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Saved, or killed?
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, 29 2002

   Well, we have seen the outhouse. Ithas seating for a thousand and is located in downtown Moscow.

As promised, the rebels were caught in it, and pissed on (TR: a reference to the famous Putin promise to kill terrorists everywhere, even “pissing on them in the outhouse”).

We all saw how it went down. Weheard the government’s explanations, as well as some fantastic speculation from the talking heads, but we do not believe either of them. Theauthorities always deceive (i.e.: Chernobyl, the default, the submarine ‘Kursk’, etc.), while the talking heads do not know athing.

What we have seen for ourselves was not enough to draw any definitive conclusions, but more than enough to raise questions, and these questions are on everyone’s mind, all the way from the very beginning, since Wednesday evening.

There are more than a million police officers and an unknown number of FSB agents, stationed at checkpoints in Chechnya all the way up to every station platform of the Moscow metro, all checking out everyone who looks as if they may be from the Caucasus. Noone of this ethnicity can even poke their nose into Moscow, but here a few dozen of them brought to Moscow (and through Russia), assault rifles, grenades, explosives, and a crew-served heavy machinegun.

They should have been arrested or killed him before they even began their attack.

How could the authorities not have noticed this large group, and its large quantity of weapons and dozens of kilos of plastic explosives? Itis said that preparations for this terrorist attack took two months and during that whole time we knew nothing?

Either we do not have any agents, or they are quite untalented, or they were not looking for the right people. Theymonitor Berezovsky’s every sneeze: whom he called and what he said, and they post all this chatter on the Internet. Overthe course of two months the terrorists most certainly made hundreds of telephone calls. Maskhadov’s threats on videotapes dozens of people knew about the impending attack, and yet it remained a mystery to the GRU, FSB, and Interior Ministry?

If so, then why were the heads of security services (the so-called “siloviki”) not forced to resign?

* * *

Everyone who reported on the militants said: “The bandits’ only demand is an end to the war.” Not a very bandit-like demand.

The bandits did not demand millions of dollars, or aircraft, or unhindered escape. Apparently they already saw themselves as dead, and so it was impossible to hold a civilized conversation with them, to say nothing of bargaining.

Were these really the same forces that first blew up apartment buildings in order to start a war, but then took hostages to end it? Thehandwriting is painfully different.

The authorities declared, “The terrorists want a war!” Really? Theyalready have a war. “They are against the outbreak of stability!” Really? Armored personnel carriers blowing up every day, and helicopters getting shot down every week? While our losses may be stable, the political situation isnot.

Members of Parliament (including Aslakhanov), who went to see the terrorists, said later on TV, “We did everything! Wemet all their demands!”

What demands? After all, they asked for a meeting with a representative of the President, but that was something to they never got. Celebrities went in, and thanks to them at least a few children were released, but none of them not Kobzon, nor Primakov, nor any of the showmen were negotiators. Theyhad no authority, and from the terrorists’ perspective, these gentlemen were noone.

The President could not bring himself to appoint a negotiator that would have meant his defeat, his personal defeat.

Why did the president rein in the uninvited negotiators (MPs and journalists)? Because no one should appear to be a savior in the eyes of the nation.

* * *

Chernomyrdin is reviled for Budennovsk: “He negotiated with Basayev the shame!” No, Chernomyrdin would not allow the deaths of thousands of people. Hetook upon himself the political disgrace (or was forced to take it), which is nothing when compared with the lives of people.

The shame, the real shame, is that for seven years after Budennovsk they could not catch Basayev (either that, or they accepted money let him get away), but it was clear that Basayev was never stopped. Myarticle in ‘Moskovsky Komsomolets’ in the summer of 1995was called “Basayev the hero. Therefore he must be caught and killed.” From the article: “Basayev’s group should have been destroyed on its way to Budennovsk. Later, after had taken cover behind hostages, it was impossible to fire, but they could have shot them earlier. Nowsecurity personnel must die in order to catch Basayev, not for the sake of government ministers, but for themselves. Ifthis raid goes unpunished, the Russian security services will forever be shamed. Butwhat is worst is that if Basayev is not caught, the terrorists will believe that they are unstoppable. Chernomyrdin said that the main thing is to stop the slaughter in Chechnya.

