Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 37


We are likely never to know. On December 11, Grani.ru reported that the Russian Ministry of Health had “left without response” a formal inquiry from the State Duma’s Committee on Preserving Health concerning the contents of the gas. “This information constitutes a state secret,” the ministry underlined sternly. On December 13, the website Gazeta.ru wrote: “[Duma deputy Sergei] Yushenkov explained to Gazeta.ru that the participants in the counterterrorist operation [at Dubrovka] have violated Article 41 of the Russian Constitution, which bans state officials from concealing facts and circumstances posing hazards to human health and life. What is more, in the deputy’s opinion, the law on state secrets has also been violated, because information that may shed light on circumstances connected with damage inflicted to human health cannot be classified as secret.”

On October 30, the Washington Post reported that Russian Health Minister Yury Shevchenko had stipulated that the gas used by the special forces “was based on derivatives of fentanyl, a commonly used anesthetic.” Numerous Russian and Western commentators, however, expressed their belief that fentanyl was far from the only ingredient in the gas. An item of investigative journalism appearing in the November 4 issue of Ekspert concluded that halothene and fentanyl had been combined together in the gas. On November 23, Newsweek Web (Msnbc.com) reported that “[s]ome Russian newspapers argue that fentanyl, a strong narcotic, could not have been used alone. They speculate that another powerful drug–the anesthetic gas halothene–must have been used to aerosolize the mixture, with recommended dosages doubled or trebled for maximum impact. Others, such as whistleblower and 26-year veteran of Russia’s chemical weapons program Vil Mirzayanov, suspect that a military gas may have also been used. ‘In the 1980s we developed an analogue to the well-known psychotropic drug BZ, which we called Substance 78,’ he told Newsweek. ‘It would have a grayish-violet color when mixed with halothane in aerosol form.'” As early as October 28, Nick Paton Walsh and Richard Norton-Taylor reported in The Guardian (London): “Russian doctors treating hostages for the inhalation of the gas deployed during the Moscow theater siege are using an antidote supplied by the Russian military to a rare form of nerve gas [BZ] developed in the 1970s…. The symptoms usually caused by BZ match those of the hostages carried out of the building. It causes skin to be drained of color, sweating, victims to appear concussed, possibly have respiratory problems. Victims can also experience hallucinations and huge anxiety attacks.”