Letter From the Editors
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the “Nord Ost siege,” a major tragedy that brought the brutality of Russia’s war in Chechnya right into the very heart of Moscow. The theater siege was led by Chechen terrorists demanding the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Chechnya. It ended after three days, when Russian special forces pumped a toxic gas into the theater, killing most of the hostage takers and a good number of innocent audience members. The spectators who survived are still grappling with the trauma they experienced over those long days. One survivor, Alyona Mikhailova, whose husband died during the crisis, told Izvestia that “I lost my memory after the theater was stormed, and it came back in bits and pieces, when I least expected it.” She added that it was important for her to reconstruct the events “to remember if I ever said goodbye to my husband and what our last night was like.”
In the years since the hostage crisis, some have called for empathy for the terrorists. Alyona, however, disagrees: “I am irritated by talk that the terrorists weren’t the worst people, that they had no intention of blowing us up and would have released us. I categorically disagree with this. Those people came to kill us. They were fulfilling an order.*** Those people were not our friends.”
Was Russia really on the side of good here, though? After all, it has never quite managed to repudiate allegations of FSB involvement in planning the Nord Ost operation. If the FSB really did play a role, then that would be similar to the “false flag” operation Russia is currently accusing Ukraine of arranging – the detonation of a dirty bomb. According to Lt. Gen. Igor Kirillov, head of the Russian Armed Forces’ radiation, chemical and biological protection troops, Ukraine is close to completing work on a dirty bomb in order to “accuse Russia of using weapons of mass destruction in the Ukrainian theater of operations and thereby . . . undermine trust in Moscow.” The West roundly dismissed these claims, calling them “transparently false” and “a pretext for escalation.”
To Republic.ru’s Mikhail Shevchuk, the dirty bomb scenario is reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster starring Vladimir Zelensky and the “Anglo-Saxons” as the supervillains ruling “over a demonic world in need of ‘desatanization.’ ” Meanwhile, a trench-coated mutant Medvedev is the superhero equipped with uncanny bomb-defusing skills. Shevchuk concludes by saying: “And if someone says they can only imagine a negative hero looking like that, well, that’s why everything here is set up differently than it is in the West.”
In the eyes of that same West (and most of the rest of the world), Ukraine is clearly on the side of good in the conflict launched by Russia. And it certainly has the sympathy of its immediate neighbors, who are also facing various forms of threat from Russia. But one of these countries – Georgia – is warning Ukraine to avoid becoming overinvolved in Tbilisi’s internal affairs. This came after Ukrainian presidential aide Aleksei Arestovich said that Ukraine would have to save Georgia because it has a pro-Russian government that “is a major national security issue.” Arestovich even went so far as to say that “millions of our guys and girls who fought will always find work in the post-Soviet space.” But as Nezavisimiaya gazeta’s Yury Roks points out, “If [Arestovich] believes it acceptable to use force to save Georgians, then in theory he should consider Russia’s special operation in his native Ukraine acceptable. After all, the Russian side is also saying that it’s saving a certain part of Ukraine’s population.”
Luckily, Soviet-style ideology classes are making a comeback in Russia’s education system, according to a report by Meduza. Perhaps, then, we can hope for some clarity on these thorny issues of good vs. evil After all, who among us doesn’t occasionally need some guidance from the state?