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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 22:09 GMT 23:09 UK
Moscow theatre siege: Putin's options
The siege of a Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels has presented President Vladimir Putin with one of the biggest problems of his political career.
Mr Putin was swift to condemn the seizure of the theatre as an act of terror, linking it to the international war on terrorism.
But some liberal voices in Russia are asking why no serious attempt has been made to reach a negotiated solution to the Chechen conflict.
The rebels' sole demand is that Russia withdraw its troops from Chechnya, but that would be an impossible step-down for the president, who has won huge support for taking a hard line.
However, there are still up to 800 people remaining in the theatre, and the hostage-takers are threatening to detonate explosives if police stage a rescue attempt.
What are President Putin's options? How can the crisis be resolved? Send us your reactions to the siege, or your experiences if you are there.
This debate is now closed. A selection of your e-mails has been published below.
Putin should look for a political solution. Hopefully the crises in Moscow will be solved according to the lines of traditional Chechen-Russian barganing: 3-6 days of standoff; some sort of a compromise; Chechens exit and hostages are eventually freed. No symphany for Chechens for this act of terrorism. But at the same time: The cause for this act is not "international terrorism" but a civil war in Russia. A civil war that Russia cannot win (nobody actually wins civil wars).
Putin's option are very clear: to wait and watch and try to release as many hostages as possible and then to storm the theatre. The long term approach is difficult and complex, I believe that the Russian Government is NOT interested in coming to a conclusion.
Anatoly Bukovsky, Graduate of Moscow State University, USA temporary
If Chechens drop their demand for independence and outside support for terrorism ends, Russia should also scale down its military presence in the territory.
It is the ordinary Russians who have swept Putin to power on his promise to deal with the Chechens with an iron hand, and this is clear evidence of the failure of that approach. Russia is not a peace-loving, law abiding democracy where people's grievances can be heard in courts of law, and differences can be rationally reconciled. Russia still thinks in terms of oppression, domination and empire. The pride of the whole Russian nation seems to rest on crushing a small nation just because they want to live free in a place called Chechnya. Once the ordinary Russian realises this, and accepts that this is a struggle for freedom and not against freedom - peace will follow.
Artem, Russia, Moscow
I lived in Moscow during the first and second Chechen wars, and we all knew that there was a threat of terrorism. However, there was a still greater threat of being mistaken for a Chechen and being beaten up or killed by the police - there were days that we didn't go out because the police were looking for "foreigners". Two British friends of mine were attacked by the police - one beaten and one mugged for money - because they looked "different". The fear of terrorism is much greater than the risk, and this hostage-taking, dreadful though it is, is the exception and not the rule.
Russia has to realise it is no longer a superpower. It should pull its troops out of Chechnya and be the first to stop the bloodshed. Both countries are responsible for horrible crimes, who will be the first to stop?
First step: Mr. Putin has to say "yes" to withdraw troops from Chechnya (it is about 50,000 soldiers) and do it now. Second step: after hostages are released, he has to start global anti-terrorist action in Russia (including Chechnya) and use about 200-500,000 troops to resolve this long term problem.
Gorazd Cvetic, Chile
Those Chechens are playing a game that is already lost. The Chechens in Chechnya will pay a heavy price for the mistake of a few of their compatriots, regardless the outcome of the crisis. The world has to be realistic about it: It is now really only a question of how many hostages can be saved - the future of Chechnya after this insane action is so bleak that it isn't even worth bothering. It is cruel, but they should have thought of it before they did it.
While not condoning in any way, shape or form the actions of the Chechen rebels in the Moscow theatre, one has to ask why does Putin keep on with his imperialistic policy of not allowing Chechnya independence?
Having studied with a Chechen diplomat, I know that behind the scenes they are trying to find a peaceful solution, but with their opponent (Russia) is being left to do as it pleases, is it any wonder that no diplomatic solution is reached? And no diplomatic solution equals more likelihood of desperate terrorist actions by disenchanted, disenfranchised people (and that doesn't only apply to Chechnya).
The Palestinians, Chechens and Kashmiris are not all mad people who thrive on 'terrorism'. States like America, Israel and Russia have left them with no option but to take extreme measures. With such self-proclaimed custodians of peace and civilisation, no wonder it is such a horrible world for most of humanity to live in. So who do you expect to resolve their problems? The UN? Their naivety and intellectual dishonesty is disgusting. They deserve leaders like Bush and Putin who will drag them to further international isolation and the object of even more global hatred.
This is yet another incident in what is proving to be a global phenomenon. Rigid steps or measures have to be undertaken to save the world as America is doing now.
What I find appalling is that the Western media keeps labelling these terrorist as "rebels". Even after the brutal execution of three Britons and a New Zealander, they are still "rebels". Please try to get your facts straight: an organisation that kills and injures civilians is a terrorist one, and all those participating in it's activities are terrorists.
According to your definition Boris, the Russians and their military are terrorists. You are applying your definition to some and not others, why is that?
The world will be a better place to live in if the so-called super powers will honestly address the underlying factors behind terrorism.
