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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Force Alone Cannot End Terrorism

As carefully controlled information bulletins emerged from the Interior Ministry on Tuesday, detailing how many Chechen gunmen had been killed in Pervomaiskoye versus hostages released, it underscored an ugly truth: The political fallout in Moscow from the hostage crisis will, ultimately, be determined by a body count.

Doubtless President Boris Yeltsin's entourage of advisers has been poring over the various equations involved. They know, for example, that the popular mood today -- as opposed to during the last hostage crisis in Budyonnovsk last June -- is such that if the gunmen were allowed to escape this time, the president would suffer enormous political damage.

The prospect of 100 dead hostages does not bode well for the president either. But at least, the Kremlin could calculate, storming the rebel convoy offers the possibility of success, with hostages saved and terrorists punished through resolute action.

Such, in any case, is the political game being played out around the current bloodshed in Dagestan. And given the fact that we are only five months from a potentially epoch-making presidential election, such calculations are hardly to be sniffed at.

But they have nothing to do with what is the "right" course of action to take. They are about political expediency.

What the "right" decision would have been for the government to take in Pervomaiskoye surely should be decided before the body count has been made -- without the benefit of hindsight. The operation underway in Dagestan is not "surgical." How many hostages die in the barrage will be determined entirely by luck, or fate.

It seems the issue whittles down to this: Do the laws of handling terrorists, which say that one should never negotiate, apply here? Is it true that by negotiating one would encourage the Chechens to repeat performances, and that by eliminating them -- whatever the cost -- one can ensure they will not do it again?

The truth is that neither Budyonnovsk nor Kizlyar are classic terrorist acts, although morally they are quite as despicable. These Chechens are not from small cells trained in Libya, picking their targets for maximum publicity. They are more akin to guerrillas at war. Whether Salman Raduyev lives or dies, Chechen gunmen will try again to seize hostages, because it is the best weapon they have against the might of the Russian Army.

So how can this disease be stopped? There is no simple answer. But what is certain is that to ensure by force that there are no more Shamil Basayevs and Raduyevs would cost Russia all that it has gained over the past few years, and Chechnya far more. It would require the decimation of the Chechen people.