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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 11:35 GMT
Moscow theatre siege: Was the right action taken?
The authorities in Moscow have reaffirmed that most of the hostages who died in the theatre siege were killed by gas and not gunfire.
One hundred and seventeen hostages were killed when Russian troops stormed the Moscow theatre on Saturday.
Foreign doctors and US officials say they are confident that the Russian authorities did not use an illegal nerve gas in their mission to rescue 800 hostages..
The US embassy in Moscow says its physicians believe an opium-based gas was pumped into the theatre just before the rescue operation in order to incapacitate the Chechen rebels inside.
The Russian authorities have been under heavy pressure to reveal details about the type of gas used by special forces in their assault on the theatre.
What are your reactions to the developments? Were the authorities right to use force and gas to resolve the situation?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Frank Frenscham, Australia
Attempting negotiation with terrorists is a waste of time. Approximately 15 percent of the hostages died in the raid. In my opinion, that's better than 100 percent and a destroyed theatre to boot.
The use of gas was absolutely appropriate, but the fact that even basic medical services were not provided and that critical information for treating the causalities was withheld in the name of "state secrecy" led to far too many deaths.
It seems curious that many media people are talking about gas effects and no-one says anything about the conditions the hostage takers imposed on the innocent people they had been holding for 60 hours and the impact these conditions might have had on health of the hostages.
Whatever happened to the idea of a national right of self-determination? The Chechens want to be free from Russia, not surprising after Stalin deported the entire Chechen people, killing half of them. They thought the west would support them becoming independent, when they found that they were wrong, and Russia destroyed most of Chechnya (declaring Grozny a 'closed city', where hardly anyone now lives), the Chechens were forced to turn to the Middle East for support in their desparation.
Let's hope that this method of fighting back can be improved in the future to minimise the loss of innocent lives. Maybe this whole sad saga will make the hostage takers (fanatics) think twice before they expose themselves in this way. In my view, the Russian authorities have found a method of protecting us all from such future events.
Well done Russia. No body should be allowed to play with human lives. Even though it is sad so many people died, we should be happy so many of them were saved. Putin proved he is a tough president and will never bow to the terrorists. We are with you Russia and we share the sorrow of the families of the victims.
Congratulations to Russian on a job well done. Considering the situation, I believe the police did what was necessary to save the majority of the hostages. Also, I do not understand how some draw a comparison between this "knockout" gas and what Iraq and others have developed. A gas that is designed to render people unconscious is simply not in the same category as anthrax, nerve agents, etc.
I assume next time there's a similar situation, the terrorists will be supplied with gas masks, unlike possible hostages - what then?
I cannot think of any other way to defeat the terrorists without the risk of the theater being blown to pieces
Putin asked for forgiveness on television for letting some of the hostages die. That was a devious way of taking credit for the operation. After all, he was only told about it after it had started.
No one is asking why the action was not prevented at the first place. What were the Moscow police doing when all the preparations for the siege were going on for months? Also why didn't the Russian government think of the impact of the gas beforehand and why were so many innocent people killed unnecessarily by using a banned chemical? After 9/11, the Russian authorities are still not prepared.
As much as I am saddened by the death of many of the hostages, the use of the gas was clearly the right decision. If it were not for the timely intervention and the numbing of the terrorists by the gas, all 800+ hostages would be dead. I can understand that the Russian government wants to keep the identity of the gas secret for security reasons. I fail to understand, though, why didn't the military itself administer antidotes to the hostages - after all that would have revealed nothing.
The situation is out of control. Everyone wants a clean, short-term solution. No one wants to actually sit down and solve problems. Be it Bush, Blair, or Putin. So till then, let's keep fighting fires and congratulate our fellow soldiers and leaders.
Nerve agents are biological weapons - it is the height of hypocrisy for the USA to support Russia - but then again, the USA has opted out of the various treaties banning the sale and use of biological weapons. The USA and UK by condoning this act, are simply providing legitimacy for their own use of these same types of weapons (in Vietnam, Gulf War, Afghanistan, Kosovo). This unfortunate incident is just another example of how imperialist nations (UK, USA, Russia etc.) can slaughter whomever they want with impunity. The credo of the current "world powers" is not "freedom, justice, and democracy", but rather "we will take what we want at whatever cost to you, because might makes right".
