After special forces commandos stormed the Theater Na Dubrovke early Saturday morning, the authorities proclaimed the operation a complete success. They first announced that the enemy had been destroyed with no losses among the hostages or special forces. Then they mentioned 30 dead. By on Saturday the death toll had reached 67, and in the evening the Health Ministry officially admitted that “more than 90 people” had died, after which physicians were forbidden from talking to the press. On Sunday, the number of dead reached 117.
The crisis saw an unprecedented government crackdown on the media. The Moskovia television station was taken off the air after broadcasting an interview with a hostage who called for an end to the war in
The authorities did in
The public was told that the raid was launched only after the gunmen began killing hostages. But even law enforcement officials admitted that the raid had been planned in advance, and that they had intentionally taunted the gunmen with “leaks” about the upcoming attack in an attempt to keep the gunmen off-balance (and thereby goad them into starting a fight). It appears that the gunmen did open fire on the hostages, but only after the raid was already underway, when people panicked and some likely tried to escape.
The authorities took special pride in their plan to launch a gas attack in a closed building. They still have not let the public know what gas was used. The authorities’ reluctance to share any information with the doctors treating the former hostages isn’t hard to understand, however. It was immediately suspected that they had used poisonous substances banned under international conventions — the very substances cited by the
The gunmen had not begun executing the hostages Saturday morning, and the raid on the theater led to massive casualties. So was it really necessary to storm the building? Yes, it was necessary — politically necessary. The authorities needed the raid and all the casualties in order to make it possible for them to continue the war in
On the evening before the raid, the gunmen let it be known that they would free the hostages if the government made an unambiguous commitment to negotiations. If that commitment had been made, the people in the theater center could still be alive. But for Putin, such a declaration would have amounted to political suicide. Putin placed his political prospects above the lives of the hostages — a natural decision for a professional politician or bureaucrat.
The percentage of Russians supporting the war in
The authorities sensed a threat, not from the gunmen, but from society — the first real threat of Putin’s presidency. Urgent measures were needed, and they were taken. The crisis made everything clear. The current regime will never agree to peace under any circumstances. While the current president and his team are in power,