In this space, I’ve defended the actions of the Russians during the Moscow theater siege, including the use of the “mystery” gas.

Russians have always been saddled with a reputation for being crude, heavy-handed, and even relatively nonchalant about human life, and this BBC story isn’t going to help that reputation much. It seems that the gas used was fentanyl, an opiate employed as an anesthetic . This fact clears the Russians of violating any chemical weapons treaties in using it against humans, since it is not automatically lethal. They further claim that the deaths from the gas are a result of the hostages being under physical and mental stress.

However, this Best of the Web piece from yesterday seems to cast doubt on the Russian dedication to preserving the lives of the hostages . It gives a speculative argument from a physician about why the gas probably wasn’t fentanyl, before the Russians had specified what they used:

An opiate can be reversed very quickly with an opiate antagonist, typically naloxone. Indeed, opiates are the type of sedative most easily reversed and the one for which there would have been the greatest need to inform hospital staff of the substance used so they could use the antidote. To identify the substance as fentanyl is to accuse the Russians of willful disregard of the safety of the hostages since apparently no antidote was administered .

Well, now since the Russians have themselves admitted that it was indeed fentanyl which they used, does this mean that they themselves have admitted to a willful disregard for the safety of the hostages?

I’m not claiming any of this as fact. These are merely questions to be raised. A point of uncertainty is whether or not the Russians didn’t inform hospital officials of the use of fentanyl while keeping it a secret from the media and thus whether there really was any antidote being issued.

However, if it does come out that no one was informed of the nature of the gas and people died needlessly, this would be a significant point of reversal on the moral defensibility of the Russians’ actions, both for myself and probably for many others.

last update : 26-5-2018

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