To not use the gas would most likely have resulted in the death of all the hostages. The terrorist had begun executing hostages and the Russians did the right thing. Comparing this use of gas to Saddam Hussein's use of gas in ludicrous! This was done to save lives not take them and it saved many lives.
The Russians did the right thing - no deals with terrorists and that is exactly what they were. The terrorist leader gave a message during the crisis and said that they would rather die than live - well, you got your wish. To Mir, Canada who asked: how many Chechens were killed in cold blood? What about the hostages that were killed in cold blood and probably more if nothing was done?
The Russians did not need to use gas or storm the theatre. They could end their pointless war in Chechnya that is getting them absolutely nowhere...
Dan Reedy of the US needs to brush up on his history. The war with the Chechens has been going on for 200 years. It can't be stopped over-night like the terrorists were demanding. They knew that the Russians were not going to give in to their demands. They knew that they were not going to survive. The only question was how many hostages were they going to kill in the process. The Russians did the right thing given the extremely difficult situation they found themselves in.
Surely the Russian authorities acted in the way they thought best and tried to harm the minimum amount of people. There is no doubt that there would have been mass outcry at whatever decision they had chosen. Who can say what would have happened if they had not used the gas they did. Even more lives could have been lost through the actions of the rebels.
This was a necessary move made by the Russian military. Their other choices would have been to send in troops, where hostages would have been right in the crossfire, or to do nothing and allow the terrorists to blow up everyone in the theatre. Some people say that Russia used a chemical weapon, but they didn't. They used a knock out gas. It is tragic that some hostages were in such a weakened condition that it had such a bad effect on them. But the right move was made. Negotiating with terrorist is lunacy.
I can only imagine what the reaction would be around the world if it had been Saddam Hussein to use this poison gas to "solve" a security problem. The U.S. silence shows what hypocrites they are when their allies commit outrages.
Mark Harm, United States
Errr... isn't the use of chemical weapons prohibited by international treaty? So is Russia now lined up against Iraq in that axis of evil, having used chemical weapons against its own people?
The use of gas may have been necessary, but nothing can justify the refusal to disclose its composition to the doctors trying to save the hostages.
I hope that those governments who do value the lives of their citizens will now sue the Russian Federation in an international court.
This is indeed a tragic loss of innocent life. The Russian military were put in a very difficult situation and had to make split second decisions that could have meant life or death to all the people inside the theatre. The results were tragic but I'm sure the idea of using gas was to try and save all of the hostages, many of whom would have died if the Russian army had stormed the theatre without using gas.
On Saturday, the whole world sounded with one word: success. On Sunday, however, it turned out that another word was more appropriate: slaughter.
Isn't this type of 'nerve gas' one of the weapons that Mr Blair was trying to prove Iraq had in the weapons of mass destruction dossier? Seems its OK for Russia to be using it on its own people and not tell them what it is.
The Russian authorities have achieved what the Chechen rebels couldn't. This is a clear example of a rescue operation gone wrong. Even if the majority of the hostages are free, the loss of well over 100 people is totally unacceptable.
I want to express my deep condolences to the families of all hostages that fell prey to the imperialist's ambitions of Russia. Thank God a lot were saved but it was purely through luck.
It is a tragedy that so many precious human lives are lost simply to bring the Chechen plight of subjugation and occupation by Russian forces to the world's attention. It is sad that the oppressed and the weak resort to such desperate and futile measures.
It is premature to come to a conclusion whether the Russian authorities were wise in using gas in their rescue operation. It would be better to wait till more information becomes available about the circumstances under which Russian forces stormed the theatre before we decide whether their actions were properly thought out or not.
It was the right decision to storm the theatre but it was very regrettable that not everyone was rescued. God bless them and their families.
Ben Allanach, France
The Russians knew the theatre was wired with explosives, yet they still decided to go in. They are very lucky that everyone was not killed. They should never use such a stupid manoeuvre ever again!
Does no-one think that the terrorists did win? After all, a huge number of people died as a result of the hostage situation. There is a reason why the rebels did this. Shouldn't Russia look at the root of its problems before we congratulate them for killing their own countrymen?
Am I missing the point? I thought the definition of terrorism was the attack on civilians by a force which uses those civilians as hostages to get what they want by threat of violence. In what way are those people who attacked the theatre not terrorists? I wholeheartedly and without reservation support the Russians in their stand on terrorism. I would also like to add my condolences to the families of the innocent Russian civilians killed in this act of terrorism.
