Daily Archives: October 26, 2007

October 26, 2007 — Contents


(1) Annals of Dubrovka: The Kremlin is Worse than the Terrorists

(2) Russia the Graceful Winner Shows its Class

(3) Another Triumph of Superior Russian Technology

(4) Putin’s Russia is Slowly Destroying its Architectural Heritage

(5) Annals of Russians Gone Wild

NOTE: In a comment, esteemed reader Penny points out that you can sign a petition in support of dissident martyr Mikhail Khodorkovky here. Meanwhile, Robert Amsterdam reports that the European Court for Human Rights has just ruled in favor of Khodorkovsky associate Platon Lebedev, determining that the Russian government egregiously violated his civil rights.

NOTE: Should you have any wish to see what downtown Rostov or Novosibirsk look like right now, the bottom of our sidebar now contains links to Russian webcams where you can tune in to see these faraway places with strange-sounding names in all their glory.

Annals of Dubrovka: The Kremlin is Worse than the Terrorists

Writing for Prague Watchdog historian Oleg Lukin (okent@yandex.ru) brilliantly exposes more detail in the outrageous Dubrovka atrocity and coverup:

On June 1 2007 the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office suspended the official inquiry into the terrorist attack on the Dubrovka theatre complex, during which Chechen guerrillas took hostage more than 900 spectators of the show “Nord-Ost”.

According to the materials of the inquiry, five of the hostages were killed directly by the terrorists, while at least 125 more died in the course of special operations to secure their release. Russian justice has fulfilled the task that was entrusted to it by the authorities: there has been no trial of those responsible for the deaths of those people. The terrorists were declared “destroyed” (with the exception of two, whose whereabouts “have not been established”).

As for the question of medical assistance to the injured hostages, the investigation says that such assistance was provided in a professionally qualified and timely manner. The massive loss of life that occurred during the hostages’ release was not directly related to the use of a gas “whose nature has not been established by the inquiry”, but was due to “a combination of exceptionally unfavourable factors” (chronic illness, lack of food, dehydration, stress, and so on).

It should be borne in mind that this is the explanation supplied by the official inquiry. However, a large amount of evidence points to a conflicting version of events.

Was the gas responsible for the deaths?

Several points of view have been expressed regarding the degree of danger to the hostages posed by the gas that was used.

Thus, Professor B.M. Blokhin (Dr. med.) considers (28.9.) that the cause of death was not the toxicity of the gas, but rather an absence of the correct conditions for the transportation of the victims. The gas acted on many of the hostages like a general anaesthetic during an operation. In the situation that developed, the victims needed artificial ventilation of their lungs and the adoption of measures to prevent them swallowing their tongues (which would choke them in their unconscious state). During the evacuation of the hostages these conditions were not made available. It is also worth noting that the gas was released into the auditorium at around 5.30am, but the mass evacuation of the victims did not begin until one and a half hours later. To this must be added the time it took to get them to hospital in conditions of general confusion. The inevitable result was that a large number of hostages died even before the storming of the theatre began, something that is indirectly confirmed by the results of the official inquiry: according to it, the deaths of 114 people were certified at the scene of the incident.

The journalist Andrei Soldatov (Agentura.Ru) also believes that the use of the gas was a knowingly dangerous adventure in which the lives of the hostages were deliberately excluded from consideration. According to his data, which cites personal sources, the effects of the gas can only be neutralized by the injection of an antidote, an obviously unrealistic procedure given the huge number of victims over a short period of time.

But the true situation may perhaps have been even worse. Dmitry Milovidov, a member of the coordinating council of the “Nord-Ost” victims’ organization (he is the father of 14-year-old N. Milovidova, who died in the attack) said in a program broadcast by the Ekho Moskvy radio station (“Looking for the exit”) that the gas used at the theatre centre was one that has no antidote. On this he received the indirect support of another participant in the program, Anatoly Yermolin (retired FSB lieutenant colonel and former head of the operations team of the Vympel task force), actually said the following: “’Nord-Ost’ showed us… that this gas cannot be used – that is the first conclusion I think we must draw.”

It may be objected that most of the hostages (and even a few of the spetsnaz officers) who ended up in hospital after the “gas attack”, none the less survived. Does this mean that the gas was not so deadly after all? We should not forget, however, that the concentration of chemical substance in the auditorium was of varying intensity. Some of the hostages who had managed to get their bearings in the situation breathed through water-soaked garments, which also reduced the degree of toxicity. At the same time, those sitting in the first row received the highest degree of poisoning, but were evacuated last. It was probably among them that the largest number of deaths occurred.

