Category Archives: beslan

Putin and Beslan

beslan-91Commenter “Robert” directs our attention to a new report on the Beslan atrocity by John B. Dunlop of Stanford University. 

This research is a clarion call to the Western democracies, a warning they must immediately heed, most of all U.S. President Barack Obama.  His benighted and misguided attitude towards Russia must be reversed immediately.

Here is the report’s conclusion, namely that Russian “prime minister” Vladmir Putin is a brazen liar and a war criminal:

On 1 September 2004, Putin, who had been vacationing on the Black Sea at the resort town of Sochi, returned by plane to Moscow after learning of the hostage-taking incident. Immediately upon his arrival at the airport in Moscow, he held a meeting with the head of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), Rashid Nurgaliev, with the prosecutor general Vladimir Ustinov, with the director of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, and with the first deputy director of the FSB and commander of the Russian border-guards, Vladimir Pronichev.  The presence of General Pronichev at this meeting was particularly significant. It was he who had overseen the storming of a theater building at Dubrovka in Moscow in October 2002 in which 174 hostages had perished from the effects of a special gas employed by the FSB.

Following this meeting with his power ministers, Putin, at about noon on the first, placed a call on a special phone to the president of North Ossetia, Aleksandr Dzasokhov. Putin gave Dzasokhov “an [oral] command to hand over the organization of the counter-terrorist operation to the organs of the FSB.”  This account, it should be noted, is in full accord with what Putin told Le Monde in the afore-mentioned interview published in the 1 June 2008 issue of the French newspaper. Putin manifestly had no intention of negotiating with the terrorists and outsourced the decision concerning how and when to storm the school to the FSB and, in particular, to the FSB spetsnaz (special forces) under the command of General Aleksandr Tikhonov. Putin then disappeared from public view until the morning of 4 September when the storming of the school had been completed.

Following the deaths of the 317 hostages (including 186 children), Putin arrived in Beslan at 5:00 a.m. on 4 September. Joined by North Ossetian president Dzasokhov, he went to the district clinical hospital where the two leaders visited all of the rooms containing victims of the assault. Having remained in the hospital for half an hour, Putin then attended a session of the operational headquarters for the liberation of the hostages located in the town administration building.

Looking directly into a camera of state television’s Channel 1, Putin then declared: “We examined all possible variants and did not ourselves plan an action using force. Events developed very quickly and unexpectedly, and the personnel of the special forces manifested particular courage.” This statement was, as we know now, untrue. Then, apparently without visiting the site of the ruined school, Putin returned by plane to Moscow.

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EDITORIAL: Putin the Man, the Myth, the Monster

EDITORIAL

Putin the Man, the Myth, the Monster

In February of 2006, Roman Kupchinsky of Radio Free Europe wrote an article about about Vladimir Putin’s involvement with the St. Petersburg Mining Instiute, which Kupchisnky called “one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Russia, which traces its history back to 1773.”  He noted that “in 1997 Putin defended his doctoral dissertation examining how natural resources can contribute to regional economies and strategic planning” and then, two years later, wrote an article for the Institute’s Journal in which he continued his dissertation analysis and “posited that hydrocarbons were key to Russia’s development and the restoration of its former power. He argued that the most effective way to exploit this resource was through state regulation of the fuel sector, and by creating large and vertically integrated companies that would work in partnership with the state.”

Oops.  One month later, thanks to the efforts of the left-wing think tank Brookings Institution, the world learned that:

  • The unknown person (or persons) who actually wrote the paper had not really “written” it either, but rather simply copied large sections of it from American textbooks
  • The degree for which the thesis had been submitted was not doctoral but subdoctoral, so Putin was handed a degree he had not even theoretically, much less actually, earned

Ouch.  Given all that, it’s hardly likely that Putin had written the Journal article, either. 

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EDITORIAL: Blasphemy at Beslan

EDITORIAL

Blasphemy at Beslan

Well, it’s another new low for the neo-Soviet Kremlin of Vladimir Putin.  Surprise, surprise.

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Another Original LR Translation: Beslan and the KGB

A note from the translator: The following article which I have translated from Novaya Gazeta raises a number of very pertinent questions about what exactly was going on at the Beslan tragedy. If true, and I can see no reason to doubt that it is, the Beslan tragedy may be more a crime of state terrorism than Islamic terrorism. The information, collected by Ella Kesayeva, co-chairman of the All-Russian Voice of Beslan Public Organisation, certainly raises some very nasty doubts and suspicions that this is yet another criminally botched Russian secret police operation along the lines of the Moscow flat bombings, the Nord-Ost theatre debacle, the Litvinenko murder, and so on. In my translation below, I have mostly rendered the interminable and semi-mystical acronyms for the various police, state security, and other legal institutions by their Latin letters. Russian bureaucracy, in law-enforcement too, is labyrinthine. I think that for the most part it is sufficient to remember that any acronym with VD in it means “cops” of one sort or another from the Ministry of the Interior and any acronym with FSB somewhere in it means “KGB goon of one sort or another” from the Federal Security Service. The precise body can be ascertained by those who wish to do so by reconverting the Latin letters into Cyrillic.

