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Edge of the week with Vladimir Kara-Murza
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, 23 2010

ImageV.KARA-MURZA: On the air with the program Faces of the week. In the studio Vladimir Kara-Murza.

We continue our report.

During the same October days in 2002, the Russian capital became an arena of confrontation, deciding the fate of hundreds of hostages.


A brief chronology of the events eight years ago.

On the evening of October 23rd, 2002, during the second act of the musical Nord-Ost, an armed group of 40terrorists 21men and 19women took over a building at the theatrical center on Dubrovka, formerly known as the State Ball-bearing Factory Palace of Culture.

912 people, including 100children, became hostages.

For three days they all sat in a booby-trapped building without food or water.

Journalist Maksim Shevchenko could not explain some of the terrorists' actions.

M.SHEVCHENKO: It's still unclear who helped them get to Moscow? Howdid they get to Moscow? Howdid they get weapons to Moscow? Howdid they learn about Nord-Ost? Whatdid they want, and what did they get from Nord-Ost? Whodid they want to capture? There were, for example, reports that Yeltsin was supposed to be at Nord-Ost. Well, he was no longer the president at the time, naturally. These are the mysteries of Nord-Ost, secrets of a struggle between various intelligence agencies foreign and private in Russian politics, which Ithink they haven't yet been disclosed.

V.KARA-MURZA: The terrorists immediately declared that everyone the audience and theater employees were hostages and began to booby trap the building.

During the first few minutes some of the actors and employees of the theatrical center managed to escape from the building through windows and emergency exits.

At 10pm, it became known that the building had been captured by a detachment of Chechen militants led by Maksar (sic) Barayev. Allthe terrorists were carrying explosives. Thatnight several shots were heard in the building.

Hostages who managed to connect by mobile phone to TV stations asked that an assault not be carried out.

The terrorist attack in Moscow led to the discovery of a terrorist underground, according to writer Alexander Prokhanov.

A.PROKHANOV: We understand that terrorist attacks in Moscow, especially such a high-profile one as the attack at Nord-Ost, were due to the existence of this terrorist underground in Moscow.

This was not like the group of terrorists who arrived in the city to blow up an apartment building. Itwas the existence of an extensive underground network.

An underground can exist in modern Moscow only if the underground is connected with a government power structure.

And it remains a mystery, and perhaps a mystery that will never be solved. What was this underground? Howdid our politicians help this underground? Wasit our law enforcement agencies? Ourbusiness community? Andwhat did the terrorists really want to achieve with from this action? Since it was not quite clear what led them to commit this monstrous act, in what direction were they trying to turn Russia's policies?

Perhaps it was so that parents (of the hostages), crazed with grief and sorrow, would march out onto Red Square and demand Moscow stop the war and withdraw troops from there (the Caucasus). Even if just a few of them, they might have attracted many others.

V.KARA-MURZA: On October 26th, all the terrorists were destroyed as a result of a special military operation. More than 700people were rescued. 130 hostages died, however.

Later it became known that any and all negotiations with the terrorists, even initially, were out of the question.

During the very first minutes headquarters operations and plans for the capture of the building were underway.

Writer Leonid Mlechin had a lot of questions for the organizers of the assault.

L.MLECHIN: Iam struck by the fact that it wasn’t understood if rescue of the hostages was a large a part of the antiterrorist operation as was destruction of the terrorists themselves. Because there’s worldwide experience, and we know that before such an operation they always consider: what will happen to the hostages? Howcan they be saved? Howmany doctors are needed? Whatkinds of specialists? Whatmedications? Andso on.

I would find it simply astounding that they didn’t consider this part of the operation.

V.KARA-MURZA: Commandos from special units managed to penetrate the building via underground utility tunnels, and from there they established monitoring of the hallways and in the auditorium.

They practiced for the assault using an identical building the Meridian Theater on Profsoyuznaya Street in Moscow.

It was while working out procedures for the assault that an option arose the use of a gas that was supposed to help by almost instantly disabling the suicide bombers who were sitting with explosives in the orchestra pit and on the balconies of the auditorium.

The lack of professionalism shown during the hostage rescue surprised publicist Leonid Radzikhovsky.

L.RADZIKHOVSKY: It's not clear, what was it with the gas? Couldn't they calculate how much was needed? Couldn't they have picked a different gas? Whydidn't they plan for normal ambulances to take people away? Instead of everyone getting a medal, why wasn't anyone held responsible? Well, in general, not a damn thing is clear.