Did the gas save anyone?

Nevertheless, supporters of the official version of what happened claim that the use of the gas saved a large number of the hostages and prevented the terrorists from blowing up the building in which they were located. But this assertion does not stand up to criticism.

The gas employed was visible, and its effect was far from instantaneous. This is borne out by the testimony both of the hostages themselves and of the spetsnaz officers who took part in the storming of the theatre complex. Even according to the official investigation, some of the guerrillas continued to hold out for some 10-20 minutes, firing from 13 sub-machine guns and 8 pistols. Moreover, this took place not only in the foyer (which the gas did not enter) but also in the auditorium itself.

That the threat to blow up the building was a very real one is borne out in particular by an interview with one of the men who took part in the storming of the theatre, Sergei Shavrin (who at the time of the events was commander of one of the assault teams):

– At headquarters level the prediction was that there would be losses, there would be dead and injured, there would be shooting, there would be an explosion, there would be a lot of casualties. But what actually happened? The storming was over, there was no explosion, and 800 or more people had to be resuscitated from the effects of the gas. It turned out that no one was prepared for this.

– So an explosion was expected?

– Yes. There were an awful lot of terrorists. One of them could have set off an explosive device.

– Then why did none of the terrorists blow themselves up? The effect of the gas wasn’t instantaneous, after all.

– When we entered the auditorium, we saw a shakhidka (female suicide bomber). She was sitting on a chair. Her eyes were open, she was holding the electrodes, all she had to do was connect them. Why she didn’t do that is unclear. Perhaps she was waiting for some instruction or command. She had enough time

– If there had been an explosion, how many people would have survived?

– Less than 10%. But everyone knew that there was another possible scenario: that the terrorists would let the spetsnaz into the auditorium, and then someone would blow it up from outside by means of a radio signal. Then it would all be over.

There was no explosion, either from outside or inside. Indeed, the female terrorists behaved very strangely. Instead of carrying out their threat and killing themselves along with the hostages, they “made no attempt to blow themselves up, but covered their faces with headscarves and lay down on the floor among the hostages. For about 10 minutes they all lost consciousness.” (see)

The question of why the terrorists did not commit suicide still remains open. The official inquiry has been unable to give an convincing answer to it. On the basis of the data available to me at this time, I am forced to conclude that an explosion was technically impossible.

Even before the theatre was stormed, an expert from Kommersant-Vlast magazine, a former KGB officer, examined the NTV footage of the guerrillas seizing the building and drew attention to one particular detail: the “suicide women” blatantly played with the wires of their devices in front of the television cameras, connecting and disconnecting the electrodes on their suicide belts. The retired officer concluded that the belts were probably not fully armed, that it was possible no batteries or detonators had been inserted into them (issue of 10.11. 02; quoted in Viktor Stepakov’s book The Battle for Nord-Ost). This theory was later confirmed, from more than one source. After the storming the journalist Andrei Soldatov wrote:

“According to our information, only two of the women actually had real explosives in their belts. Though it’s possible that even they were empty …

Furthermore, it was determined that the bomb made from an iron cylinder containing 20 kilograms of plastic explosive was also not in working condition at the time of the assault on the building. The wire of its detonator led to the balcony. But there were no terrorists there during the assault – they were regrouping in the foyer.”

Similar information was contained in an anonymous letter addressed to the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Versiya:

“I am a prosecutorial investigator who worked at Dubrovka during the terrorist attack. I would like to reply to some of the questions you raised in issue 45 (November 18-24) …

With regard to the explosives: not all the explosives were operational. Most of them were dummies, and although the one that the women were wearing was operational, it wasn’t in working order. What’s more, all of this was known to headquarters, as audio and video of the guerrillas was coming through from surveillance devices right from the very first day. And another thing – Russian passports with return tickets were found on the bodies of the dead guerrillas, and this too was known before the assault on the building.”

Information on the use by terrorists of dummy explosive devices is confirmed in the book Brides of Allah by journalist Yuliya Yuzik, who cites an anonymous FSB lieutenant and lieutenant colonel in this connection.

The authorities have reacted rather nervously to attempts by others to make an independent inquiry. Andrei Soldatov and other Versiya journalists have repeatedly been hauled in for questioning by the FSB. Yuliya Yuzik was expelled from Chechnya with the threat that she would disappear without trace if she returned to the republic. Her book Brides of Allah was rather quickly banned for sale in Russia. (Incidentally, those who wish to can talk to the journalist in person on her Internet blog).

