The current situation in Georgia began to develop just after a political unknown by the name of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin appeared from nowhere and was appointed Russian Prime Minister in early August 1999, nine years ago. That appointment followed a quiet coup d'état in the Kremlin in the third week of July '99, where
Cheka KGB FSB made Yeltsin an offer he couldn't refuse. Their chief was V.V. Putin.
Within one month, apartment bombings in and around Moscow were underway.
Russian apartment bombings
The Russian apartment bombings were the largest series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Russia's history. Five bombings took place in Moscow and two other Russian cities during ten days of September 1999, and several bombings were prevented. Altogether nearly 300 civilians were killed at night. The bombings, together with the Dagestan War, led the country into the Second Chechen War. Chechen militants were blamed but no Chechen field commander accepted responsibility for the bombings and Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov denied any involvement of his government.
The bombings ceased when a similar bomb was found and defused in an apartment block in the Russian city of Ryazan on September 23. Later in the evening Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the Ryazanians and ordered air attacks on Grozny, which marked the beginning of the Second Chechen War. A few hours later, three Federal Security Service (FSB) agents who had planted the bomb were caught by the local police. This incident was declared to be a training exercise by the FSB director Nikolai Patrushev.
These suspicious events led to allegations that the bombings were in fact a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the FSB in order to legitimize the resumption of military activities in Chechnya and bring Vladimir Putin and the FSB to power, as described in books by David Satter, Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky, and by Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya, who were both assassinated.
(Plenty of links and references. Take your picks.)
Then, the Moscow theater hostage crisis in '02, wherein
Cheka KGB FSB gassed everyone to get at the hostage-takers. There was no concern whatsoever for saving any lives. The point was to kill the "terrorists", period. This whole thing played out live on Russia's independent NTV, after which NTV was muzzled by Putin. Bodies of citizens were carried out of the theater and stacked in buses without any attempt at medical intervention to offset the effects of the gassing.
It is thought that the security services pumped an aerosol anaesthetic, later conjectured to be weaponized fentanyl, into the theatre through the air conditioning system.
The discovery caused panic in the auditorium. Hostage Anna Andrianova, a correspondent for Moskovskaya Pravda, called Echo of Moscow radio studio and told on-air in a live broadcast interview that the government forces had begun an operation by pumping gas into the hall:
" It seems to us that the Russians have started something. Please, give us a chance. If you can do anything, please do! ... I don't know which gas it is. But I see [the hostage-takers'] reactions. They don't want our deaths, and our officials want none of us to leave alive! I don't know. We see it, we feel it, we are breathing through our clothes. ... It began from outside. That's what our government has decided - that no one should leave from here alive. ...."
Cheka KGB FSB refused to provide antidotes, or otherwise identify the gas in any way to treating physicians, because it was a state secret and might be needed again in the future to defend Russian citizens and the state.
Then came North Ossetia, Beslan.
The Beslan school hostage crisis (also referred to as the Beslan school siege or Beslan massacre) began when a group of armed rebels, demanding an end to the Second Chechen War, took more than 1,100 people (including some 777 children) hostage on September 1, 2004, at School Number One (SNO) in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania, an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. On the third day of the standoff, Russian security forces stormed the building using tanks, thermobaric rockets and other heavy weapons. A series of explosions shook the school, followed by a fire which engulfed the building and a chaotic gunbattle between the hostage-takers and Russian security forces. Ultimately, at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. Hundreds more were wounded or reported missing.
Chechen separatist warlord Shamil Basayev took responsibility for the hostage taking but blamed the outcome on the then Russian President Vladimir Putin. The tragedy led to security and political repercussions in Russia, most notably a series of government reforms consolidating power in the Kremlin and strengthening of the powers of President of Russia. As of 2008, there are many aspects of the crisis still in dispute, including how many militants were involved, their preparations, and whether some of them had escaped. Questions about the government's management of the crisis have also persisted, including disinformation and censorship in news media, repressions of journalists who rushed to Beslan, the nature and content of negotiations with the militants, the responsibility for the bloody outcome, and the government's use of possibly excessive force.
From the LA Times:
"We ask questions, and they don't answer," said Susanna Dudiyeva, chairwoman of the Beslan Mothers Committee, which is leading the campaign for a full account of the conflagration.
"They tell us the prosecutor is looking into all this, and they say an expert analysis of the situation is underway
Stanislav Kesaev, a member of the commission investigating the incident on behalf of the parliament of North Ossetia, said too many questions remained unanswered.
"What concerns me most is that I feel too many people, including in offices very high up, don't want to search for the truth," Kesaev said. "Because the truth is that they are not sufficiently professional, not sufficiently patriotic, not sufficiently civic-minded and, ultimately, not sufficiently decent."