Terrorists or Agents?

Strange facts about the Beslan Tragedy

by Ella Kesayeva

 Novaya Gazeta

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

The investigation into the Beslan tragedy is now into its fifth year but no clear answer has yet been provided to one of the main questions: precisely how many terrorists were there at Beslan and who were they? According to the investigators’ version, the terrorist group was composed of 33 people. The identities of most of them were established from their fingerprints. This means that all these terrorists must, at one time or another, have been registered by the North Caucasus regional UBOP and UFSB [anti-organised crime police and KGB, in our parlance], been on the wanted list, been detained or arrested, or in some cases condemned.

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Latynina on Beslan

Writing in the Moscow Times, hero journalist Yulia Latynina speaks about Russia’s Wiesenthal:

Last week, Senator Alexander Torshin, former head of the parliamentary commission that investigated the Beslan school attack, shared some news about the investigation with Ekho Moskvy radio.

“We are working according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center principle,” Torshin said. “Those who suffered at Beslan are in touch with me.”

Torshin revealed the name of one more terrorist. There were eight unidentified terrorists and now seven remain. “He is from Moscow, from a good family, and he is not a native of the Caucasus,” Torshin said.

This news, which spread across all the Internet sites, truly characterizes our native Wiesenthals who are leading the investigation. The terrorist in question was actually identified way back in April: He is Ilnur Gainullin, born in 1980 and an ethnic Tatar. He is also medical school graduate and a resident of Moscow. But our diligent Wiesenthals never released his name, as if it were a state secret.

Enough about Gainullin. What I really want to know is who was the ringleader of the Beslan attack and where is this person now?

This is not idle curiosity on my part. As early as Sept. 1, 2004, the first day that the Beslan school was taken hostage, Ali Taziyev was mentioned as one of the leaders. He is also known as Magomed Yevloyev, or Magas, and is the right hand of former Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006. Among other things, Magas orchestrated the June 22 attack on Nazran.

Magas was declared dead on Sept. 3. And two years after the murder of Ingush Deputy Interior Minister Dzhabrail Kostoyev, the Interior Ministry said Magas was Kostoyev’s killer. Within several days, Basayev appointed Magas to command the Ingush front.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has always maintained that there were 32 terrorists, and that they drove in on a GAZ-66 truck — which, by the way, cannot hold more than 25 people — from a camp near the village of Psedakh. Independent experts, witnesses and hostages all confirm that there were, in fact, two groups of terrorists, and that the first group was already at the school when the second group arrived by truck.

At first glance, it would seem that the prosecutors’ motive in insisting that there were 32 terrorists was to convince the public that none of them escaped alive. (The bodies of 31 terrorists were recovered. The 32nd, Nurpashi Kulayev, was captured and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.)

But the real reason is more sinister. The group of terrorists coming from Psedakh was led by Ruslan Khuchbarov, otherwise known as “the Colonel.” If this is the case, then who commanded the second group? The answer: Magas.

This leads to the dreadful question of who was in charge — Taziyev or Khuchbarov? This is a very difficult question because, according to the picture emerging from the investigation, it was Khuchbarov who handled negotiations with federal troops and delivered the terrorists’ demands. This is in an important argument — although it is not the only one — suggesting that Khuchbarov was the chief terrorist. Another is that, according to the hostages’ accounts, the man calling himself Ali left the school before the troops moved in. That is, he bailed out once it became clear that events had turned against him. This suggests that in such situations the top terrorist commander can abandon the scene to protect himself so that he can fight future battles.

In any case, one thing is clear: Either the chief terrorist in the Beslan attack or the leader of one of the two groups is currently leading the insurgents in Ingushetia. I think that acknowledging this fact is far more important than establishing the identity of Gainullin.

The Sunday Sacriledge, Part II: Putin Crushes the Mothers of Beslan

The Moscow Times reports:

A court has ordered the Voice of Beslan, a group critical of the government’s handling of the 2004 terrorist attack, to disband, and its activists started a hunger strike in protest Thursday.

“The decision was made by the authorities because our organization is fighting for the right to have a fair investigation of what happened in Beslan,” group founder Ella Kesayeva said by telephone.

