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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Raid in Dagestan: 'A Colossal Error'

As Russian troops tightened the ring around the bus convoy of Chechen terrorists near Pervomaiskoye on Thursday, Moscow analysts all agreed that the latest hostage crisis in Dagestan has been a disastrous error for the Chechen rebels.

"The choice of the location was a colossal error," said Andrei Piontkovsky, an analyst at the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies, speculating that perhaps rebel leader Salman Raduyev did not have the means to attack a more distant locale.

Although neighboring Dagestan is part of Russia, the population is largely Moslem, like Chechnya's. Until Tuesday's seizure by Chechen rebels of a Kizlyar hospital in which nine people died, Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev had at least tacit support from Dagestan.

What the rebels did not count on was the response from the Russian authorities.

"This was no Budyonnovsk," said a Russian military expert, referring to last June's seizure by Chechen guerrillas of a hospital in southern Russia. After the six-day conflict, in which 120 people perished, rebel leader Shamil Basayev negotiated safe passage to his native Chechnya.

As a result, this time the Chechens were also expecting high-ranking Russian negotiators, the expert, who declined to be identified, said in a telephone interview. Instead, "they quickly understood that [the Russians] planned to go in shooting."

As the Budyonnovsk crisis unfolded, the Russian government appeared to be caught off guard. President Boris Yeltsin flew off to Canada and there was some time before definitive action was taken.

This time, Raduyev got an immediate reply, the expert said. Unlike Basayev and his men, the Russians were not going to let them walk away.

That is one explanation for why Raduyev quickly evacuated the hospital just one day after his forces stormed it.

Other reports in the Russian media speculate that the thousands of Chechen refugees who have flooded into Dagestan offered Dagestani officials a powerful bargaining tool. If the hostages were harmed, they could seek revenge on the Chechen refugees.

Russian Interior Ministry officials told Interfax on Thursday that Dagestani residents are demanding arms to take their own revenge against the hostage-takers.

A ministry spokesman cited "the danger of lynching the Chechen terrorists and their relatives."

Still others are convinced that the speed with which the rebels moved in and out of the hospital indicates the terrorist attack was the result of a conspiracy. "The war and disruption in Chechnya create favorable conditions for the illegal arms trade and for other dirty deals and machinations," Russia's Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov told Interfax.

Piontkovsky said the taking of the Kizlyar hospital could not have occurred without help. "It is difficult to prove that there was a concrete agreement by the Russian side -- perhaps they just decided not to disturb them."

But Alexander Konovalov, an analyst at Moscow's USA and Canada Institute, was quick to deny the existence of a conspiracy.

"In Russia there is a tendency to explain everything by conspiracies," Konovalov said. "The information about an attack, if it existed, was in a very vague form," he said, referring to numerous recent media reports that the Russians had information the Chechens were preparing to launch a new terrorist attack.

While not everyone may agree on the conspiracy theory, most are prepared for a disastrous end to the Dagestan crisis.

"To exterminate the terrorists is more important now than saving the hostages," said Piontkovsky.

"This is the moment to decisively destroy Dudayev," said Konovalov.

Even public opinion seems to support using force. While during the Budyonnovsk hostage crisis the Russian public may have been more willing to see Basayev as victim rather than terrorist, this time many apparently see force as the only answer.

"Even those who were opposed to the war in Chechnya say there is no way to talk with such people," the military expert said. "Now Moscow has the moral right to take severe measures."