The questions are hard to answer, in part because most hard evidence disappeared when bulldozers hauled away the rubble and scraped the gymnasium floor clean the day after the siege ended.
Two months later, Murat Katsanov, a local driver, was at a dump outside town when he stumbled upon a pile of refuse that caused his hair to stand on end: clumps of human tissue and identity documents belonging to a hostage at the gym. It was wreckage hauled out of the school, he knew immediately. Or what was left after the crows and foxes got to it.
"I saw it myself, when they brought these excavators in, all kinds of vehicles, trucks. They loaded all of this aboard and took it out to the dump. Even without knowing all the details, we were absolutely shocked," said Ruslan Tebiev, whose wife died while being held hostage. He had assumed the authorities were removing ordinary debris, not the possibly incriminating fragments of flamethrowers and tank shells. "If I'd have known they were carting away the evidence, I would have thrown myself under the wheels of the excavator myself."
A year after the tragedy, Russian officials are no closer to explaining what happened than they were in the beginning. Even among hostages who were sitting almost next to each other in the gym, accounts often differ wildly. A federal parliamentary commission investigating the episode has neither released its findings nor given any indication of when it intends to do so.
A source close to the commission, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a final report had been delayed, in part because of troubling unresolved questions about the use of flamethrowers and continuing doubts about the cause of the initial explosions in the gymnasium.
Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, who is leading the investigation to determine whether law enforcement authorities were criminally negligent in their conduct of the operation, insisted that the evidence so far tended to rule out the possibility that the heavy weaponry wielded by government forces contributed to the death of any hostage.
"We've been questioning victims, witnesses, employees of the special services, specialists in mines and explosives
But Beslan residents began to have doubts about the objectivity of the inquiry when they handed over the flamethrower tubes to government investigators, not long after the siege, only to be told later that the tubes had been lost.
The government now acknowledges that it fired flamethrowers at the school but insists they were used only against any holed-up terrorists after all the hostages were dead. Whether hostages were still alive when the flamethrowers were fired, as some witnesses believe, and whether the flamethrowers caused the inferno are questions that lack answers.
For some Beslan residents, the idea that flamethrowers, and not the initial explosions, caused the blaze emerged when they approached the school after dark in the days after the siege and saw what they came to believe were hints of phosphorus, which is a telltale element of a napalm-type flamethrower.
"We saw it ourselves," said Elbrus Tetov, editor of the Zhizn Pravoberezha newspaper in Beslan, whose 10-year-old son burned to death only moments after pushing another child out the gym window. "You would look at the school, you would look, say, at a corner of the building, and sometimes there would be this dead light coming from the edges. It's like sometimes you see at sea
Federal authorities have acknowledged using a flamethrower carrying a thermobaric charge, a small, shoulder-fired version of the controversial fuel-air weapons wielded by the U.S. military against insurgents lodged in caves and bunkers in Afghanistan.
These weapons do not ordinarily cause fires, but they are described by Defensetech.org, a private information resource associated with the U.S. military, as "just about the most vicious weapon you can imagine - igniting the air, sucking the oxygen out of an enclosed area and creating a massive pressure wave crushing anything unfortunate enough to have lived through the conflagration."
Thermobaric flamethrowers immediately combust the oxygen in a room and ignite a 1,470-degree flash that chars everything in its path and creates a vacuum-induced blast wave that ruptures lungs and eardrums, causes hemorrhages in livers and spleens and yanks out the eyes of anyone caught within a 2,800-square-foot range.
Georgia has been well-aware of the southward seepage of Kremlin's ambitions. Now it's down to South Ossetia, which is in large part why Georgian President Saakashvili finally decided to cut to the chase and try to stop it. The US side, and Europe, are and have been equally aware. Beslan in North Ossetia left no room for doubt about Kremlin's ruthlessness, burning children alive, then trying to pin the blame elsewhere while stonewalling investigation. Now Kremlin claims their main interest is in protecting their "citizens" in South Ossetia, and autonomous region in Georgia the same as autonomous republics inside Russia. Keep an eye out for Transdneistria on the Moldova border of Ukraine's western front. That's another infected splinter from Kremlin.
Kremlin is no stranger to unbridled liquidation of its own citizens. Putin is ruthless, an evil bastard that makes BushCo look like rank amateurs. BushCo does it to "those other people over there" actively, and to Americans passively. Kremlin kills anyone, active measures with prejudice. This is what it could mean for America and the West.