North Ossetia’s Supreme Court ordered the Voice of Beslan to disband Wednesday, upholding a lower court’s ruling that Kesayeva was not the group’s leader. Vladikavkaz’s Leninsky District Court ruled in August that Marina Melnikova, a former member of the group who filed a lawsuit claiming to be the leader, should replace Kesayeva.

Melnikova could not be reached for immediate comment.

The Voice of Beslan tried to get around the lower court’s decision by changing its status from being a North Ossetian organization to a Russian organization. But the court refused to recognize the new group because it had not reregistered with the authorities. Kesayeva said the group had no intention of registering. “This would give the authorities the right to check into the group’s activities,” she said.

Kesayeva and three other Beslan mothers started the hunger strike and a picket outside the North Ossetian Supreme Court on Thursday. “We have decided to start a hunger strike to make our voices heard,” Kesayeva said.

The Voice of Beslan was formed two years ago by relatives of the victims of the 2004 hostage taking, which ended with the death of more than 330 people, more than half of them children.

Putin Forgets All About Beslan

The Moscow Times reports:

A dog plays with a kitten, scattering their meal of meat and macaroni over the entrance. An armed security guard looks on and laughs. The walls are covered with dark mold, and the plaster is peeling off. Patients walk carefully, trying to avoid gaping cracks in the well-worn, wooden floor. Beds are placed centimeters apart, and the old doors do not close all the way to provide privacy. The toilets are easy to find. Just follow the smell.

“Welcome to Beslan’s hospital,” said Savely Torchinov, a surgeon, while giving a reporter a tour of the town’s only hospital.

It was here that survivors were taken after the terrorist attack at Beslan School No. 1 in 2004. The hospital looks much the same today as it did then, and some former hostages are still undergoing treatment here for injuries sustained in the attack.

“It’s shocking, isn’t it?” Torchinov said.

He opened the door to the nurses’ room — a narrow space where the sweet aroma of coffee that the nurses were drinking mixed with the pungent smell of disinfectant. On a small trolley, opposite the refrigerator, surgical instruments could be seen through a threadbare cloth covered with brownish stains. Torchinov said fewer people might have died in the school attack if they had received first aid promptly. The hospital was unprepared to cope with the hundreds of injured hostages after a three-day standoff at the school ended in gunfire and explosions on Sept. 3, 2004, he and other staff said. After receiving initial treatment at the hospital, the patients were sent to better-equipped facilities in Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital, about 20 kilometers away, and Moscow. Around 1,200 people were held hostage in the school, and about 330 died, more than half of them children.

President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beslan on the night of Sept. 4 and he “nearly broke his neck” when he tripped on a crack in the wooden floor on the second floor, Torchinov said. The president was so shocked that he ordered that 6.2 million rubles ($240,000) in federal aid be allocated to renovate the hospital. The local government promised another 8 million rubles ($320,000).

LR: Only $240,000 from a country rolling in oil profits to a region whose population of children has been decimated in the most horrible way imaginable? Is that Putin’s idea of generosity?

But little appears to have been done to improve the hospital, and the situation looks unlikely to change. Torchinov and other people who have raised questions about the hospital said they had been threatened with the loss of their jobs and arrest. Torchinov was one of the few people in Beslan who agreed to allow his name to be printed for this report; others said they feared reprisals.The hospital denied wrongdoing, and the local prosecutor refused to comment.

LR: An after his pathetic, puny promise, no action whatsoever. And this man is considered a great leader? Putin thought NOTHING about Beslan before the attack, and immediately forgot about it afterwards. He’s a monster.

Torchinov, a surgeon at the hospital for 22 years, is currently without work after a court found him guilty of negligence in the death of a patient and suspended him from practicing for 18 months. But Torchinov, who calls the case politically motivated, had no problem visiting the hospital on a recent afternoon. Doctors, nurses and even the guard greeted him as he showed the reporter around. On Sept. 3, the last day of the terrorist attack, Torchinov made sure that his daughter Laima, who was among the hostages, was safe. Then he rushed over to the hospital, organized a makeshift operating room, and started operating. “I operated in a narrow space between two sinks and close to the window to get some light. Not only could I not see anything because I had no surgical lamps, but I also could hardly move. There was no space,” he said. “My first patient was a girl of 13 or 15. She had a bad cut on her stomach, and I operated on her in such conditions, close to the window to get the light of the sun. Military surgeons usually work in better conditions,” he said.