An impartial investigation into the Dubrovka terrorist attack and the massive loss of life that occurred during the hostages’ release is not in the interests of a large number of Russian officials, including some at the highest levels of government. However, former hostages and relatives of those who died have not given up hope of compelling the Russian officials who were responsible for what happened to testify before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Russia the Graceful Winner Shows its Classy Side

Bleacher Report reviews the aftermath of the Russia-England soccer match in Moscow:

Everyone knows what kind of country Russia is—but no one wants to learn about it firsthand. Some England supporters were unlucky enough to do just that before and after their club’s October 17th match against Russia in Moscow. Multiple reports indicate that English fans were attacked. Some stories suggest the English supporters started the problems; others indicate that they were innocent victims.

Where lies the truth?

My basic knowledge of the Russian language has allowed me to glean some interesting insights from Russian media websites. Many of them contradict each other, with estimates of injuries ranging from zero to six to 15. Russian police have made more than 15 (!) statements on the subject, but none of them contained official injury numbers. Reports from hospital officials indicate that there were indeed injuries sustained—and that they were consistent with an assault or a fight. The UK Embassy in Moscow has appealed to Russian police to bring the guilty parties to justice. No arrests have been made.

But all that is just the official side of the story.

The Russian Internet (RUNet, as it’s called) hosts a number of football forums. Normally these forums are fueled by club rivarlies—but at the moment the attention is focused on the English attacks.

And the revelations are shocking.

There are graphic descriptions of the assaults, some of which saw bicycle chains used as weapons. Some postings have titles like “That day I’ve beaten 12 English supporters!”—with the behavior encouraged by other users. People say that English fans are boors—and maybe some of them are. But they deserve better than this. Many of the comments on the Russian sites are racist in character—and would be illegal in most European countries. In Russia, though, it appears that anything goes. Consider the facts: People were assaulted, beaten, and injured—and no one was charged, much less found guilty.

So much for the rule of law.

Another Triumph of Superior Russian Technology

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that nobody breeds a cockroach quite like a Russian:

A Russian cockroach called Nadezhda (Hope) has given birth to the first creatures ever conceived in space, scientists in Voronezh, central Russia, said. Nadezhda conceived during the Foton-M bio-satellite September 14-26 flight. “We recently received the first batch of 33 cockroaches conceived in microgravity,” Dmitry Atyakshin said. Though the newborn creatures already eat and drink respectively well, microgravity conditions may have had an impact on the natural darkening of their chitinous carapace, a part of a cockroach’s exoskeleton. “Cockroaches are born with a transparent carapace, which gradually turns into brown, and the space cockroaches went darker earlier than usual,” the scientist explained, adding that final conclusions would only be able to drawn only after the second female had given birth. “We are pleased by the very fact that they (the cockroaches) came into being,” Atyakshin added.

The first unmanned Foton-type spacecraft was introduced in 1985 by the Soviet Union and was based on the famous Vostok spacecraft, which carried the world’s first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit in 1961. Since 1980, a total of 12 Foton spacecraft have been launched. The September 14-26 flight was part of an ongoing experiment into the effects of space flight by the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP). The creatures were sealed in special containers, and a video camera filmed them during the flight.

Russia Slowly Destroying Architectural Gems

A letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

Russia Slowly Destroying Architectural Gems
October 23, 2007; Page A17

In regard to Ada Louise Huxtable’s Oct. 3 Leisure & Arts article “Soviet Modernist Architecture Is Rediscovered at MoMA“:

In discussing my work, Ms. Huxtable wrote: “After decades of suppression and denial by the Soviet Union that they even existed, 74 of these lost and forgotten buildings have been rediscovered and documented by the photographer Richard Pare. He has traveled across the former Soviet Union from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Kiev, Kharkov, Baku, and Sochi along the Black Sea, making nine trips over 14 years in search of his subject.”


I regret to report that major changes have come to my attention since the show opened. Two structures that Ms. Huxtable particularly singled out, the Red Banner factory in St. Petersburg and the bakery in Moscow, now face an uncertain future. The factory is abandoned, its present status unknown, and the bakery was stripped of its machinery to be turned into a “cultural centre.” The bakery chimney, a landmark in the area, will be destroyed. After more than 70 years of virtually continuous operation, a miracle of efficiency has been swept away.

