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The capture of hostages – how to negotiate with terrorists
Written by Сергей Бунтман   
Четверг, 04 Январь 2007
Article Index
The capture of hostages – how to negotiate with terrorists
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By Sergey Buntman

Эхо МосквыRadio Echo of Moscow, on the program “We’re looking for the exit”

SERGEY BUNTMAN: Good evening, this is Sergey Buntman on the microphone and today “we’re looking for the exit”. How and in what way can one negotiate with terrorists and with terrorist organizations that take hostages? Our reason for discussing this is the possible agreement on exchanging the Israeli corporal, Gelad Shalit, for 450 Palestinian prisoners. This is an absolute trade – they are paying with these prisoners through middlemen from Egypt, and there’s a chance that in six months Gelad Shalit will be returned. Today we’re going to discuss, of course, much more than just the Israeli situation, and our guests are Anatoly Yermolin, Member of Parliament and former chief of a combat operational unit of ‘Vimpel’. (Trans note: ‘Vimpel’ and ‘Alfa’ are FSB’s special weapons units similar to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.)


SERGEY BUNTMAN: And Valery Borshchov is a human rights advocate and co-chairman of the human right’s party ‘Apple’. Hello



SERGEY BUNTMAN: Later I’ll ask our listeners if they would exchange a Russian corporal for 450 of (terrorist leader) Kulayev’s men, terrorists. We won’t argue about whom the Israelis are holding in prison. What do you think, what does a government, even one that handles terrorists as harshly as Israeli, what point do they have to reach in order to hold talks with what they consider a terrorist organization, Anatoly Yermolin?

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: The situation here isn’t that simple, because we know what happened before they began negotiations.


ANATOLY YERMOLIN: Yes, a full-scale war in which thousands of people died. I think that in this situation it’s positive that the government began talks anyway.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: What prevented them from happening earlier?

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: It’s hard for me to speak for the Israeli government.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: Well in general, in principle, this price – so many Israeli soldiers were killed, and we won’t even talk about the masses of people who were bombed, for what reason, whether they were shielding (terrorists) or not. But bombing is always such a happy deal and peaceful people end up dying.

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: Allow me to offer that this war, which didn’t turn out to be victorious, somehow changed the political climate and so now we see a visible move away from the politics of the hawks…

SERGEY BUNTMAN: Fine. Today I was looking at the Israeli blogs and they’re writing in their ‘Live Journals’ like this: tomorrow there’ll be another war, and tomorrow they’ll dig the same tunnels under the DMZ and take bunches of soldiers and that won’t start a war, that Israel is weak, and they’ll take hostages and ask for the release of other prisoners.

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: It’s a well-known approach. 15–20 years ago it was the dominant approach in the special service. And the USSR and a whole lot of other special forces worked according to the maxim, as we like to put it these days: “f*** them up however you can”, no matter what the possible losses. The logic was like this: if you show weakness you’ll receive an escalation of terror acts. But, unfortunately, the terrorists think innovatively, and in reply to this practice on the part of the special services throughout the world, the terrorists began to take mass numbers of hostages, recall the school seizure in Israel when more than 70 children died.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: Schools began to fall into their hands, and airplanes, and whole embassy buildings – as in Peru.

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: 600 people were seized in Lima. By the way, the negotiations there lasted 4 months.

VALERY BORSHCHOV: I think that the problem here is, firstly, what is the most important. What’s important to us – to save a hostage, to save our soldier who has been taken prisoner, or to avenge and inflict a corresponding punishment, to take revenge on the enemy? This position has been debated for a long time. Remember our war, our famous field marshals, such as Rokosskovky, for example, who protected his soldiers so that he earned their love and respect, but there was a host of generals and marshals for whom soldiers were nothing but resources. It’s a key problem. And with regards to the terrorists we’ve expressed this in such a harsh form: destroy the terrorists. Not to save the hostages, but to destroy the terrorists. All the events of the last few years attest to this: ‘Nord-Ost’, we what, saved hostages without losing any? Far from it. Beslan was in general a tragedy. And so here we have this maxim, it’s primary, it’s important. Really, all the time they are referring to Israel, but Israel set the example when the question of the life of their corporal became more important than a few hundred people sitting in jails.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: But the declared aim of the war was to put fear into the terrorist organizations, to push them from this territory, but in principle it failed. I’m looking at SMS (cell phone text messages), so I’ll remind everyone that our number is 985-45-45. Listeners are writing: “The two main types of terror acts are bombings and the seizure of hostages. In the first case the government’s responsibility in the public’s eye is minimal – you can’t search everyone. But in the second case the ball is in the government’s court – the terrorists won at ‘Nord-Ost’, they won in Beslan, and if tomorrow there’s a hostage seizure in Mahachkala or Nalchik, why conduct an assault?” This is from Albert. Thus, you can’t come up with a prescription that saves people?