V.KARA-MURZA: What kind of gas was eventually used is one of the most closely guarded of secrets. Theexact composition was not even given to physicians who were trying to save victims of this poison.

To protect the of men of the Alfa and Vympel special operations units, the day before the attack they received injections with a Russian Army antidote, a special substance to help survival when chemical weapons are used.

Years later, key questions by Sergei Aleksashenko, an economist, remain unanswered.

S.ALEKSASHENO: The main question concerning the terror attack at Nord-Ost is, in fact, who planned the hostage rescue operation and why it was so awfully arranged? Whydidn't they make the effort, or why did they make so little effort, to save people, indeed, the very hostages whose release this whole thing was about. That's the first question.

The second question: how did they manage to get to Moscow, across the whole country, without ever running into our mighty law enforcement system, which tries to control everything and everyone. Itturns out that one may come to the capital with any sort of weapon and gave no problem with it at all.

V.KARA-MURZA: About 5 in the morning on October 26th, after a gas attack that the terrorists took to be a fire inside the building, the assault began.

As a result the terrorists were destroyed, but 130hostages were killed.

The owner of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Konstantin Remchukov, admitted the possibility of saving a larger number of hostages.

K.REMCHUKOV: The key question for me, of course, is whether it was possible to prevent the deaths of innocent people, which, as Iunderstand it, were suffocated by the same gas that suffocated the terrorists. Forthese people the right quantities of antidote weren't prepared, there was no organizational plan to quickly inject and keep everyone they wanted alive. Thisfor me is the key question: was it possible or not?

V.KARA-MURZA: Representatives of the secret services have argued that such tragic consequences were unexpected by those who planned the operation.

Writer Eduard Limonov believes the authorities actions were criminal.

E.LIMONOV: In the name of national prestige the authorities ignored citizens' lives. Theyhurried and took the building by forced using an unknown gas; they tried to solve this hostage problem this way, though they knew in advance, Ibelieve, that the risk of death for the hostages was huge. Andso, of course, they committed malfeasance of office and many people died because of it.

Most likely it was the highest state official who made the decision to storm Nord-Ost, but, as we know from the results of the investigation, his tracks have been thoroughly trampled. And God knows when they will yank out the truth. Ithink they will yank it out someday.

V.KARA-MURZA: A calculation of the concentration of the poison, taking into account the volume of air in the auditorium, was made so that there would be no serious consequences to people were rendered unconscious if they were evacuated from the theater a maximum of 1015minutes after the gas attack. Resistance by Barayev's men was so fierce, however, that the battle lasted for half an hour.

Alfa and Vympel simultaneously attacked from the basement and roof, and shaped charges were used to make holes the wall. Theyjust were not able to silence all pockets of resistance in the time allotted by the plan.

Writer Mikhail Veller recognizes the responsibility of officials for what happened.

M.VELLER: People in security were required by their official position to report the antidotes and to take measures to ensure that the hostages, once gassed, got help in a timely manner. These individuals, at least, should be brought before the people, and, at a minimum, explain how it happened that so many people died because of these errors.

V.KARA-MURZA: After this act of terror, the authorities behaved in the strangest manner: they put out misinformation and slowed the investigation. Thenit was stopped completely.

The victims were forced to found a public organization, Nord-Ost, which conducted a parallel investigation into the tragedy by sending its results to the government and law enforcement agencies.

Historian Nikolai Svanidze hopes to learn the truth about the reasons for the tragic finale.

N.SVANIDZE: The main question: what did the authorities do, and, by contrast, what did they not do, to avoid killing people?

People were killed during the hostage rescue; very many of the hostages were killed. Andthis is a very big problem: Who is to blame? There is still no answer.

V.KARA-MURZA: As a result, the history of Nord-Ost is left with many-many blind spots. Theinvestigation is closed, so it is impossible even to determine how, and in collusion with what government agencies, did militants with plenty of weapons and explosives manage to reach the center of Moscow and, unobstructed, seize hostages.

Writer Viktor Shenderovich is not waiting for an answer to the key open questions.

V.SHENDEROVICH: For me the most important question that remains unanswered is: why was everything done so that none of the criminals remained alive so no one could say anything? Herethey exterminated the sleeping terrorists and left no one who could be put on trial and from whom they could learn anything about the organization, about its motives. Thisquestion is quite large.