Other recent losses include the Pravda newspaper building, burned down about 18 months ago. Elsewhere the Dinamo Club diving board in Kiev has disappeared, the Palace of the Press in Baku has been renovated with predictable results, and the Gosprom Complex in Kharkov has been painted and fitted out with new windows.

The destruction and disintegration of the Avantgarde legacy all over the old Soviet Union continues unabated, with only a handful of encouraging signs. The most significant is the arrival on the scene of the Russian Avantgarde Foundation, which is setting about a major conservation effort to restore the Melnikov House.

In Moscow there are such pressures on the existing fabric of the city that it has become unrecognizable since my first visit in 1993. It is a calculated assault led by greed and vanity. Nothing is immune to the destruction, and the laws regarding listed buildings and heritage sites are being undermined or subverted.

Many key buildings, even those that survived the fire of 1812, have recently disappeared. It is wiping out the heritage and urban texture of the city and tearing at its very heart. In contrast, what is being erected to replace the demolished buildings is brash and inappropriate, an attack on the character of the city as significant as the onslaught of destruction that precedes it.

Richard Pare
Montclair, N.J.

Annals of Russians Gone Wild: Now They’re Threatening Finland

An editorial in the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat:

The difficult history of postwar relations between Finland and the Soviet Union can be described as a success story for Finland, but its many traumatic experiences continue to be reflected in relations between the neighbours. Getting rid of them is not helped by the manifestations of Russia’s great power bravado, which has gained in strength. From the note crisis of the early 1960s, words such as “diplomatic note”, “military consultations”, and “joint military exercises” have caused shivers among Finns regardless of how routine the contexts were in which they were used.

On the other hand, ever since Finland became a member of the European Union, we have become very sensitive to statements from Russia containing criticism, to say nothing of admonitions. Three years ago an official at the Russian Embassy in Helsinki caused a good deal of controversy in a television programme, and later in a newspaper interview, by expressing disappointment at how mild official Finnish reactions were to the terror attack in Beslan.
He also had the temerity to question Finland’s ability to act as a bridge-builder between the EU and Russia. The Russian Embassy had to distance itself from the statements of its diplomat.

This time the controversy arose from the views expressed in front of a TV camera by Vladimir Kozin, a “PhD and elder researcher”, at the Russian Embassy. He painted a picture of NATO as a growing military threat to Russia, and advised Finland to think three times before it decides to join NATO. He said that Finland should postpone any plans for membership by at least 15 years. He believes that Vladimir Putin will remain the real leader of Russia through 2023 – 2025.

How should one evaluate this kind of talk? At least the news and current affairs departments of the Finnish Broadcasting Company considered the statements to be major news. They sought to get as prestigious experts as possible into their various broadcasts, after failing to get the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to come. Initially, it was the neighbouring channel MTV3 which first made public the views on NATO, which were expressed at a closed seminar. The culture of debate has expanded in Russia, and especially at experts’ seminars people now dare to air different points of view in a quite high-spirited manner. The views expressed at the seminar by Vladimir Kozin on the concerns raised by the United States and NATO also reflect the changed situational assessment, which has been manifested in various connections in recent months, including Putin’s speeches. Russia feels that the West has not kept the promises that it made when NATO expanded to the east.

What was new was the undiplomatic character of the views expressed by the Russian diplomat on Finland’s relationship to NATO. They undoubtedly represented a way of thinking that has broad support in Russia, but not the official point of view of the Russian Foreign Ministry, as the Russian Embassy hastened to underscore. Already before that, President Tarja Halonen had pointed out that Russia’s attitudes toward Finland’s NATO membership were not reflected in Kozin’s speeches. Halonen was referring to her personal meetings with President Putin.

Criticism of the government of the country that a diplomat is stationed in, or the giving of even good advice, are not part of the code of behaviour of diplomats – especially not in matters where there are different views inside the parties of the government. However, sometimes breaking this rule can be seen to be appropriate for getting a message through. However, the impact could be different from what is desired. The allergy that Finns feel toward warnings or good advice from Moscow could well increase Finnish support for NATO membership, which has been weak up to now.

October 25, 2007 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Is the Russian Economy Collapsing?

(2) Latynina on KGB Mindreaders

(3) Larisa Arap Speaks to the Boston Globe

(4) Russian Voters are for Sale . . . Cheap!

(5) Annals of “Pacified” Chechnya