America Risks Being Dragged into Chechen Terror Crisis

debkafile‘s sources in Moscow are convinced that Russian president Vladimir Putin, known for his hardnosed approach toward Islamic extremists, will, in a matter of hours, order his Alpha forces to storm the Moscow theater where some 30 to 50 armed Chechens took 700 theater-goers hostage Wednesday night, October 23.
The hall, still known by its Soviet-era name, Hall of Culture of the State Ball-bearing Factory, was showing a popular Russian musical when the Chechen assailants burst in firing in the air. The armed band, led by Mosvar Marayev, brother of the notorious Chechen warlord and including widows of fallen Chechen rebels, released Muslim spectators and 17 children, before planting explosives around the hall.
Heavy casualties are almost inevitable if the Russians storm the hall – both among the hostages and their captors, some of whom are reported to be wearing bomb-belts.
The gravity of the situation is such that Putin has cancelled planned visits to Germany and Portugal. He is also likely to put off his scheduled weekend meeting with US president George W. Bush in Mexico at a conference of leaders of Asian and Pacific nations.
The international fallout of this episode needs limiting quickly. The way the Moscow hostage crisis develops could not only exacerbate the conflict in Chechnya, it could also produce a cross-border Russian attack against Georgia, which Moscow accuses of harboring Chechen rebels and failing to prevent them from attacking Russia from Georgian territory, mainly the Pankisi Gorge. The precipices and deep, narrow defiles of this Georgia-Chechen border region recall the Tora Bora mountain region of Afghanistan.
After Putin threatened to send Russian troops to Georgia to root out the Chechens, the Tbilisi government finally went into action. In the past two weeks, Georgian special forces have been flushing Chechens out in operations in which US Green Beret special forces have also taken part. They have netted several dozen Chechen captives, most taken in the Pankisi Gorge. Among the captives was a group whom the Georgians call “Arabs”, a local euphemism for Saudi, Yemeni or Egyptian al Qaeda operatives attached to the Chechen rebellion. This group was handed over to the American contingent and has since been flown out of Georgia to US detention facilities, including Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
For now, the Chechen terrorists in the Moscow theatre have made only one demand: to end the war in Chechnya and pull Russian military forces out of the breakaway province. But counter-terrorism elements involved directly in the standoff expect further demands that may include the release of the Arab fighters Georgia turned over to the United States. That would bring America directly into the standoff in the Russian capital.
debkafile‘s military and counter-terrorism sources say the Chechen theater attack sets up a new hurdle for Washington’s planned war on Iraq. The Bush administration may be called upon to countenance a massive Russian attack on Chechnya, which it has thus far opposed. It is not clear yet whether Washington will reverse itself to this extent. However, the Bush administration has gone to enormous trouble to de-escalate tensions in flashpoints all over the world so as not to detract from the main thrust against Iraq. US diplomats have succeeded in the past few weeks in pacifying the Indian-Pakistani border from which both armies have begun to withdraw troops; it has kept the lid on Israeli-Lebanese border violence and delayed the imminent danger of a military clash between the Israeli and Syrian armies; Washington is also working hard to lower the level of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Similar efforts have been underway in Russia and Georgia, which borders Chechnya. But the Chechen terror attack in Moscow shows that Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and other terrorist elements are determined that make sure that Washington will not be allowed to make war on Iraq without being harassed by political and political complications, including terrorist action across the world.
The Chechen rebels’ ability to take over a theater in the center of Moscow right under the noses of Russia’s intelligence services and US intelligence and special forces in Georgia has set alarm bells jangling in Washington. Further large-scale terror attacks are to be expected to flare in various European capitals and in the Middle East in the coming weeks. A mega-attack in a major city in North America, including Washington, is also possible.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email