“The fact that the prime minister described the situation in Chechnya as slaughter, testifies to his sincerity, that he does not try to find any politically correct words, but just says what he is thinking. Ithas long been clear to all that instead of razing their cities and villages, killing and maiming everyone and leaving behind tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees, they need to either let go of Chechnya, or catch Dudayev, Maskhadov, and Basayev. Instead, we toss our 18-year-olds into fruitless, head-on attacks” (In ‘MK’, June 22, 1995)

* * *

Had this giant outhouse on Dubrovka suddenly blown up (because of, for example, a negligent suicide bomber), it would have been better, politically. “These are animals here before us and you cannot talk with them about a thing! Theymust be destroyed.”

There was no doubt from the outset that an assault was being readied, and on TV the ‘Alpha’ veterans all repeated: “Negotiations are always just a tactic to buy time to prepare the operation.”

The authorities for their part repeated politically correct words about the inestimable value of human life. These are, as Stalin used to say, simply millions turned into in the dust of the labor camps. Theauthorities said that we had to do everything to save the hostages, but were preparing an assault.

And they got in a bind for time. Theycould not enter into any formal negotiations that would be a political catastrophe. Andone could not rule out that the terrorist would tire of waiting and start shooting. Ifthey started shooting hostages then bloodshed would force the authorities to negotiate. Andif the authorities would not make concessions, then there would be a big scandal and the citizenry would demand them in order to end the executions.

* * *

The terrorists promised to start shooting by noon on Saturday. Theassault began at 6am. Inthis sense, Barayev himself defined the time he ordered the assault! Ifhe had said that the shooting would start on Monday, we would have had another two days. Then, perhaps, there would have been time to prepare not just the gas, but also medicines and hospitals.

Is it dangerous to make ready a hospital? Whatif suddenly the bandits learned of this, and knew there would be an assault? Butthen that would mean they were pretty naive. Butwhy not prepare syringes in advance so that life-saving injections could be given to hostages right away, on the steps of theatrical center? There were hundreds of people poisoned, and it took a long time to load them into ambulances, and later city buses, and then it took a long time to transport and unload them, and as a result many did not receive these life-saving injections until more than an hour after than they otherwise could have received them. Thepreparation for the assault was good. Thepreparation for the treatment of the poisoned hostages wasbad.

They tell us: “Alas, we couldn’t save everyone.” Many, quite sincerely, say with admiration: “All of 120killed, out of 800, but everyone could’ve been killed! Andnot just the theater might have been blown up, but also the neighboring apartment buildings.”

This admiration is politically correct. Fifteen per cent is an acceptable loss, unless you are one of those for whom such percentages represent the names of your children and parents.

Everyone speaking on TV (security service veterans, members of parliament, singers, and priests) says: “It was inevitable that there would be victims.” But those who died after the assault on the street or on their way to the hospital or in the waiting room were they also doomed, or could they have beensaved?

For some reason, we are only offered one version: everyone could have died, but instead only a few died. Thisversion includes an assault.

Even without an assault things could have gone terribly awry. Theterrorists, in anger or by accident, could have pushed the button at any time. Butthose who planned it all were hoping that things would all turn out according to earlier, known examples. Theterrorists were not really in a big hurry to head on over to that other plane of existence, and there have been cases where hostages had been held for several months. Dozens of diplomats were held hostage for more than four months in Peru’s capital while negotiations dragged on. Asa result, the security forces managed to dig a tunnel under a park and break in through a basement all of the terrorists ended up shot, and every hostage was rescued.

Also known are more rapid solutions. Israeli security commandos had only one night, as the terrorists had designated the next morning for killing the hostages. Commandos flew thousands of miles overnight on three transport planes, all the way to the center of Africa, and, without any local support, no hope for negotiations, and no time to prepare, they carried out a rescue operation. Allof the terrorists were shot, and only one hostage and the commando group commander were killed.

We had another option everyone stays alive. Thisoption negotiations was only seriously discussed by idealists, pacifists, and other namby-pambies.

An assault was prepared before the shooting was to take place, and the gas was released before the attack. Thatis correct, but

Those who planned the assault risked everyone’s life. Onseeing the approaching assault groups and sensing action of the gas, any one of the suicide bombers would have had time to detonate their bomb. Wedo not know why they did not kill the hostages. Godsavedthem.

If you have just risked everyone’s life, this means that the security forces did not rescue the people as much as they did themselves. Iam not talking about the commandos Iam talking about the government ministers. Theyscrewed up. Theyput the President in a tight sport and were ready to save their own careers and reputations at anyprice.

