27 July, 2021

The Iron Curtain Falls...

Muscovites applaud Putin's daring but not his method. They also stand divided on Chechnya. More Coverage

The Iron Curtain Falls...
Early that October 26 morning, when Russia's elite Alpha commando force began to pump a mysterious gas into the besieged theatre on Melnikova street, Modest Salin remembers the air had begun to reek of a peppery smell and the skin had started to burn. Soon he saw a greenish gas spewing from under the stage. A veteran of the Afghan war, where Russian troops had used sleeping gas, Salin knew what he needed to do: cover his face with a wet cloth and try not to lose consciousness.

The Chechen guerrillas—and indeed many of the 763 Muscovites they were holding hostage—were oblivious of such simple precautionary measures. As soon as the gas wafted across the theatre, the militants on the stage began swaying back and forth and soon collapsed on the floor. Recalls Salin, "I saw one Chechen grab his automatic rifle and I thought, 'That's it, he is going to fire at us.' But he, too, fell down. There were gunshots in the corridor. I looked around to find our soldiers shouting, 'Guys, come out quick.'"

It took the Alpha commandos less than 90 minutes to overcome the Chechen...

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