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: I agree with Albert, that there, there, and there, the terrorists achieved their goals. Because, in reality, the main aim of any terrorist attack is not hostages, a terrorist attack is so that they can barter with the authorities for certain kinds of concessions, but to create an atmosphere of fear, of terror. They achieved this in Beslan and at ‘Nord-Ost’.

But I’d like to say that at Budennovsk they did not quite succeed. I was at Budennovsk, and I was Basayev’s hostage, and back then we, a group of parliament members came and made contact, the doctors gave us the phone and we contacted Basayev and offered to exchange ourselves voluntarily for other hostages. Sergey Kovalev was there, and Mikhail Molostvov, Yuri Rybakov, and other members of parliament, and in the end the policy was a success. If the process had begun earlier the policemen may not have got shot. We got there just after they died. The losses could have been much less.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: So you’re saying that the deaths would’ve been less had they negotiated?

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: If negotiations had started earlier.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: Here’s a reply from (listener) Alexey: “When they remember Budennovsk, all ‘siloviki’ (members of the military, police, and security services) gnash their teeth out of fury and impotence, since, after all, tens of our people died there.”

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: That’s correct. When we started holding talks Basayev’s shootings in the basement of the hospital came to a halt.

I’ll explain why ‘siloviki’ gnash their teeth, and, by the way, it’s not with regards to negotiations. I’m certain that negotiations were needed, for various reasons, and we’ll talk about this more. ‘Siloviki’ gnash their teeth because, after the military part of the operation began, the politicians made the decision and said so in advance, but afterwards they interfered in the military part of the operation. This never happens anywhere in the world where they’ve worked out normal algorithms of carrying out counter-terrorism operations. I’ll explain how it’s done. It’s very important and as a member of parliament I’ve tried to defend this position in the new law, but, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as I wanted. A political leader in democratic counties often answers for the results of a counter-terrorist operation, but there is a very interesting technology for the political leader’s interaction with military units, with the special services. On tactical maps very often there’s what’s known as a demarcation boundary of authority. A politician can hold talks or have negotiators working in his name, and he has the right to say: “Move forward”, or not. But, to prevent what happened at Budennovsk from happening again, if a politician says: “Move forward”, then he has made his political decision. Further on, the head of the special services is responsible for the success of the military part of the operation. And, by the way, now we have switched all the responsibility to the people in epaulets, to the FSB, and we have weakened the power of negotiators in general. Before, he was a kind of moderator and upon reaching an agreement with the terrorists he could assume a position balanced between a civil resolution of the problem and a military one. Now he has become a hostage and the terrorists know very well that he won’t be performing and that more than likely a military decision will be made.

SERGEY BUNTMAN: And does this testify to the fact that – for the terrorists and for the hostages – that all this was a diversionary maneuver, and that all negotiations were really done for one reason?

ANATOLY YERMOLIN: I don’t think that it was done on purpose, but I agree with my colleagues that, at any rate, the general logic of what is now happening here – in the legislation – is all directed at destroying the terrorists. Meanwhile, the main mission of the negotiators, in all regulations and instructions that we are personally acquainted with, is to create conditions so that hostage situations are solved peacefully. By the way, some statistics: in 1997 there was a large-scale survey (of crime) in large cities in the USA, and an analysis was performed. In 80% of hostage situations, the negotiators ended these peacefully.

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