GWEN IFILL: For analysis of the dramatic and deadly end to the Moscow siege and what it bodes for the future, we turn to Edward Lozansky, president of American University in Moscow; Celeste Wallander, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Neil Livingstone, chairman of the board of Globaloptions, a security consulting firm.
Mr. Lozansky, was this the best way to handle this, more than 100 captives dead, was this the best way to end this siege?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: I think that there was no other, as this young man said and lady, there was no other way. It's either all of them perish, or a certain number. And according to international experts, may be too cynical to say how many we can accept. But by international standards 30 percent of the people dies, this is acceptable, in this case your talking about 12, 15 percent. So I think that I praise President Putin, I think he did the right thing. It’s the only way to do it. All those who criticize him can't offer anything else. What would you do?
GWEN IFILL: Well, that's what I was going to ask you; there was no other way short of this many death for this standoff to end?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: The only thing to criticize the Russian government is for not providing enough doctors at the scene to treat the patients, the hostages.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Wallander, was there another way out of this?
CELESTE WALLANDER: Well, I think we have to understand that the Russian government was in a terrible dilemma and we have to understand we don't have all the information to be able to assess what happened. But I think it's also clear that the facts of years and even a decade of Russian weakness contributed to their lack of options.
The Russian military has not been reformed in the course of the 1990s, it hasn't been restructured to be able to take on terrorist, anti-terrorist operations. There hasn't been a good integration with security services and with the different mechanisms that the state did bring to bear to bring security to its citizens. So yes, maybe the Russian government chose to do, work with the toolkit that it had available to it, but it's time to think about the tool kit available to it and whether it ought to be adjusting to the new reality.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Lozansky say that people who say this wasn't the best way to handle it don't know what else that Vladimir Putin should have done. Was there some sort of negotiation option that should have been explored?
CELESTE WALLANDER: Well, I think the course of events showed negotiations were a desirable but an unlikely outcome; once the hostages started to be shot, something probably had to be done. I'm thinking more of the tactics used to gain control of the theater -- and the fact that it looks like, although we don't know exactly what kind of agent was used, that it may have been used, some people have suggested, in excessive amounts given the circumstances, it may not have been tested in the context in which it was actually used. Maybe it was tested in the battlefield context instead of in an enclosed place.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Livingstone, do you have any -- what's your best educated guess about what this secret agent was that the Russians, this gas that was pumped into the theater and seemed to incapacitate so many people?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, the Pentagon says it was an opiate derivative, something like morphine, in other words, something with a hospital use perhaps. I think it's probably more likely that it was an agent like BZ, which is also known as Q and B. And this is a hallucinogenic chemical warfare agent that would produce symptoms very similar to what we saw.
GWEN IFILL: What kinds of symptoms are we talking about?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, we're talking about, it attacks both the central and peripheral respiratory system, and therefore it accounts for the fact that it's going to knock people out, it's going to give them not very much motor control, fixated eyes, dry mouth, a whole series of the kinds of symptoms that we saw in the hostages.
GWEN IFILL: Why the secrecy about what kind of gas this is, why can't the Russian government tell is what it is, is it illegal?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: It is illegal by international convention. It is a proscribed chemical weapon. And that would perhaps account for some of the secrecy. And that would also account for the fact that maybe they didn't have enough preparation to deal with the people as they came out of the theater. In other words, for most of these things there is an antidote, as there would be for BZ and many other agents, and you would have that antidote stockpiled and you would administer it very quickly to the hostages as they came out.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Lozansky, why do you think the secrecy? Why not just tell us what this is and how they did it?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, a couple of things: first I want to simply comment on why it was some people think it's excessive. The thing that, the main goal was to disable the terrorists and terrorists were in good shape; they had plenty of food because they took over the food store, which was prepared for theater guests; they had drinks and food, and other people, they were weak because they didn't ate for three days and didn't have enough water and medication. So to knock out terrorists, you had to have maybe a little bit more excessive that maybe didn’t calculate -- they didn't have enough time to calculate.
GWEN IFILL: So maybe the hostages were in a weaker position because of lack of food?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Of course, because they were weaker; they didn't eat for three days, and terrorists ate plenty; they had plenty of food. Now why secrecy? One thing is maybe because it's illegal, I don't know what the agent is. But maybe one thing is that they don't want to disclose; they may need it again. Al-Qaida -- and I have no doubt al-Qaida was involved in this, they prepare other terrorist acts, and if the Russians now disclose this agent, they may not used next time so, they'll be better prepared -- terrorists, I mean.
GWEN IFILL: Was what happened after the gas went into this theater, Ms. Wallander, was it an acceptable risk, as Mr. Lozansky was suggesting, 30 percent, an acceptable risk? Or was there incompetence involved in the way this was executed?
CELESTE WALLANDER: Well, we don't exactly know what was used and we don't know what circumstances it had been tested. But it does seem clear that the Russian forces outside of the theater were not prepared for the effects of the use of the gas against civilians. And they knew that there were elderly people and children and people who had been without water and food and had not slept for days. And so to not be prepared, to not have medical assistance, and to not provide doctors the information they need to treat people that they were working hard to save seems quite, quite incompetent.
