families of the slain hostages, while the second side as a rule is couched as a cautious reminder that the Chechen problem cannot be solved by military force alone. Thehead of French diplomacy, Dominique de Villepin, is calling a spade a spade. “The terrorists are by nature opportunists,” de Villepin wrote Putin. “Crises are their breeding ground. Theyknow how to use these for their own purposes.” That is why, after expressing relief at the end of the drama in the theatrical center on Melnikov Street, the French foreign minister stressed that a solution to the Chechen crisis can only be a reached by a political solution.

Differing from other messages in both tone and content was a letter sent to Putin from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who praised the commendable actions of the Russian president, apparently believing it to be out of place to remind him of the need for a political solution to the Chechen impasse. Western European military and political observers expressed fear that the terrorist act committed in Moscow will likely result in even harsher actions from both the Russian and the Chechen sides, and a confirmation of this comes these days from Chechnya.

As for how the Moscow tragedy is portrayed in the Western press, here the question is about the connection between the Chechen separatists and international Islamic terrorism. Anarticle in the Paris newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ bears a self-explanatory title: “Chechnya is the land of jihad.” The author of the article, Alexandrina Bouyer wrote: “There are signs that speak for themselves. TheChechen suicide bombers took care to ensure that a video about their operation was made available to Arab television station ‘al-Jazeera’. Evenif the Chechen suicide bombers do not belong to the international terrorist organization ‘al-Qaeda’, they are in any case perfectly mimicking the methods of the terrorist international.”

And finally, one last thing: in the Western media they are comprehensively discussing the technical aspects of the hostage rescue operation, and most experts are of the view that while the operation cannot be called a failure, it also cannot be labeled a success. Toomany hostages were killed during the storming of the building, and even more significant was the number of innocent people dying in hospitals from the gas, the purpose of which was to paralyze the terrorists but was fatal to far too many people inside the auditorium. Suchis the picture, full of contrasts.

Peter Weil: As to the political implications of the events in Moscow, our New York correspondent Vladimir Morozov spoke with American political scientist Ariel Cohen, a member of the Heritage independent research foundation:

Vladimir Morozov: Mr. Cohen, how would you rate the actions of the Russian authorities during the crisis?

Ariel Cohen: This was a serious failure on the part of the Russian intelligence services. Theydid not notice a large group of armed terrorists preparing a major operation in Moscow. After the hostage crisis, the Russian authorities acted quite competently, but unfortunately many people died. Iam afraid that had the terrorists blown up the whole building, the victims would have been many times greater. Thatthe Russian security forces prevented this was a great success. Fromthe outset of the conflict, knowing President Putin, it could be assumed that he would not surrender to the terrorists.

Vladimir Morozov: How will these events affect the U.S. attitude towards Chechnya?

Ariel Cohen: Even before this the American government had less and less sympathy for the Chechen side. During the terrorist attack in Moscow, the terrorists did not hide their contacts with radical Islamists. Theygave a tape of their statement to television station ‘al-Jazeera’, which is the mouthpiece for bin-Laden propaganda. TheChechens’ slogans were not written in Russian or Chechen, but in Arabic. TheChechen militants put an article on the ‘Kavkaz’ website, in which they explain that Islam permits the killing of hostages. Itwas clear to Americans following the events that the Moscow attack was the same as the bombing in Bali and other bombings by al-Qaeda and its related organizations. Inthe long run this terrorist attack will destroy the last vestiges of sympathy in America for the Chechen cause.

Vladimir Morozov: Is it possible that after the terrorist attack in Moscow, President Putin will support a harsh U.S. policy towards Iraq?

Ariel Cohen: Ihope so. Ithink Putin understands that the same war is going on in New York, Washington, Moscow, and Bali. TheU.S. and Russia have common enemies. These are either radical regimes or radical Islamic groups, and regimes that, despite their promises and UN sanctions, seek to obtain weapons of mass destruction, such as Iraq and North Korea. Western nations, and Putin wants Russia to become a western nation, should stick together.

Peter Weill: At the end of the program our columnists will express their opinion on how Russian journalists, politicians, and the Russian church acted during the hostage drama. AnnaKachkayeva on journalists during the crisis:

Anna Kachkayeva: Journalists are getting a lot of abuse for their haste, peremptory tone, publishing unverified information, hysterics, indelicacy, not always thinking about the consequences, and for interfering with the work of the security agencies. Theysympathized with the hostages and spoke with the bandits, but they were sometimes forced to negotiate with the terrorists.

There are grounds to blame the journalists. Thereckless, often nonsensical and sometimes provocative questions leading anchormen broadcasted live, during the early hours of seizure, induced surprise. Pictures were sometimes aired without realizing that they were also being watched inside the captured theatrical center and could unwittingly provoke the terrorists. Alack of the usual balance, and the venting on the air of the idle and often unconventional views of television celebrities raised the level of emotional tension and anxiety. Someauthors’ subjective assessments that were approved in the editorial offices almost seemed deliberately provocative. Eventhough the journalists, just as the authorities, were working under great pressure, the journalists were the ones who led us to expect people in the blink of an eye to make the necessary delicate decisions, to find the right words and cause no harm. Theyexpected this, because during the nightmare these journalists were saying and demonstrating that their responsibility to the public was boundless, especially when people were appalled and shocked and especially when people were facing death.

