Bloody Drama

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Russian television shows a dead Chechen rebel inside the theater

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Yet for many others, starting with the terrified relatives of the hostages, the siege in the heart of Moscow has shattered the illusion that Russia is winning in Chechnya. Says Ruslan Khasbulatov, former chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, an ethnic Chechen: "This war has served only to beget this homespun terrorism that will kill more people. You want to stop this terrorism, stop the bloodshed in Chechnya." Criticism like this hasn't been heard much during Putin's reign until now.

Seizing a theaterful of innocents may only convince many that Putin is right when he dismisses the rebels' cause as plain terrorism. But Putin's leadership willbe judged on how he manages the fallout. He might now feel compelled to try decisive action in Chechnya. Butthe public might push instead for re-examination of a war that refuses to slink away.

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