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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Miracle, Or Kremlin Fantasizing

The official line on the operation at Pervomaiskoye is that, from Moscow's point of view, it was a near-miraculous success. The rebels have been annihilated, 82 of the hostages have been saved and 18 are missing, while the losses to federal troops were 26 dead. The operation is over.

If this can ever be proved accurate, then it is indeed a miracle, for the openly stated strategy of the federal forces surrounding Pervomaiskoye was to flatten the village and anything in it.

Commanders on the scene even said they had seen the Chechens executing their hostages, and that none were left alive to save.

All, the Kremlin now says, but for at least 82. Either the miraculous new figures are a fantasy, or the local Federal Security Service commanders had faulty binoculars -- or, as seems all too likely, both.

Unfortunately, it is now even more difficult than before to establish exactly what happened in Pervomaiskoye, or indeed what is still happening, because reporters have been driven off seven kilometers from the scene and set upon by dogs if they venture too close.

No longer can they test the FSB's version of events against those of the foot soldiers who fought inside the village.

In moral terms, the final body count is not the issue.

The strategy was to kill everything inside the village -- hence the convenient assumption that the hostages were already dead. If 82 hostages did indeed survive, it was simply due to good fortune.

That makes it all the more extraordinary that, just at the moment when the federal forces were pulling their men out and moving Grad missile launchers into position to level the village entirely, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry chose to condone Russia's handling of the hostage crisis as "entirely correct."

Whether this arose out of some kind of professional empathy or as quid pro quo for Russian acquiescence in Bosnia, it was hard to swallow. Let's look at what it was that Perry was condoning.

Moscow, which never had any intention of letting the gunmen make it back to Chechnya alive, had allowed them to stop in a village with their hostages and dig in for five days.

It then gave the order to storm the village as if this were a war, and not an operation to free hostages.

When that failed, the order was given to flatten everything from afar, consciously assigning any remaining hostages to their deaths.

This was a dark hour for President Boris Yeltsin, and hardly Perry's finest.