Prague, 29 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Major Western dailies today continue to discuss the outcome of last week's Moscow hostage crisis. On 23 October, a group of around 50 armed Chechen militants stormed a theater and held hundreds of hostages for three days, threatening to kill them unless Russia withdrew its troops from Chechnya. Early on 26 October, Russian special forces released an as-yet-unidentified gas into the theater and stormed the building. Nearly 120 hostages died in the siege, most of them due to the gas.
Other issues looked at today include the election victory of Brazil's Luis Ignacio "Lula" da Silva and ensuring the success of the UN's postconflict peace operations around the world.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
Amid widespread speculation over the unidentified, incapacitating gas used by Russian special forces prior to their siege on the theater, Jack Wheeler of the Freedom Research Foundation writes in "The Washington Times" that he believes "the deadly mystery knockout gas" is a synthetic opiate called etorphine.
Etorphine is the immobilizing agent in the dart guns seen in wildlife documentaries. Known to animal researchers as M99, Wheeler describes it as an opiate "more than 500 times as powerful as morphine and more than 250 times as powerful as heroin."
The danger with using M99 is that the lethal dose is "only a few [times] higher than the effective incapacitating dose." Too much of the gas causes respiratory paralysis. "The muscles of your lungs and diaphragm can't move. Death from hypoxia -- no air, no oxygen -- comes quickly." And that's what happened to many of the hostages, he says: "They stopped breathing."
M99 is "widely and commercially available," although the Russian military had made an aerosol spray out of it, converting it from its normal powder form into a gas. "Their grave mistake," says Wheeler, "was that they guessed too high on what the effective dose would be."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former Russian Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, also formerly head of the Russian Security Council, says his meetings in Washington last week convinced him that the United States "has yet to grasp the essence of the Chechen conflict."
Rybkin notes that after the attacks of 11 September in the United States, Washington and Moscow agreed to consider the Chechen conflict as part of the global war on terrorism. Russia's new cooperation with the U.S. in several areas "gave a boost to Russia's own ill-conceived and failed Chechen policy."
This illusion of foreign support for the war is merely a political trade-off, he says. If Russia were to contradict the U.S. on Iraq, it would face "a storm of criticism on Chechnya" in return.
Rybkin says the war in Chechnya "has long since lost the support of the majority of the Russian people -- 60 percent are for immediate cease-fire and negotiations with the rebels." But Russian President Vladimir Putin "has ignored this widespread yearning for peace."
Rybkin says the Russian government has been unresponsive to Chechen overtures toward peace in the past, instead "insisting on the unconditional capitulation of the rebels." He urges Russia to resume negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, and urges the United States to "de-link" the Chechen issue from the fight against international terrorism.
In "The Times" of London, an item by Giles Whittell says the Russian authorities' "refusal to identify the gas used by special forces to end the Moscow theater siege shows that Russia still reverts to Soviet thinking in times of crisis."
He says the "gigantic octopus that runs the country is much better at non-disclosure" than at having the courage to tell the truth. He adds that in Russia, "it was always so. The Tsars' secret police merely systematized the Kremlin's hardwired habit of hoarding information. Their Soviet successors picked up where the old regime left off, and the new Russia, now led by a former KGB agent [President Vladimir Putin] has failed spectacularly to kick the habit."
Whittell remarks that, "unconscionably," the authorities did not tell Moscow doctors what gas was used in the raid. Thus, sufficient stockpiles of antidote were not available. He says, "The response of President Putin and those who wield force and information in his name betrays habits not only of secrecy but also of unconcern for ordinary Russians...."
Russia "may yet become what some there yearningly call a 'normal' country," says Whittell, "but if so, its citizens, like those of Eastern Europe before them, won't thank their leaders." They'll thank developments like "the Internet and satellite TV."
In the daily "Eurasia View," Alex Vatanka of "Jane's Sentinel Russia and CIS" says the Moscow hostage crisis "appears to have reinforced Russian President Vladimir Putin's intent to crush Chechen separatism. Despite signs of war-weariness among the Russian population, Putin appears ready to shun negotiations and prolong Russia's military campaign in Chechnya."
Vatanka cites an opinion poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research which states that in July, only 29 percent of Russians supported the military campaign in Chechnya. "In contrast, support for Putin's tough military response stood at 70 percent in mid-2000."
