Putin's Deliverance

An appalling massacre passed off as victory

Lynette Dumble wonders what  any sincere anti-terrorism pundit might find either impressive or successful about Moscow's massacre

Known only by name to the Russian hierarchy, the gas spewed into Moscow's theatre on Ulitsa Melnikova killed 50-odd Chechens and accounts for 116 of the 118 hostage deaths. Another 600-odd hostages remain hospitalized, 45 critically ill, yet the chorus from Bush Jnr and his anti-terrorism little sir echoes is one congratulating Vladimir Putin for an "impressive success".

The facts emerging beg the question of what any sincere anti-terrorism pundit might find either impressive or successful about Moscow's massacre. First and foremost, the manoeuvre lacked a rescue strategy for the gassed hostages. Despite a sixty hour alert, there was an overwhelming shortage of ambulances to rush the stressed, hungry, dehydrated hostages to medical facilities. Instead, more than 200, many unconscious, were placed on buses with scant to zero precautions to prevent their choking to death on their own vomit. Moscow's city's chief doctor Andrei Seltsovsky claimed that 1,000 beds had been reserved at Moscow clinics, but amongst those who made it to hospitals alive, a significant number were accommodated on the floor without even a pillow for comfort. Others were accorded beds only when already hospitalized patients were forced to give theirs up.

Not unexpectedly, the world pays little or no attention to the fate of the Chechan rebels following Saturday's "security" operation. For the record, all but a handful, but including all who were women, were shot dead from point blank range as they lay gassed into unconsciousness. Whither the Geneva Convention, or does this no longer apply to forces outside of Bush Jnr's coalition against terror?

Equally, as we stand on the brink of World War III, supposedly over who may and who may not possess weapons of mass destruction, who in their right mind would be impressed by the Russian President's refusal to disclose the name of the gas? US wisdom has since claimed that the deadly vapour was an opiate or morphine-like substance. Earlier suggestions hinted that the Moscow gas was developed by the US for use in Vietnam, or was another developed by the Soviets and used in the late 70s and 80s in Afghanistan, or was that called BZ, developed by the US Department of Defense in the late 1960s. BZ is a "glycolate" which paralyses the central nervous system, but is considered non-lethal if applied correctly! Left in the dark about the precise identity of the gas, Moscow's doctors attempting to resuscitate the gassed hostages had no alternative to an antidote to BZ-like substances supplied by the Russian military.

Equally worrying is the suggestion that Putin authorized the use of a modified, and much more potent, form of BZ which his military countrymen perfected in the late 1980s. According to Dr Malcolm Dando(1), professor of international security at Bradford University's school of peace studies, and an advisor to the UN, BZ and other similar agents are of increasing interest to both the American and Russian military as they develop "non-lethal" weapons. Dando also revealed that "because of a loophole these nerve agents are not covered by the international chemical weapons convention. ... The US has said they have the right to use them".

Within the space of twenty four hours, Putin plunged Russia back into the Cold War mentality of utmost secrecy. Physicians were forbidden to speak with the press, and the crackdown on the Moscow media aped what has happened in Chechnya over the past three years. With the flow of information into the public domain stemmed, an appalling massacre was passed off as victory.

In the meantime, Russia's human rights violations in Chechnya, including the rape and sexual assault of women, proceed with sparse criticism in the global arena. Terrorists worldwide bask in the glory of both Putin's heavy-handed blunders, and revelations that the US and Russia continue their privileged pursuit of chemical weapons. On this background, and undermined by US double standards legitimising the bombing of Iraq, Bush Jnr's war against terrorism is destined to fail. Extravagant financial rewards are set to befall the arms traders, overwhelmingly to those in the US, but their profits come at an unacceptable price to humanity.


1. Paton Walsh, Nick and Norton-Taylor, Richard. Hostages given military's nerve gas antidote - Symptoms of those rescued linked to mysterious agent which Russian officials refused to name at first, even to doctors. The Guardian, London, Monday October 28, 2002.

Dr. Lynette J. Dumble, medical and environmental scientist and international co-ordinator of the Global Sisterhood Network, is a former professor of surgery at the University of Texas in Houston, and senior research fellow in history and philosophy of science at the University of Melbourne. She can be reached at lynettedumble@bigpond.com