The mass hostage-taking in Moscow was the latest incident in an unequal and increasingly brutal war between the Russian state and the breakaway Chechen Republic in the south of the country.
Chechnya declared its independence in 1991. The following year it adopted a constitution defining it as an independent secular state.
Concerned that other regions might follow Chechnya's lead, and also anxious to divert attention away from ongoing domestic economic problems, the then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin ordered Russian troops into Chechnya in 1994.
One hundred thousand people, many of them civilians, died in the subsequent 20 months of war.
by Dale Street
The conflict ended in humiliating defeat for Russia. Yeltsin was forced to withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya and to recognise the Chechen government of Aslan Maskhadov.
But the Russian forces left behind a ruined country. Villages and entire towns, including the capital Grozny, had been devastated by Russian artillery and aerial bombardment. The Chechen economy was in a state of collapse. Warlordism began to fill the social and economic vacuum.
In September of 1999 Putin - at that time the Russian Prime Minister - ordered a fresh invasion of Chechnya.
He claimed that Chechens had been responsible for the bombing of a Moscow apartment block which had cost 300 people their lives. But no evidence linked Chechens to the bomb-blast. In fact, the finger of guilt pointed in the direction of the Russian security services.
Russian troops acted with even greater brutality than during the war of 1994-96. Two hundred thousand Chechens fled to neighbouring republic in order to escape the fighting. Acts of torture, rape and murder by Russian troops became commonplace.
After 11 September of last year Putin justified the war as the Russian equivalent of America's war against al-Qaida. This provided the Russian military with a "licence" to act with yet greater barbarism.
The Chechen warlords responded in kind. Any Russian soldiers taken prisoner were subject to immediate execution. Chechens who challenged the rule of the warlords were treated as brutally as the invading Russian troops. Hostage-taking - by both sides - became increasingly common.
Simultaneously, and certainly not by accident, the more radical-Islamic elements among the warlords began to emerge as key-players. Following the Wahabbi version of Islam, and funded by the USA's Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, their influence grew steadily at the expense of the Maskhadov government.
In fact, as early as 1999, in an attempt to undercut support for the more radical factions, Maskhadov felt obliged proclaim that Sharia law would be introduced in Chechnya in three years time. Like Arafat in the Occupied Territories, Maskhadov found himself being outflanked by radical-Islamic forces.
Neither the Chechen fighters who seized 800 hostages in a Moscow theatre last week nor the Putin government which sanctioned the storming of the theatre offer a way forward for the peoples of Chechnya and Russia.
The Chechen hostage-takers represent not the secular constitution adopted by Chechnya in 1992 but the politics of corrupt warlordism and a version of Islamic fundamentalism.
Putin stands for the restoration of a strong Russia - at the expense of working-class and democratic rights, and also at the expense of the rights of national minorities trapped within the Russian Federation.
Russian troops should withdraw from Chechnya. This is a precondition of any progress. Russian withdrawal will weaken Putin's position and his ability to carry out reactionary policies. It will also destroy the credibility of the Chechen warlords' claims to be the only true defenders of the Chechen people.