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From: The Socialist issue 275, 1 November 2002: Stand Firm Against Low Pay

Search site for keywords: Theatre - Chechnya - War - Russian - Russia

The Theatre Of War

Over one hundred dead in Moscow hostage crisis

PUTIN'S 'WAR against terror' has brought terror to Moscow itself. A group of 50 heavily armed Chechens drove through Moscow in two minibuses and seized a theatre full of people in the middle of a popular musical show.

Rob Jones, Moscow

In the early hours of Saturday 26 October, Russian special forces stormed the theatre after pumping in a "special substance" - a gas which not only killed a number of the terrorists but, at the time of writing, has also claimed the lives of 120 of the hostages.

Hundreds of others are still in hospital suffering from breathing problems, loss of memory and of course psychological shock. Now it has been admitted that the Chechens had not been shooting hostages.

Russian president Putin was quick to claim this as another attack by the "international terror network". His actions have been endorsed by George Bush and Tony Blair.

The hostage takers from Chechnya had close links to the Wahhabiite Islamist sect. Many of them were young women, including several widows of Chechens who had been killed by Russian troops in the two recent wars. But their 'fundamentalism' had a particular Russian tinge - hostages reported seeing the Chechens drinking.

The demands of the Chechens were blunt - end the war in Chechnya. Those world leaders who rushed to support Putin forget that it is the war in Chechnya that has caused the death of tens of thousands of Chechens and Russian soldiers.

The world has turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Russian troops in Chechnya, which include the shooting without trial of any males in the fighting age group and the rape and murder of women. It is the very brutality of Putin's war that has caused the desperation of the Chechens to carry out terrorist acts.

What is significant however is that the crisis has brought Chechnya back onto the political agenda. For the first time for a long while, there have been burning political discussions about the question with many saying it was time to stop the war.

Despite Putin's almost tearful broadcast apologising to the relatives of those that died, his representatives on the scene were widely viewed as inflexible and insensitive. Members of his administration were noticeable by their absence from the scene, leaving the negotiations in the hands of opposition politicians and actors from the theatre.

Worse was the behaviour of the authorities after the storming. All the hostages were whisked off to hospital while the authorities refused point blank to admit that gas had been used. Doctors were left to treat the patients not knowing what chemical agent they were dealing with and relatives were in many cases refused permission to visit.

Officials underestimated the number of casualties only to be contradicted by the health authorities, who by Sunday afternoon had upped the number of dead to 118 hostages and 50 Chechens, with at least 50 still in intensive care.

Distressed relatives were left outside the hospitals in pouring rain for two days trying to seek information about missing people.

The real number of deaths caused by the use of this "special substance" will probably never be known. Now criticism is growing that such a gas could have been used.

End the war

COULD THIS siege have been ended peacefully? In 1995 the first Chechen war was eventually brought to an end after Chechens seized a hospital in Budyenovsk, in Southern Russia. The then Prime Minister, Viktor Cher-nomyrdin, negotiated on live television with the hostage takers, agreeing to call a ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops.

The only hope for bringing this siege to a peaceful end would have been for the government to once again announce withdrawal of troops. But this would have been too big a blow to the prestige of Putin.

After the first war (1994-96), capitalism in Russia and of course in Chechnya was unable to solve any of the root causes of this conflict. Money earmarked for reconstruction by the government was robbed by government officials. Chechens who had fought in the first war were left jobless and turned to banditry and kidnapping. Russian leaders again turned to military means to try and subdue the small mountain republic.

Clearly, alongside struggling to end this war, it is necessary to create a genuine political alternative capable of opposing Putin and capitalism itself, i.e. a workers' party with a socialist programme capable of fighting for workers' rights throughout Russia and guaranteeing self-determination to Chechnya and any other republic that wishes it.

Only then will it be possible to begin healing the wounds caused by the wars launched by the new capitalist Russia.

Gang of four

GEORGE BUSH, Tony Blair, Jaques Chirac and many other capitalist world leaders have all congratulated Putin for his resolution of the hostage crisis. They have justified the carnage caused by the Russian special forces using deadly gas as part of Russia's 'war against terrorism'.

After the 11 September al-Qa'ida attacks on the US, Western imperialism has given carte blanche to the ongoing Russian state terror in Chechnya, with barely a word of criticism.

"Non-lethal"deadly nerve gas

ACCORDING TO media reports, the gas used in the Moscow theatre siege is similar to a nerve agent (called BZ) developed by the US military in the 1970s. The agent affects the brain, paralysing its functions - hence the victims' memory loss. Those people in poor health, the elderly and very young would suffer the most from inhaling the gas. Clearly its concentration was enough to kill over one hundred people.

Apparently this deadly gas has never been used before outside of the defence laboratories in Russia and the US. Yet both powers are developing such agents because - due to a loophole in the international chemical weapons convention - such gases are classified as "non-lethal".

A secret state

THE RUSSIAN authorities use of lethal gas and their subsequent refusal to tell doctors treating the victims the chemical composition of it is an outrage. It underlines that the Federal Security Service (FSB), following the restoration of capitalism, has changed little of its secretive and sinister character from the dark days of its Stalinist predecessor, the KGB.

Putin, a former head of the KGB, is now introducing even more draconian police powers against 'terrorism'.

Chechnya: A History Of Oppression

THE LONG suffering Chechens have seen thousands killed and wounded and hundreds of thousands made refugees in two bloody wars with Russia in the last decade.

Like Stalin, who deported the whole Chechen nation to Kazakhstan in 1941, Russia's new rulers in their 'war on terrorism' are punishing all Chechens by turning their former republic into a prison camp.

Terrorist acts although associated with 'Islamic fundamentalism' are primarily the consequence of the restoration of capitalism in general and the Russian government's violent repression of Chechnya's rights in particular.

As capitalism began to be restored in Russia, Chechnya was granted tax-free status so that Russia's politicians and businessmen could launder the money they were robbing from the state.

Not prepared to lose control of this goldmine, or the oil pipelines through the republic, president Boris Yeltsin sent troops to put down demonstrations demanding independence in 1991. They were unsuccessful but Russia refused to grant Chechnya independence and in 1994 invaded the tiny republic.

The 1994-96 war resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Russian army which was forced to withdraw. This first war left over 40,000 people dead and the country devastated.

In October 1999 Yeltsin and his premier Vladimir Putin, in response to alleged Chechen bomb attacks in Moscow and other cities, sent Russian tanks back in to Chechnya. As president, Putin formally annexed Chechnya in May 2000.

However, Russia's demoralised conscript army, run by a corrupt military elite, has failed to pacify Chechnya, instead suffering military setbacks.

The conflict has also spilled over into neighbouring countries such as Dagestan, where Chechen guerrillas have been aiding armed Islamist groups and in Ingushetia and Georgia, the latter country coming under Russian air attacks last August.

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