And I think we shouldn't ascribe devious intentions to the Russian government, I think they were doing the best they could, but I think they just hadn't thought through the whole process and didn't have the systems in place to do what needed to be done to save people once they were outside of the theater as well as get them out of the theater.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk a little bit about who these rebels were who took over the theater. You suggested that they were definitely linked to al-Qaida. Why do you say that?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, under the, the government has the information, we say it openly that although some people say less involved, more involved, al-Qaida I mean, but al-Qaida is involved. Al-Qaida is funding this operation. And I will not be surprised at all if it was dedicated to the royal Chechen congress, which opened today in Denmark. And because no one knew by this congress, even experts on Russian Chechnya, suddenly everyone knows about this congress because of this act. So I think this act, this terror act, was specifically dedicated to world Chechen congress.
GWEN IFILL: Are we talking about -- one man's terrorist is another man's separatist. Which is it in this case?
CELESTE WALLANDER: Well, I think it's more reliable to define terrorists by how they act than what their objectives are, and by targeting civilians, by using them as hostages for political and perhaps I think it's fair to call this group terrorists, and I think it's quite fair to say that the Chechen separatists are bound up with terrorist methods and also with terrorist connections. There's quite clear evidence that Chechen fighters trained in Afghanistan, have received money and financing and assistance through the same networks that support al-Qaida.
But terrorist methods do not serve the purpose that those seeking resolution in Chechnya, and some kind of peaceful outcome would rather see. But terrorist methods do create a more extreme environment, and do prevent the kinds of progress and some kind of settlement that may have been in place in Russia; there was some sign of political movement, and I think that that's pretty much off the agenda for the time being.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Livingstone, if it is true that these rebels were linked to al-Qaida, we heard the strong words from President Putin today, wherever they may be, he said Russia would attack, Russia would not be brought to its knees by these terrorists, he said. What exactly can Russia, should Russia be doing to guard against these kinds of attacks?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: You know, I was struck by the similarity between President Putin's words and those of President Bush after 9/11. And I think that we're both facing a similar problem and maybe even a similar enemy and maybe even the same enemy in some situations.
And so I see this as being perhaps a driving force that Russia is going to make more common cause with the United States, and we may in the United States, we've been very critical of the Russians in the past and Chechnya, and I see maybe a softening of the U.S. position that says you know, you've got a problem like we've got, you deal with it however you will. So I think that we're going to see the gloves off both in Russia and, just as the United States is taking the gloves off throughout the world in our war against al-Qaida right now.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Lozansky, that's an interesting point. Does this change, does this signal a change in the relationships between U.S. and Russia, where the U.S. says, as they did today, as U.S. officials did -- do what you got to do?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, we've seen a change since 9/11, and Russia did all it could to help the United States, and actually did more than any U.S. ally in the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan. I think it's time the United States offers help to Russia. If we criticize Russia for being incompetent, which probably it's true, not prepared, let the United States be a good professor and Russia be the student and United States shows Russia how to do it.
GWEN IFILL: On the other hand, it was Russia last week at the United Nations, which was blocking the resolution that the United States was seeking to go into Iraq. Is there --
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Yeah, that I see as more of an economical thing, and if the United States, not to change to another subject, but if the United States for example guarantee Russian economic interest in Russia -- in Iraq, I think they would probably go along, at least be quiet, at least abstain and not veto this.
GWEN IFILL: So does this signal a change that you see in U.S.-Russia relations?
CELESTE WALLANDER: I think it's right, it's true that it makes it more difficult for the United States to criticize Russia's conduct of the war in Chechnya, but I think it also would be premature to say the United States is not going to continue to define what Russia is doing in Chechnya differently from the U.S. war on terrorism. It's very hard to fight terrorists, and it's a brutal war in Chechnya, and brutal wars brutalize militaries.
The Russian military has been fighting for three years now in Chechnya, so it's not clear how a further escalation of the effort will solve the war. And I think the Russian state, Russian government needs to think about asking for help from the international community, for thinking about a long-term solution for the war in Chechnya, because they have not been able to do it on their own.
GWEN IFILL: Do these events in Moscow prolong the war in Chechnya or short circuit it in any way?
CELESTE WALLANDER: I think it will lead to a short and maybe medium-term escalation, a greater clampdown, there will be greater support within Russian society for taking measures to increase security. The people will become more tolerant of different kinds of security measures. Over the long run it's too hard to say. It depends on whether elements for a peaceful resolution emerge within Chechen society and whether the United States and the West can play a constructive role.
GWEN IFILL: And Mr. Lozansky, do you see public opinion in Russia supporting an increased heightened war in Chechnya at least in the short term?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Yes, I think Putin has free hand to do what he wants. But I think whether this war will continue, how long it will continue depends on the United States. I think that the United States is leader, is the only super power can show Russia how to do it. How we did it in Afghanistan, maybe we should teach Russians how to do it quickly in Chechnya.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, thank you all very much for shedding some light on this.