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Tuesday, October 29, 2002
 
Did Putin do wrong?

It's entirely possible that the Russian government took the best of the available options, given the circumstances and their knowledge of them. If:

1. The theater had been wired with explosives, which, presumably, could have been detonated at very short notice. (True)

2. There were too many terrorists for the police to have a reasonable shot (ptp) at getting them all in a raid before one or more of them detonated the explosives. (True)

3. The government fully believed that the terrorists were willing to and intended to a) blow up the building, or b) just kill the hostages if their demands were not met. (??)

4. The government was unwilling to meet the terrorists' demands. (True)

5. The gas used was the only method (or the least lethal one) available that would incapacitate the terrorists quickly enough to prevent them from blowing up the theater and (thereby) killing all of the hostages. (??)

If, and it's a big if, these five premises are true, then the use of an agent like the gas that was pumped into the theater makes sense.

It might have failed, but, with the alternative being the death of all the hostages, it was worth a try (so their thinking might have gone). It's quite possible that the only agent that would work quickly enough had a high propensity to kill. If the alternative to the best of the government's knowledge was the probable blowing of the building/death of the hostages, then gassing with this substance might have seemed the only choice.

I don't have all of the facts, either, so I'm not making any pronouncements on the issue, but there is a very plausible set of circumstances under which Putin did the right thing.

ADDENDUM: Putin did do wrong in having the terrorists summarily executed. I'm sure it played really well for the locals, but it just ain't right.