It was from an Interfax journalist that the country learned of the capture of the audience at the musical. Russian television cameras were at Dubrovka before the police and security forces arrived, and dozens of reporters stood out in the cold in front of satellite dishes and never slept. Theyspent nights on rooftops, on duty in doorways and on top of stairwell roofs near by theatrical center. NTV correspondents on the night of Thursday-Friday went inside the occupied theater building and did their duty by recording what the terrorists allowed them to film. Thetelevision reporters showed us the terrible and dramatic moment of the assault. Manyhostages were able to make contact with the outside world via journalists and radio and television. Butnow, just imagine for a moment that none of this ever happened. Hadthey not broadcast the chaos that reigned during the first hours after the capture, had they not recorded the confusion of the authorities, had we not known about it, would those making decisions have been less bothering? Hadthe journalists that night not filmed the assault, and had the nation not seen the freed hostages being dragged out by the security forces like sacks of potatoes, maybe no one would have known about the use of the gas. Hadjournalists not gone around to the hospitals, would there be any guarantee that information about the living and the dead would not find itself hidden behind an information blockade?

No journalistic error, intentional or not, can be justified by haste, ignorance, stress, or the drama of the moment. Theprice of error is too high. Likewise, no truth is more dangerous than the aftermath of not knowing the truth, or worse, the unwillingness to know it.

Peter Weill: Mikhail Sokolov on politics during the Moscow crisis:

Mikhail Sokolov: The victory of the commandos in the battle for the lives of a majority of the hostages is clear to everyone, as is the meanness of the terrorists on whose conscience rests the 118slain victims. Ofcourse, at some point the sigh of relief on the part of the Russian public will fade into the bloody background of this terrorist act, the roots of which are the Chechen war, the horrors of the ‘sweeps’ and extra-judicial killings, and the victims on both sides, which are in thousands. Itis a fact that the hostage rescuers, the ‘Alpha’ commandos, prevented an explosion and the deaths of everyone, they are professionals, but they were heroically overcoming the result of old political mistakes, as well as new decisions now being made on the fly.

The question is: could the number of victims have been less if the political component during this crisis was more professional? Instead of MPs and public figures, could the Kremlin have put at the forefront persons in positions of authority? Zhirinovsky played his familiar role as the provocateur, and the leaders of the Communist Party observed the fray from a distance. Playing the thankless role of appeaser by seeking the release of children and hundreds of hostages were the opponents of Vladimir Putin’s Chechnya policies. OnFriday, the president finally named a special envoy for negotiations with the terrorists, Viktor Kazantsev, and for the umpteenth time he feebly expressed his political will. Faced with the declared threat to execute hostages at 6am, the general’s intention of only starting negotiations at 10am, according to Yuri Luzhkov, now looks irresponsible. Inso doing he missed a chance to continue negotiations throughout the night and to seek the release of the hostages. Thispause led to a spontaneous event that in turn led to the decision to start the hostage rescue without fully preparing physicians to face the massive consequences of exposure to the nerve-paralytic gas.

Freed from a terrible, immediate threat by becoming a battlefield on Saturday, Moscow still remains city in the rear of a belligerent country. TheRussian authorities have for now been granted a reprieve. Ifear that the patriots in Parliament, under the pretext of fighting terror, will now adopt many draconian laws that the public would have previously doubted. Ifear that after being released from this stress, the public is now unlikely to raise the issue of ministerial irresponsibility that brought this terrorist attack to Russia, the xenophobia, the danger of ‘sweeps’ and pogroms. Nextyear Russia enters a new election cycle. There is a danger that the inevitable public bitterness will make certain politicians’ consistent policy of “no to terrorism and no to a military solution to the problem” cost them dearly.

Vladimir Putin, in saying “we could not save everyone” apologized to the relatives of the victims and said that we should unite in their memory, but from the government ranks can be heard a call to finish off the enemy in the mountains. Thepresident himself speaks about a coming victory over international terrorism, despite the fact that the endless war in Chechnya, if no political solution is found, will bring forth new suicide bombers. Irecall other words by the president on actions tuned to help people save lives, his phrase that we were ready for any contact in order to save the lives of those in Chechnya and in any other part of Russia who may be the next victim. Analternative to the authorities asking forgiveness over and over again for not saving everyone would be to use this as an historic opportunity: from the heights of victory over the terrorists, while mourning the victims and to save the nation from a repeat of the Dubrovka nightmare, we can do like Alexander II. In1859, a year after taking Shamil’s Chechen stronghold of in the village of Gunib, the Czar generously dictated a peace treaty acceptable to the majority of the populace. Notpeace with the leaders, but peace with the majority of the people of that unfortunate mountain republic.

Peter Weill: And Yakov Krotov on the churches during the hostage drama:

Yakov Krotov: On October 26th, during a visit to Astrakhan, Alexei, the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All of Russia, stated: “We prayed that the hostages would return safely to their families, and the Lord seems to have heard our prayers. Thank God it’s over and that it ended with so little bloodshed.” End quote. ThePatriarch spoke these words when it was already known about the deaths of 120, including the Chechens. Since it was soon clear that 90hostages were killed, that many were still hanging between life and death, and that a hundred were still missing, this does not allow one to assume the most optimistic. Though it is true that the Patriarch justifies himself by saying he was trying to agree with the general line at the time: that the operation went perfectly and there were few to mourn. After a day the general line caught up, and we were promptly ordered to grieve. Itis not clear what we should do with the champagne that the winners drank to celebrate their victory over the sleeping (Chechen terrorist) women, whom they killed instead of capturing and questioning about, for example, accomplices that still remain at large. Ifit was champagne such as Carnet with the black label, then it can be jubilation and mourning from the same bottle. Soeverything is okay. ThePatriarch was taken hostage by his own words, but here the recipe for salvation is known: general anesthesia. Ina sense, everyone who knows too much or imagines too much about himself is to be put to sleep and eliminated while asleep, while the rest will be subjected to a session of hypnosis and awakened. Ifsomeone does not awaken, sorry, it happens, they were choked with excitement at how little blood we have learned to shed while fighting, and the speed with which we can run from one position to another.

 
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