If one asks the inevitable question, “To whom was the hostagetaking incident profitable?” the answer seems clear: to President Putin and his power ministers. A Russia-wide public opinion poll taken by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOIM) immediately after the storming showed 46 percent of Russian respondents now supporting a continuing of the war in Chechnya, with 44 percent favoring peace negotiations. Only 34 percent had favored continuing the war in a September poll (Gazeta.ru, October 30). The incident also served graphically to rally the leaders of the Western democracies around Putin’s “war on terrorism.” Support in the West for a negotiated settlement with the separatists dwindled to practically nil (even though the regime was unable to offer convincing proof that Aslan Maskhadov had himself supported the terrorist incident, while Maskhadov’s official spokesman in the West, Akhmed Zakaev, explicitly condemned the raid in public statements made on several occasions before the theater building was stormed.) The hostagetaking incident, in summation, served to galvanize the Russian war effort and largely scuttled the chances of a negotiated settlement before the December 2003 Russian parliamentary and March 2004 presidential elections.
The hostagetaking incident, by contrast, was an act of striking stupidity on the part of the young terrorists who seized the building and of the Chechen field commanders (most notably, Shamil Basaev) who appear to have authorized and supported the raid. If, as seems likely, the terrorists had no intention of killing the hostages, then they should have found a way to signal their intentions. The night before the storm began, the terrorists announced to the hostages that Viktor Kazantsev, President Putin’s official negotiator and his plenipotentiary representative in the Russian Southern Federal District, had agreed to meet with them the following morning. Serious talks would then ensue. If the terrorists believed the assurances of Kazantsev’s representative, then they were being pathetically naïve. The skill and efficient ruthlessness manifested by the federal side was met by the dim stupidity and ineptitude of the young terrorists.
To conclude, we have looked at a few of the many questions that ought to be looked into in connection with the dramatic events of October 23-26. One may safely predict that these events will continue to be an object of attention for years to come.