The heads of the FSB, Interior Ministry, and so on, did not even apologize to the people (though they may have repented before the President). Tonot admit one’s guilt, and not resign this is a tradition. Likemost D-students, they simply hope “maybe they Iwon’t get called on.”

And not firing anyone is also a tradition. Aminister left at his post by the grace of the President becomes infinitely loyal. Hissoldiers, however, were forced to pay for his leadership failures with their blood, and they will feel cruelly betrayed. Betrayed over and overagain.

All the news analysis shows on TV were filled with international terrorism, suicide bombers, and vivid examples from history, but the names of Patrushev and Gryzlov were never heard. Theysomehow forgot all about them. Every show. Asif oncue.

* * *

After some difficulty in mustering the strength to mention the number of dead hostages, none of the senior officials at first would say what they died from from bullets, or from thegas.

Now we know that it was from thegas.

We mourn the innocent victims. Theywere truly innocent. Butis it as if a runaway glacier suddenly killed them? Outthere in the mountains Ossetia, they say: “Had the experts been watching, they could have predicted descent of the glacier and there would have been no casualties.” So, had they been closely monitoring Chechen and other terrorism and missedit?

Why did the innocents die? Wasit the gas? Wasit the militants? Wasit bin-Laden, Basayev, and Maskhadov? Orwas it Yeltsin, Grachev, the Duma, the Federation Council, the Constitutional Court those who in 1994started and blessed this catastrophe, never understanding or anticipating athing?

* * *

We are now getting ready to invade Georgia, but it turns out that we cannot even protect our own capital city. Aninteractive survey on TV asks: “Can the government protect us?” 92% respond “no”. Thisis too much of a contrast with the usual high confidence rating of the government. Itis not just a matter of being in shock, but the fact that shocked people, like drunks, say whatever is on theirmind.

The President in his speech quoted one of the patients he saw while visiting the Sklifosovsky Institute. Thehostage was surprisingly peppy, and said he was never afraid and firmly believed in his timely rescue.

It seems that he was the only hostage who spent those 57hours without any fear. Washe abnormal, and raving? Butit was he who ended up in the bed, to which came the President.

* * *

From the Sunday talk shows it is known that the President with his Saturday assault saved not just the hostages, but Russia as well. Nemtsov, and the long-bearded leader from the Eurasian Party also said “he saved Russia! Ifhe (the president) entered into negotiations then throughout Russia the government would have been forced to its knees at gunpoint!” By this, do they mean that the Interior Ministry and FSB throughout Russia exist only for levies and divvying up furniture stores?

But there is something else that is the most important.

Certainly the President was in a very tough situation. Yes, and anyone would be uncomfortable when their proud promises of: “The enemy will be defeated! Spill a little blood on foreign soil!” turns into defeat. In1941, when the failure of such promises was terribly evident, special detachments had to be formed to shoot our own people in case of their retreat. Whatis this talk about “spill a little blood”? Well, at least Russia was notlost.

To say that Saturday’s assault saved Russia must mean that Barayev’s detachment could have killed her. Theycouldnot.

And in general, no outside force could ever destroy us not Napoleon, nor Hitler. Thecommunists almost killed us, but they were on the inside, not the outside.

Russia was not ruined by the “Basayev-Budennovsk-Chernomyrdin” episode, and if we are to talk seriously about death, then the most terrible, and perhaps, mortal blow to Russia was not from the Chechens or from international terrorism, but from three persons of pure Slavic appearance in the Bialowieza Forrest (TR: reference to the accords signed by Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus to dissolve the USSR in 1991).

All of this is very unpleasant to think about, and one rather strongly does not wish to discuss it. Physicians say that one of the bitterest moments in their profession is when they must tell a patient a difficult diagnosis. Under Soviet rule, doctors were even forbidden to tell the truth to cancer patients. Aterrible diagnosis, however, is sometimes the only way to mobilize the body’s internal forces.

I bow low before all who risked their lives in the assault on the terrorists. Ibow low before all who offered themselves as hostages in exchange for women and children. Ibow low before all who were not afraid to carry water and drugs into the theater, when an explosion could have happened at any moment.

It is a pity that not all weresaved.

Thank you, that not all were killed.

Alexander Minkin in ‘Moskovsky Komsomolets’, October 31st, 2002
Web link on the website of Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko Party)

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