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Tuesday 29 October 2002

Russian siege [lurks]

I'm sure you've been following the Russian theatre siege by Chechen separatists. Most recently of course, the Russians stormed in and forced a quick end to the situation. They did this when the rebels executed a couple of hostages in the morning as they promised.

The thing is, the war on Chechnya has wide spread support in Russia. It's an example of the power of mother Russia in an era where it's citizens have seen nothing but a steady erosion from glories past. Putin has never been up for any shit from Chechen rebels and the military campaign to crush the rebellion in Chechnya has been brutal with many human rights abuse accusations from both sides of the fence.

Now as a hostage scenario, this one was a nightmare. A heck of a lot of hostages with well armed terrorists. They claimed they mined the entrances and they had suicide explosives attached to them as well. I don't envy any special-forces tasked with bringing an end to this as it seems inevitable that significant casualties will result. The final straw was the claim that they had the theatre rigged to blow as well.

Had these Chechen rebels thought things through, there could only be one outcome. Putin was never going to even negotiate their demands (Russian withdrawal from Chechnya, yeah right!) and he's hardly going to sit there and twiddle his thumbs while they toss corpses out the front door now is he.

So he was going to act but boy, he really didn't mess around. The thing which is amazing is the use of some sort of knock-out gas of such potency that it's killed several of the hostages. Everyone appears baffled by what it could be, given that it caused gagging and vomiting as well as unconsciousness and death. Not a very effective knock-out gas by all accounts or is it?

You see the trouble with any sort of gas weapon like this is being able to inflict a heavy enough dose of a substance on enough of these people that they will be so incapacitated so as not being able to execute hostages or blow themselves up. That's very difficult actually because air distribution is by no means uniform and you need to account for the worse case scenarios. That means dramatic over dosage of a significant number of those which you're looking to expose.

There are knock-out gasses around but the trouble is, soon as a couple of rebels get drowsy and fall over - the rest will calmly execute hostages and then blow themselves up. That's not good enough. So as a tactical decision, using a horrible gas like that which was used, which will have all the terrorists gagging, vomiting and falling unconscious quickly... well, it was a valid tactical decision.

Of course they'll be rather a lot of repercussions. The Russians did effectively kill some hostages themselves but in a numbers game, and that's what this sort of military operation amounts to, they undoubtedly saved more lives than had they charged in without using this horrible gas. Only one rebel blew themselves up. The building itself wasn't blow up, all terrorists dead, 100 odd hostages dead, 600 odd hostages rescued.

It's easy to suggest that the SAS or some other special forces may have been able to do better than this but how would you know, the poxy little televised SAS embassy storming that we're all familiar with is play school stuff compared to the Russian nightmare. I think people will probably start saying 'Why didn't they use another gas' or a dozen some such questions. Hard choices undoubtedly needed to be made and I pity the poor bastard that needed to make them.


  1. Jesus Christ, as it turns out all 117 hostages that died died from gas poisoning. That's bad, that's seriously seriously bad. It was some chemical weapon developed during the cold war, apparently the deaths are a result of a delay in applying the antidote. Typical Russian fuckup ;-/

    However something else I saw, pictures of how they had the theatre rigged to blow. A nasty business, make no mistake.

  2. So basically it wasn't teargas or a knockout gas, it was some sort of asphixiatory chemical agent? Nice one. I thought it was going to end badly from overwhelming odds, not from that sort of amateurishness. Still, in Russia you can get away with this sort of crap. As Stalin once said: "One death is a tragedy, one million a statistic".

  3. Turns out it was BZ. This is something rather similar to lsd except it's very highly unpleasant and toxic to boot. I remember reading about it last year. Still I think it's a bit harsh to call it amateurishness. Unless something really serious was done to incapacitate these fuckers quickly, they could blow themselves up and all the hostages. Not something you can do with firearms after crashing through a wall.

    Still... BZ, fucking hell. They shouldn't even HAVE any of that under the current chemical weapons treaty iirc.

  4. Ok, BZ Gas.

    BZ (QNB): Quinuclidinebenzillate: an incapacitating psychoto-mimetic agent developed in the 1950s. This psycho-chemical hallucinogen substance affects the nervous system, causing visual and aural fake perceptions and a sense of unreality.

    The USA used to use it, up until the point they realised that in 'safe' concentrations it was pretty much useless; people were tripping their tits off, but still very much able to shoot back.

    The dose required to incapacitate is, as we've seen, the dose required to kill.

    The Yugoslavians used it throughout the 80s, as part of their ongoing Chemical Weapons programme - and this agent is DEFINITELY banned under the Geneva Convention.

    Hence Ivan being rather sheepish about saying anything.

  5. It's not true that the dose to incapacitate is the same as the dose to kill. However it's obvious the tollerance between the two doses is not wide enough and was exceeded by the Russians. Doesn't help that the fucker hadn't got the BZ antidote ready in the hospitals ;-/

  6. In my mind, it makes the whole 'lets bomb saddam 'cos he's got chem weapons' thing look a bit silly though.

  7. Not BZ then, that's them off the hook to some degree. They claim it's an opiate based gas, which makes me wonder why they are talking about not providing antidotes in time when there is no antidote for opiates afaik?