I don’t think that we’ll get an answer to this question as long as this corporation remains in power.

V.KARA-MURZA: Repeated appeals by the victims to the leadership of the country, demanding an objective inquiry into the tragedy and its aftermath, remain unanswered.

The price paid for victory over the terrorists seems excessive to Konstantin Borovoy, politician.

K.BOROVOY: The main question that has not yet received an answer is: on what basis did the authorities the Kremlin, Putin deal with the terrorists in sacrificing hundreds of Russian citizens' lives?

Throughout the world, if it can give any result, they hold negotiations with terrorists saving the lives of citizens.

Yet in the case of Nord-Ost, the terrorists didn’t destroy these people, the authorities themselves physically destroyed them in order to strengthen this government, to the detriment of citizens and their lives.


V.KARA MURZA: Today our studio guest is Sergei Dedukh, a TV reporter who led the crew from the television station NTV that worked at Dubrovka.

Good evening, Sergei.

S.DEDUKH: Good evening.

V.KARA-MURZA: Back in October of 2002, how did you arrange an interview with Barayev?

S.DEDUKH: The people who seized the bearing plant theater wanted to appear on the air. Theyneeded to declare themselves, while the headquarters in charge of the hostage rescue needed to see with whom they were dealing. Perhaps there would the chance of some kind of a bargain with them.

We waited a long time for the opportunity to go in there. Theytold us at 11at night that we would be going in, but we actually went in at 3 in the morning. Wespent the whole time sitting in the hospital directly across from Nord-Ost.

So we went there with Dr. Roshal. Wecarried some medicines with us.

I distinctly remember that, when we went inside, near the front door there was an unexploded grenade from an under-barrel grenade launcher. Maybe the Chechens fired it when they entered? Idon't know.

On the first floor we met no one, so we went to second. There armed men met us.

We weren't allowed into the auditorium. Theydidn't allow us to show the hostages en mass. Dr. Roshal went in there with the medicines and we sat down and waited in a small coffee shop in the lobby. Itwas from this buffet that during those three days the hostages and terrorists ate and drank whatever they could find.

Then Barayev himself appeared. Right away we didn't know if he was the person in command or his representative. But he wasn't masked, one of the few whom we saw back then.

We talked for about forty minutes. Heshowed us Chechen women wearing suicide belts, and we were able to talk with several hostages, or rather, female hostages, among whom were journalists from the Moscow media and television.

Barayev right away said that he was operating with the knowledge of Maskhadov and other Chechen leaders who were alive back then.

He wasn’t an orator, certainly, but he understood why he was there. Andwe didn't detect in him any confusion, or embarrassment, or that he was waiting to die. Theman was ready to do whatever he decided to do.

By the end of the conversation we were talking quite freely with them, and when we left they probably hoped that what they had said, or at least most of it, would appear on the air.

There was a satellite dish, which we used to send material to Ostankino (TV tower), but the videocassette was instantly seized by the secret service.

I worked out a live broadcast, uttered my report, and that morning went home to bed.

And what Ithink is still significant is that by that evening they decided nevertheless to broadcast at least a portion of Barayev's speech, in what in television is called a synchronous broadcast.

Prior to this headquarters and other organizations involved banned us from doing it. But, apparently, there had been some kind of bargain worked out with Barayev.

Perhaps they thought they could get some of the hostages released. In the end, however, he refused all negotiations and the report was aired without his live broadcast.

We are well aware of the conditions we are working under, were working under back then, and Itried to comply with the rules we were given. Andthe manager at NTV television with whom Iwas speaking back then was Boris Jordan, and he stressed, more than once he stressed that we must adhere to these rules.

V.KARA-MURZA: And do you share the suspicion that not all of the militants were killed, that some managed to escape?

S.DEDUKH: Yes. Itcan't be ruled out. Well, at least the fact that people directly participating in the rescue operation, that morning in front of the cameras they were claiming that some terrorists were captured alive. Butlater no one remembered anything about this.

And my operator perhaps later saw one of the terrorists who had met us there. If that was true, it's hard to tell now.

V.KARA-MURZA: Thank you very much for this interview.

I remind you that our studio guest was journalist Sergei Dedukh, who in 2002led the crew from NTV at Dubrovka

Fragment of a broadcast by radio Echo of Moscow

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