Absolutely brilliant action by the Russians on not bowing down to these terrorist threats and storming the building. They have saved a lot more of the hostages by storming it quickly. Great job Mr Putin! All you anti-war peace activist are weak and make your country weaker with your views. Support your country and not your adversaries!
Now that the special forces have stormed the building, I think we will see that this was a terrible decision on the part of the Chechen "rebels". This isn't their first terrorist act this year, nor is it their first in Moscow. The Chechens, by committing such a heinous act will only succeed in polarizing Russian support for the war and international support for the Russian authority in Chechnya.
Will we ever know how many Chechens were executed in cold blood inside the theatre? Or for that matter, how many hostages died by Stepsnaz bullets? And what the long term effects of the gas used will be? Already there are reports of scores of people seriously ill.
Excellent work by the Russian forces. If the same event happened in the UK I hope our government would also show such strong resolve against maniacs.
Using gas in the course of the storm was the cause of some of the terrorists falling unconscious. That is why many of the hostages were unconscious when being carried out of the building; but this was also the way their lives had been saved. Clever decision and well done.
I think the decision to use troops to storm the theatre is just like gambling. The bet is hundreds of human lives. This time, they win. But how about next time?
Neither the authority nor the terrorists now can be trusted with civilian lives. The precedent established is that civilians will no longer trust any future negotiations and may be tempted to defend their own lives under similar circumstances. The consequence is the personal possession of weapons for self-defenceż
Vrishab Sikand, India
I doubt UK SF troops would have been satisfied with such a high casualty rate - so how "special" were the Russian troops used? Having served myself, I know how difficult it is to execute such an operation, so I don't want to criticise from my armchair, however I hope the Russian army learn as many lessons as possible from this and apply them in the future. Well done for their bravery in rescuing the number of hostages they could.
No government worth its name, should ever allow itself to negotiate under the barrel of the gun. Having said that, however, no people should allow their government the chance to forget about the underlying reasons why the perpetrators of such horrific acts did what they did - in the first place. The Russians should demand answers from their government.
Over 60 people dead is a failure and the counter terrorist approach was never justified. The Russian authority now is responsible for the loss of human lives.
Are 60+ civilians dead horrific? Are 700+ worse? Yes indeed. What the Russians did was the right thing. These terrorists were not going to negotiate and it was only AFTER they started executing people that FSB moved in.
I'm happy to see this stand-off come to an end. I think the Russian authorities took the right action by not complying with the terrorist demands (no matter how logical their demands may sound).
The world could be at the mercy of groups who glory in death and martyrdom. Congratulations to Russian forces for frustrating them yet again.
While the hostage-taking was never supported by mainstream Chechen independence supporters, and it's fortunate civilians were by and large not hurt, the core problem of crude Russian hegemony in the Caucasus remains. A lasting solution to this can only come from recognising the elected government of President Aslan Maskhadov, which does not support terrorist activities.
Reg Danford-Cordingley, Canada
Given that the Chechens had already started executing hostages, Russian forces had no choice but to storm the theatre and thankfully, averted a tragedy. It is however sad that this success will give Putin the popularity he needs to continue the occupation of Chechnya. The hard questions about Russia's conduct in Chechnya that were beginning to be asked will probably now be forgotten. Although Russian civilians have been saved, Chechen civilians and teenage Russian conscripts will continue to die without good purpose in that tiny, impoverished nation.
Good work done by Russian special forces, my condolences to the innocent victims of this terrorism. I would suggest that time has come to wipe out this terrorism. We have to forget differences and have to unite against this menace. Once again I appreciate the work done by Russian soldiers.
Well done Russian special forces and special forces from around the world. Once again, you have saved innocent lives.
C. Crowley, Texas, US
Congratulations Russia! I am most impressed and relieved that the Russian special forces have been able to free the hostages in such difficult circumstances. Booby traps, mines, bombs, 50 armed heavily terrorists... I would have thought an effective special forces intervention impossible under those conditions.
It is sad to think this is what Chechens have resorted to now. Three years ago the US was pressuring Russia to resolve its human rights record in that region. Now the US is stating 'solidarity with Putin' and has openly labelled the Chechens terrorists. While it is really sad to think civilians are being hurt, it leaves one to wonder how much of a role politics has to play in this.
The only rationale that terrorists seem to understand these days is force. Kudos to the Russians for understanding this and shame on the "peace protesters" that wanted to open the floodgates to future hostage ransoming.
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