Vatanka suggests "the Moscow theater debacle may deepen public conviction that a military solution has become untenable." Until the hostage crisis, Putin was insulated politically from the consequences of the war, "primarily because most carnage has occurred within Chechnya. However, the siege in Moscow [shows] that Chechen separatism has evidently shifted tactics rather than crumbling. Separatists now seem intent on mounting insurgency operations aimed at grabbing international headlines and invigorating Russian domestic public opinion against the war."
And these tactics "could aggravate instability in the North Caucasus, something Putin can ill afford." The calls for Russia to resume negotiations are growing louder, Vatanka says.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Dennis McNamara of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees discusses the guidelines for UN postconflict operations around the world. He says the "Achilles' heel of postconflict peace operations is that of justice/rule of law and civilian policing. There is a global shortage of qualified police available for these operations. Frequently, there is also a need to bring in outside judges, prosecutors, defenders, and prison managers, at least in the early stages. The failure to do this caused major security problems in Cambodia, Kosovo, and East Timor."
McNamara adds that it is absolutely necessary for the military to eventually submit to civilian command.
He goes on to say that the main aspects of managing transitional administrations "are well-known: a clear and comprehensive mandate, for both the military and the civilian components; advance and parallel planning for the initial emergency phase and for subsequent rebuilding; and recognition that longer-term involvement will be essential."
McNamara says the focus on having an "exit strategy" can often be "a dangerous preoccupation." He says a clear strategy is needed, not necessarily for an exit "but for careful transformation of the mission through its different phases." Ideally, he says, the initial peacekeeping operation "should phase into a peace-building one, linked to establishing the basis for sustainable development."
A "Le Monde" editorial today says the Russian government, when confronted with the "ignominy" of a hostage taking at a Moscow theater, reacted in a typically Soviet manner. The paper says the assault launched on the morning of 26 October turned into a slaughter. Two days later, there were nearly 120 deaths among the hostages and only two of them were shot, the daily says. The rest succumbed to the effects of the gas used by Russian special forces to subdue the militants. Nearly 400 survivors were hospitalized, says "Le Monde," many in a "grave state."
This entire scene was a throwback to the Soviet era, the French daily says. The priority of Russian President Vladimir Putin was not the lives of the hostages, says the paper. Instead, "the Russian president above all wanted to restore 'order': the power of the Kremlin was challenged and nothing mattered more than restoring it."
The paper says the method was Soviet as well in its overuse of force. Special forces now admit they overestimated the quantity of gas needed, but Russian authorities refuse to divulge what type of gas it was, frustrating many doctors' attempts to treat the freed hostages.
"Le Monde" says the authorities' opaqueness, obsession with military secrets, official lies, and the manipulation of public opinion are all marks of what the paper calls "Sovietism."
NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" comments on last week's (26 October) presidential election in Brazil, in which left-wing candidate Luiz Ignacia "Lula" da Silva took 60 percent of the vote.
Former metalworker Lula pledged to bring about social change and an improvement in the social conditions of a poverty-stricken population and a country deep in debt.
The commentary says this is a fairy-tale scenario of a man who began his career "right at the bottom and has risen to the very top." He intends to prove that a locksmith can rule the country better than the elites who have been in power for more than 100 years. His popularity stems from his energetic approach and his close connection with the man-in-the-street.
The international financial community, of course, regards da Silva with "the greatest of mistrust." Some view him as a dangerous and "ill-camouflaged social revolutionary," who, despite pledges to the contrary, will continue with his plan to plunder investment resources. He is already in a difficult position considering that he has inherited a deeply indebted economy on the verge of financial collapse.
There is a glimmer of hope, however, since de Silva is not due to take office until the new year. In the meantime, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso remains in charge, and he has promised to closely collaborate with his successor and share decision making with him. It seems, says the commentary, that the transition is being carefully prepared. And the very fact that such cooperation is possible indicates the stability of the Brazilian democracy.
In the German "Frankfurter Rundschau," Wolfgang Kunath views the election of Luis Ignacia "Lula" da Silva with optimism. He says da Silva's program has little to do with state socialism but represents a "modernization of the economy in the spirit of the European Third Way."
Of course, Kunath admits this will not be easy, since the space in Brazil for political and financial maneuvering is rather limited. Lula will be forced to disappoint people considering the prevailing poverty.
On the other hand, he says that if this experiment succeeds, the consequences could have an important impact on Latin America as a whole. Moreover, this would mean a renaissance of Latin America's political left, "which would, at last, emerge liberated from the ghetto of political insignificance."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)