By Lee Sustar | November 1, 2002 | Page 5
MORE THAN 100 hostages died a horrific death when Russian special forces used a poison gas during the storming of a Moscow theater last weekend.
As Socialist Worker went to press, Moscow's chief medical examiner had reported that only two of the 118 hostages who died had been shot by the Chechen commandos who took over the theater. Even more of the hostages who were hospitalized were expected to die--not only as a result of the gas, but because Russian authorities refused to tell doctors what substances that it contained.
Yet all of this was justified in the name of the "war on terrorism"--and not just by the Kremlin, but by the White House as well.
The Chechens took over the theater crowded with 800 people during a musical production October 24 to demand an end to Russia's genocidal war on their people--and threatened to blow up the building if their demand wasn't met. Although two hostages had been killed when Chechens fired in a panic, there was no systematic execution of hostages--contrary to the Russian authorities' initial claims.
Rather than rescue the hostages dying from the gas, soldiers executed the approximately 50 Chechens, even though they were incapacitated. But that didn't stop White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer from blaming the "hostage-takers who put people's lives in harm's way."
If this slaughter had taken place during the Cold War, Washington would have declared that the huge loss of innocent lives showed Moscow's contempt for human rights--and vowed to support the Chechen struggle.
But since Washington now wants Moscow's support for a United Nations resolution authorizing war on Iraq, Bush won't let Putin's mass murder in Moscow get in the way of preparations for a vastly bigger U.S. slaughter in Baghdad.
And when Putin claims that "al-Qaeda terrorists" are to blame, Bush won't disagree--because the U.S. has peddled the same story to justify the its $64 million training program in the former USSR republic of Georgia, which borders Chechnya. Bush's real goal is to guard the pipeline to be built across Georgia to transport oil from the Caspian Sea.
For his part, Putin sees the war on Chechnya as vital to retaining Russia's role in the South Caucasus region--especially since the U.S. has used the war on Afghanistan and the expansion of NATO to squeeze Moscow out of most of the empire it ran under the old USSR.
Russia's savagery in the Moscow theater is a terrible reminder of how governments that routinely commit war crimes are all too willing to commit the same atrocities against their own people if it serves their interests.
Russia's brutal war on Chechnya
PUTIN'S WAR in Chechnya has its roots in the 1830s, when the Tsars of Russia carried out a war of colonial conquest that paralleled the U.S. extermination of Native Americans taking place at the same time.
With the Russian Revolution of 1917, the new workers' state declared self-determination for non-Russian national minorities. This was reversed in the counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin, who in 1944 expelled the entire Chechen population of more than 400,000 people to Central Asia. An estimated 30 percent of the Chechen population died in this repression.
After Stalin's death in the 1950s, the survivors were allowed to return. When the USSR dissolved following a failed coup in 1991, Chechnya declared its independence, along with the 14 non-Russian republics.
But in 1994, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin launched an invasion of Chechnya to try to stop the Russian Federation from unraveling. In the savage war that followed, tens of thousands of Chechen civilians were killed--some estimate 100,000--and more than 450,000 became refugees. Some 4,300 Russian troops died in the humiliating defeat.
Putin renewed the war after blaming Chechen guerillas for a series of bombings in apartment buildings--even though some residents caught Russian security services trying to plant such a bomb in what they claimed was a "drill."
Putin used the war fever to win presidential elections in 2000. Ever since, his army has been even more savage, with mass executions and rapes, "disappearances," looting and the total destruction of the Chechen capital of Grozny and scores of villages. At least 30,000 more civilians died--along with thousands of Russian soldiers drafted to fight.
Restrictions on the media kept Russians ignorant of the situation--until guerrillas shot down a Russian helicopter in August, killing more than 100 soldiers.
The hostage crisis brought the war home, as socialist author Boris Kagarlitsky wrote in the Moscow Times last week. "It is the federal army that over the three years abducted and killed Chechens; systematically pillaged and destroyed peaceful villages; has been terrorizing innocent people," Kagarlitsky wrote. "And it is they who bear most of the responsibility for what has now happened. If you are looking for terrorists, you could do worse than to start the search in the Kremlin."