Since the Chechens have a problem with the Russian Government, and/or military, why didn't they attack the Kremlin, or take over an army base? Because in the end, they are cowards, and people dressed to a evening of leisure in a theatre are not likely to shoot back. They claim that they are willing to die for their cause, I think it's very likely if they had attacked people capable of fighting back, they would have died.
As an Englishman living in Russia I can only say I am amazed this hasn't happened before now. The Chechen war has been both brutal and dubious. This war is costing Russia dearly and whatever the wrongs and rights of the issue it is clearly in Russia's interests to solve this matter by whatever means - discussion, compromise and diplomacy all included. I pray to God this ends peacefully but when you back people into a corner they can become very, very desperate.
The situation we find ourselves today is a direct result of the flawed Kremlin policy in Chechnya. No-one condones terrorism. However, it is senseless just to blame and vilify Chechens for their desperate acts, however unjustifiable they are. Western governments have muted their criticisms of Russian military's bloodthirsty conduct in Chechnya. and it does not get nearly as much media exposure as the recent hostage taking in Moscow did in the past 24 hours. Needless to say, I hope that this tragic event will be resolved peacefully without civilian casualties. I also hope that this tragic event will galvanize the Russian citizenry to put popular pressure on the Putin administration to end the war in Chechnya.
The Chechen's are nothing but terrorists. Had they not started fighting outside their border in 1999, this would never have happened. As far as I'm concerned, the Russians can use what ever force they see fit. Not just in the Moscow theatre, but in Chechnya itself. It's time to simply wipe out terrorist. Enough is enough. The terrorist don't play by any rules, nor should the states they attack and terrorize. If they hit you, hit them 5 times harder, it's the only language they understand. They are not true Muslims, but simple thugs.
In considering the events that are taking place in Moscow at this moment, it is important to understand that Russia is the aggressor. The Chechens are peace-loving people. It is said that the circumstance that Russia has imposed on Chechnya, with its imperialistic ambition, makes these people to turn to cruel measures. After all, it is for their own country they are fighting for.
Russian officials still can't tell anything. They don't know how many bandits are inside, they also don't know the exact amount of hostages... It speaks about an inconsistency of Russian police...
My thoughts and sympathy are with the Russian people. I hope that all of the innocent Russian civilians being held inside the theatre will be able to go home to their families and friends. The terrorists who plot these acts, with their absence of respect for human life, are only lessening the hopes for peace and justice that the people of Chechnya desire. Today I am Russian. I stand with my brothers on the other side of the world.
Everybody here reminds us of Chechen civilians being killed... How about hundreds of civilians killed in bombings in Moscow and other cities? Why can't anybody abroad understand that these are not Chechens fighting for the freedom, but terrorists? In 1996 these beasts were left to their own devices and Chechnya became a state of anarchy. These people don't fight for freedom of Chechnya. These people fight because there's nothing else they can do. Killing is their only profession.
Terrorist or freedom fighter? We have truly lost our way. Taking innocents hostage is unacceptable no matter how you look at it. Isn't anyone ashamed of equivocating murder and mayhem?
President Putin must deal with this situation with an iron hand. Any weakness shown at this stage will only encourage these terrorists to strike time and again, particularly aiming at soft targets.
The Russians have every right to eliminate the bandits who are willing to hold innocent civilians for the sake of their political cause. We all know that Chechen rebels are not angels and they should not be supported. Think about those people who are inside the building. The fact that Vladimir Putin makes mistakes in Chechnya cannot justify violence against ordinary Russians and in particular against other Europeans.
As I have read the comments, I see that many do not understand the real situation in Chechnya. Many still think that the Russian military kill innocent civilians in Chechnya so Russians now "will pay a heavy price". There are terrorist groups in Chechnya that kill innocent civilians, and the Russian military does everything to stop them doing that as well as terrorizing other nations in Russia. We all realize terrorism must be eliminated, and we are all for doing it, but it's impossible to do that without violence and thousands of dead civilians. The same thing concerns Chechnya.
When things go well, we think it is our good sense. When things go badly we can't understand and are reminded that all humans are capable of atrocities. Try to understand why things are terrible for thousands in Russia right now. And pray that God will have mercy on us wherever we are.
After the initial shock here, perhaps it might be timely that Russian politicians and the civilised world begin to scrutinise the activities of demoralised Russian soldiers and their regular 'anti-terrorist' operations in Chechnya which have led to the brutal death of many innocent Chechens (and Russian soldiers).
There seems to be now way of telling who's right and who's wrong in all that is happening in the world... Has it come to either us or them? Or do we still have a chance to co-exist on this planet ?
Someone seems to be sending us a message with the chain of events which are unfolding; Bali, then Moscow, then what?
Is anybody really surprised that this has happened? After all the rest of the world has ignored the plight of the Chechens for the past few years. Over 150,000 Chechen civilians have been killed by indiscriminate bombing and over 300,000 have been forced to flee their homes. When there is no option left this is what happens. The terrorist here are not the Chechens, it is the Russians who should be branded terrorists.
Daniel Haindl, Czech Republic
Terror group or freedom fighter, it depends which country you live in it would seem.
23 Oct 02 | Europe
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