Nord-Ost. The Wait for Justice

Sep 26 2015

The Moscow theatre siege in many ways marked a turning point in how we perceive Vladimir Putin. It was the ruthless and needless gassing of hostages along with terrorists on the cold October night of 2002 that held an answer to the question many still had – who is Vladimir Putin?

by Natalia Pelevina

The Moscow theater hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege, was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by 42 armed Chechens, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic separatist movement of Chechnya. Half of the terrorists were women. They took almost a thousand people hostage and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. After 57 hours and no real negotiations, around 5 am on the 26-th of October deadly gas of unknown formula was administered into the auditorium through the air condition system. As the result of the gas most people went into the state of comatose, some dying on the spot. Around 20 minutes later Russian Special Forces stormed the building, engaging in combat with the militants and killing all of them. All female terrorists were shot and killed point-blank as they lay asleep in the auditorium.

130 hostages were killed, 125 of them died from the deadly gas used by the Russian secret service.

Today many questions about those tragic events remain unanswered.

Who in the Russian secret service may have known about the upcoming terrorist attack and helped it become a “controlled” terrorist act, politically convenient for Vladimir Putin?

Why some of the female terrorists captured by the Russian armed forces months before the attack, ended up wrapped in explosives in the Moscow theatre in October of 2002?

According to many witnesses during the siege terrorists kept mentioning their final peaceful retreat from the theatre. They sounded so certain of this outcome that one may feel someone guaranteed it to them. If so, who may have done it and on what conditions?

Why did Special Forces storm the building in the early hours of the morning of 26-th of October, when we know terrorists were not and had no plans to start executing hostages. This was the explanation made to the European court of human rights by the Russian government and it is a lie. By lying like this what is Russian government hiding?

Most militants were not in the auditorium into which the deadly gas had been administered and were able to put up a fight once the Special Forces were in the building. What was the purpose of the deadly gas used in the auditorium killing 125 people?

Why were no terrorists taken alive, although it was fully possible?

Will anyone ever be held accountable for the botched rescue attempt that led to even more deaths? Hostages died because the secrecy related to the rescue operation led to medical workers having no information about the use of gas and, as a result, their inability to treat victims affectively.

For the families of those we lost during the siege pain never ceases. Years later many still live solely for one purpose – justice for their loved ones.  This justice they have yet to see. The official investigation led to nothing. No one was held responsible for the use of the deadly gas and the loss of lives that followed. No one was held accountable for the badly organized rescue operation. Instead two generals and the unnamed scientist, who created the gas formula, were awarded Russia’s hero medals, Russia’s highest honor. Families also want to know the truth. The European court of human rights in their 2011 decision on the Moscow theatre siege case requested the Russian government to conduct a new investigation into the events. This request was never met.

While Putin is in power, the truth about the Moscow theatre siege tragedy is not possible. While he remains in full control of Russia, families of those who lost their loved ones will not see justice.

The wait is painful but eventually, one day soon, justice will prevail.

by Natalia Pelevina

The Moscow theater hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege, was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by 42 armed Chechens, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic separatist movement of Chechnya. Half of the terrorists were women. They took almost a thousand people hostage and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. After 57 hours and no real negotiations, around 5 am on the 26-th of October deadly gas of unknown formula was administered into the auditorium through the air condition system. As the result of the gas most people went into the state of comatose, some dying on the spot. Around 20 minutes later Russian Special Forces stormed the building, engaging in combat with the militants and killing all of them. All female terrorists were shot and killed point-blank as they lay asleep in the auditorium.

130 hostages were killed, 125 of them died from the deadly gas used by the Russian secret service.

Today many questions about those tragic events remain unanswered.

Who in the Russian secret service may have known about the upcoming terrorist attack and helped it become a “controlled” terrorist act, politically convenient for Vladimir Putin?

Why some of the female terrorists captured by the Russian armed forces months before the attack, ended up wrapped in explosives in the Moscow theatre in October of 2002?

According to many witnesses during the siege terrorists kept mentioning their final peaceful retreat from the theatre. They sounded so certain of this outcome that one may feel someone guaranteed it to them. If so, who may have done it and on what conditions?

Why did Special Forces storm the building in the early hours of the morning of 26-th of October, when we know terrorists were not and had no plans to start executing hostages. This was the explanation made to the European court of human rights by the Russian government and it is a lie. By lying like this what is Russian government hiding?

Most militants were not in the auditorium into which the deadly gas had been administered and were able to put up a fight once the Special Forces were in the building. What was the purpose of the deadly gas used in the auditorium killing 125 people?

Why were no terrorists taken alive, although it was fully possible?

Will anyone ever be held accountable for the botched rescue attempt that led to even more deaths? Hostages died because the secrecy related to the rescue operation led to medical workers having no information about the use of gas and, as a result, their inability to treat victims affectively.

For the families of those we lost during the siege pain never ceases. Years later many still live solely for one purpose – justice for their loved ones.  This justice they have yet to see. The official investigation led to nothing. No one was held responsible for the use of the deadly gas and the loss of lives that followed. No one was held accountable for the badly organized rescue operation. Instead two generals and the unnamed scientist, who created the gas formula, were awarded Russia’s hero medals, Russia’s highest honor. Families also want to know the truth. The European court of human rights in their 2011 decision on the Moscow theatre siege case requested the Russian government to conduct a new investigation into the events. This request was never met.

While Putin is in power, the truth about the Moscow theatre siege tragedy is not possible. While he remains in full control of Russia, families of those who lost their loved ones will not see justice.

The wait is painful but eventually, one day soon, justice will prevail.

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.