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Perhaps the most interesting thing about the recent Russian "liberation" of a Moscow theater besieged by Chechen separatist rebels was not that there was a significant body count at the end; that’s to be expected from the Moscow government, whether past or present. Rather, most interesting about the whole affair is the remarkable media consensus that Putin was justified in flooding the occupied building with poison gas.
In the US, it is expected that most who make a living as media personalities will espouse the Washington Consensus, which is that since Russia and Putin are US allies in the Terror War, it follows that the Russian government is justified in using all available means to quash domestic dissent. It is a position that privileges government over the governed, and it is a position with dire ramifications for the notion that we are not enslaved by our governments.
It doesn’t surprise me so much to hear a random Neo-Conservative making the case for state terror as a consensus-builder as it does to read a Leading Article in the INDEPENDENT supporting that very argument. In "Mr. Putin Was Right to End the Siege, but Let Him Be Honest About the Mistakes", the INDEPENDENT misses an opportunity to speak out against governments using airborne toxins in police actions, opting instead to lend credibility to those same despicable acts.
The piece starts off, curiously enough, anticipating criticism. "It is unreasonable to be too critical, with the advantage of hindsight, of the decision taken by Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, to end the siege at the Moscow theatre. With the hostage-takers plainly sincere in their willingness to die, it was obvious that the prospect of the siege ending peacefully was minimal." Doubletalk, of course, rooted in an unwillingness to choose the wrong side on this issue. To extend the argument of the "Leading Article" to its logical end, it follows that state use of poison gas is perfectly acceptable if negotiation has a "minimal" chance of success. The article leaves it to us to define what minimal means in either Putin’s mind or the mind of his apologist at the London paper.
Having established this threshold of permissibility for a leader gassing his own people, the article goes on to rehash the usual tired bromides. The Russians should be willing to discuss ending their assault on Chechnya, should be willing to discuss granting the Chechens independence from Moscow rule, but cannot countenance the actions of Chechen "terrorists". Let’s leave it aside that this act of so-called terrorism has done more to raise world awareness of the Chechen plight than anything since the US began serious attempts to buy Russian support for the impending occupation of Iraq. The INDEPENDENT holds that "It was, therefore, not so much a question of whether to send in the special forces, but when and how. . .the question of whether using the mystery gas to knock out hostage-takers and hostages alike was the right tactic or not is therefore secondary." A secondary question indeed, as "national leaders around the world. . . will recognise that it may be their sombre responsibility one day to deal with a similar situation . . .the next time a group of desperadoes somewhere in the world takes civilians prisoner."
Anthony Gancarski is a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His work has recently been featured in Utne Reader’s "Web Watch". He can be emailed at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.