The siege in Moscow ended as such things usually end. There is a sense of some sort of accomplishment. More than 700 people have been saved, and several rebels, many of them desperate beyond the fear of death, will not be at large any more. But informing it all there will always be a deeply tragic sense of human loss, which no consoling arithmetic could alleviate. And, as always with the cycle of terror anywhere in the world, there is the sense of an unavoidable conclusion in which nothing is concluded. The textbook operation carried out by the Russian special forces have “successfully” used their new “incapacitating agent”, eerily recalling Mr George W. Bush’s vision of “smoking out” terrorists from Afghanistan. To what extent then could a Russian theatre link up with an Indonesian nightclub and American twin towers to become yet another point in the map of “global terror”'
The Russian president has himself implied the role of the international mujahedin fighting on the Chechen separatist side. Al Qaida — unlike Macavity the Mystery Cat — is never “not there”. But the radicalization of Chechen separatism may be seen as the consequence of the long, brutal and increasingly ineffectual history of Russia’s hardline policies in Chechnya. Enforced atheism under Soviet rule, followed by deportment en masse under Josef Stalin started the modern chapter of the Russian offensive. What Mr Vladimir Putin inherited — and effectively used to bring himself to power — were the failure of Mr Boris Yeltsin’s military campaigns in 1991, and the eventual inability of Chechnya’s elected president in 1997 to establish anything other than a “failed state” continuing to thrive on banditry and blackmail. There were further eruptions of violence in Dagestan, and blasts in Moscow, after which Mr Putin’s uncompromising policy as prime minister in 1999 seemed to many the best way forward. But this ignored the lessons from Mr Yeltsin’s mid-Nineties, and also marked the end of a political, rather than military, answer to Chechnya’s demand for autonomy through meaningful dialogue. Georgia continues to feel the brunt of Mr Putin’s aggressive and duplicitous approach, and the ravaged Chechen cities remain ravaged. By lumping it all together as global, and Islamic, terrorism, and then using September 11 to justify Russian repression in Chechnya as part of a universally sanctioned “war on terror”, a peaceful end to a bloody history seems to have become even more difficult to envisage.