Declaring his own war on terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin last week sent troops into Chechnya and appealed for international support. Putin’s vow to “reach terrorists wherever they are located” came after Russian authorities, in a controversial move, brought a Chechen hostage-taking drama in a Moscow theatre to a deadly close. With the Chechens threatening to start killing the 750 hostages, commandos pumped gas into the building to incapacitate the attackers. It did more than that-119 hostages died from the effects of what officials later admitted was Fentanyl, a powerful opium-based painkiller, while another 172 were being treated in hospital. Forty-one Chechen rebels were also killed in the attack, although some appeared to have been shot.
It was only the latest incident in a savage war. Thousands of Russian soldiers and Chechens have been killed since fighting began in 1994. And more bloodshed loomed last week as Russia stepped up its campaign against the breakaway republic. Even peaceful Chechens living in Moscow were feeling the wrath of authorities, accusing police of harassment and false arrest. “They’re going after people who are law-abiding,” said one. “They came here so their children could go to school.”
Echoing the so-called Bush doctrine, Putin said Russia would also pursue terrorists outside of its own borders. And Putin also criticized European countries for allowing Chechen groups to meet on their soil, prompting Danish officials to arrest Akhmed Zakayev, a top Chechen official who was in Copenhagen to attend a meeting of the World Chechen Con-
gress. Putin also received strong backing for his war against terrorism from the U.S. and Britain, but critics claim it was aimed at securing Russia’s support for a United Nations resolution calling for the use of military force against Iraq if UN weapons inspectors are not given unfettered access to the country. Russia, which as a permanent member of the Security Council has veto power, had adamantly refused to endorse any military action against Iraq-but may now go along with it. JOHN INTINI
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.