Now that Russia has humiliated Georgia with a punishing military offensive, it may shift its attention to reining in pro-Western Ukraine, another American ally in the former Soviet Union.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's first order of business likely will be to try to thwart Ukraine's bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"The Moscow authorities will use this opportunity to remind Ukraine of the damages of allying itself with NATO," said Geoffrey Smith at Renaissance Capital investment bank in Kiev.
The U.S. has long seen Georgia and Ukraine as counterweights to Russia's influence in the region. Opposition leaders in the two countries came to power after U.S.-backed popular protests in 2003 and 2004. Their ascension advanced an American strategy of expanding NATO to include both countries and securing energy routes from the Caspian Sea that bypass Russia. The BP Plc-led Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline to Turkey runs through Georgia.
Which is going to be a very significant problem, because
STATEMENT TO THE NPT 2000 REVIEW CONFERENCE
H.E. MR. OLEXANDER O. CHALYI
FIRST DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER, UKRAINE
New York, 25 April 2000
May I recall that the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 - a legally binding instrument - provided to Ukraine the guarantees of its national security on the part of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation as well as did the unilateral statements by France and China. They were among the key factors that contributed to Ukraine's decision to accede to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty -- Ed.] and reflected the unique situation of Ukraine in terms of security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states.
Indeed, Ukraine has little by way of external security guarantees except for the Budapest Memorandum (15) that Kiev relied on during the 2003 conflict over Tuzla Island (16) and the 2006 "gas war" with Russia.
(15) Under this Memorandum, the United States, Britain, and Russia in 1994 gave Ukraine security guarantees in exchange for Kiev's renunciation of nuclear weapons.
(16) In late September 2003, Russia started building an earth bridge across the shallow 4 km gap between its Taman peninsula and Tuzla island, drawing furious protests from Ukrainian politicians, some of whom accuse Russia of planning an "occupation."
[www.bmlv.gv.at][PDF] page 60
Ukraine skillfully used the Trilateral Statement and its NPT accession to obtain assistance in eliminating its nuclear systems and infrastructure,to broaden reform assistance, and most importantly, to receive security assurances designed to bolster its sovereignty and ability to withstand potential Russian pressure. In conjunction with its accession to the NPT in 1994, Ukraine formally received security assurances from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia regarding its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the Budapest Memorandum. That document obliged the signatories from the threat or use of force and from acts of economic coercion that could undermine Ukraine's sovereignty. France and China subsequently extended Ukraine parallel assurances.
In the first years following the Soviet Union's breakup, Russian leaders took a tough approach to issues of sovereignty and political independence in negotiating with Ukraine. Moscow extended security assurances to Kyiv as part of the 1994 Trilateral Statement and Budapest Memorandum, primarily driven by Russia's desire to secure the transfer of nuclear weapons and Ukraine's accession to the NPT. The Russian authorities dragged their feet on signing an overall bilateral agreement recognizing Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Although the two countries agreed relatively quickly to a division of the ships belonging to the Black Sea Fleet, reaching agreement on basing part of the Russian fleet in Crimea proved much more difficult, as Russia sought rights not just to basing facilities in Sevastopol but to all of Sevastopol itself. The Ukrainians held to their positions and in spring 1997 achieved a bilateral agreement signed by Kuchma and Russian president Boris Yeltsin that explicitly recognized Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as a basing agreement that provided for the lease of facilities to the Russian navy for 20 years, on terms acceptable to Kyiv.
The Orange Revolution triggered considerable concern that such a popular revolution might be possible in Russia and generated intense Russian interest in Ukrainian political developments. The extraordinary Russian interference in Ukrainian politics during the presidential campaign of 2004 has not been replicated in subsequent elections. While one would be naïve to conclude that there is no Russian influence in Ukrainian politics, the active involvement of Russian political "technologists", reports of Russian financing of anti-Orange candidates, and active direct involvement in Ukrainian media were not repeated in Ukraine's 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections, despite the considerable stakes for Russia in Ukraine's leadership orientation. Other than Ukraine's achievement of formal sovereignty, the country's practical achievement of political sovereignty is among its most important accomplishments.
[www.csis.org] [PDF] pages 9, 13.
(Note that this document's release date by CSIS is February 2008.)
So here we are. The US is obligated to protect Ukraine, NATO or not. That was the deal made in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. It is abundantly clear what Russia is willing to do to people, its own citizens or not, without a second thought. If the US is still capable of honoring international treaties -- a big enough 'if' that Moscow could easily incline to test it and find out -- we are obligated to step in and defend Ukraine.
For those tempted to think that Russian media might be providing accurate information about anything, consider this list:
Compiled from http://www.cpj.org
That is a list of journalists killed in Russia since
Cheka KGB FSB/Putin took over.