Doctors operated on people right on hospital gurneys, and anesthesia was given with obsolete equipment. The single new device was not enough for all the wounded. “We lost so many people because of all that,” Torchinov said. “Things were different than what the media showed. It was complete chaos.” Torchinov and his colleagues said the authorities had ample time during the two days before the standoff ended to prepare for the wounded. “They could have set up field hospitals and brought modern equipment from other cities. They had two days after all, but nobody cared,” one doctor said. “We didn’t have enough medicine, and some people died because there were no spare oxygen tanks.” Torchinov said a federal special forces officer died because he needed an arterial specialist and the Beslan hospital had none. He said the officer died waiting for the specialist in Vladikavkaz. “We could have saved more lives. It was terrible,” the other doctor said. The authorities organized only four operating rooms, and the doctors set up three more.

After Torchinov started complaining about the way the aid had been organized and that promised funding for the hospital had not materialized, he was accused of malpractice in 2006. Beslan’s prosecutor accused Torchinov of leaving a piece of gauze inside the abdomen of a woman he operated on last year. She later died. Torchinov spent 1 1/2 months in detention before North Ossetia’s top court convicted him and suspended from practicing for 18 months. Torchinov accused the hospital administration of being in cahoots with the prosecutor and called the case a politically motivated attempt to silence him. “Everyone in the hospital thinks that,” agreed Alan Aderkhayev, an anesthetist at the hospital. “The accusations are just absurd,” Aderkhayev said. “Most people agree with Torchinov, but they don’t talk because they are afraid.” Aderkhayev did not tend to hostages in 2004 because he was dealing with a more personal grief. His wife and daughter died in the attack.

The head of the hospital, Vyacheslav Korginov, denied that the administration had unfairly targeted Torchinov. “A commission of experts said the woman’s death was Torchinov’s fault. It was for the prosecutor’s office to decide and not me. There is nothing political here,” Korginov said. Beslan prosecutor Alan Batagov refused to comment on the case, saying he could not discuss it with someone he did not know. Korginov defended the hospital’s treatment of the hostages. “Our work was really appreciated,” he said. He said the hospital had received the promised federal and regional funds after the attack. He also said government auditors had found no problems during regular checks of the hospital books. Korginov acknowledged, however, that the hospital needed improvements. “We need a renovation, but other hospitals need this too. This is normal,” he said.

Susanna Dudiyeva, head of the Beslan Mothers’ Committee, a nongovernmental organization that supports former hostages and their families, said she could not understand why the hospital remained in a dilapidated state in a town that was flooded with cash and gifts from around the world after the attack. “Everyone helped us. Our hospital should be perfect. Why is it in such a pitiable condition?” she said.

The Sunday Book Review: Beslan, Another Fact the Russian People Won’t Face Up To

Writing in the Moscow Times Peter Baker, a former Moscow co-bureau chief for The Washington Post, reviews Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1, by Timothy Phillips:

A few weeks after the Beslan school siege in 2004, I returned to the traumatized town in southern Russia to write about how it was faring. The town had turned eerily silent, almost as if the guts had been ripped out of it. Funerals were still being held every day as the remains of the bodies of children were identified, one by one. Like the stench at the morgue, the grief was overpowering.

One night during the trip, I went to an Internet cafe in nearby Vladikavkaz to file a story. All around the room were young children, playing one of those ubiquitous violent video games — children not much older than those who had been shot and blown up in School No. 1. They were giggling as they shot “terrorists” on the screen. As I peeked over, it dawned on me that the digital setting for this shoot-’em-up game was a burned-out building that looked just like the burned-out school in Beslan.

It was all too haunting. How could this be a game just down the road from the place where terror had intruded on real life in such a horrific way? How could they look at those screens and not find the images too chilling to confront? How could they not be crushed by the same sort of relentless misery that afflicted their fellow Ossetians? And, by extension, how could Russia move on so quickly?

Timothy Phillips grapples with these questions in his gripping account of the siege, “Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1.” As a translator with the BBC, he came to Russia after the standoff to help put together a documentary on the world’s worst terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001, and expected to see a country coming to terms with its own 9/11. “But this was not what I found,” he writes. “As I traveled between Moscow and Beslan, most of those I met had no opinions about the event at all, as if they had hardly thought about it either at the time or since. It was strange to them that I was asking; some even seemed to resent it.”

Maybe it tells us something about the value of life in a country that has seen so much violent death over the centuries. Maybe it tells us something about survival: walling yourself off against the horrors so as to go on with life as if all is normal. Maybe it tells us something about the country President Vladimir Putin has built. Phillips doesn’t have the answers, and perhaps no one does, but at least he’s raising some of the right questions. “Death, which is feared everywhere, is more preoccupying in Russia than in the rest of Europe,” he writes, “because it comes so much sooner.”

“Beslan” traces the events of the first three days of September 2004 through powerful narrative, stitching together the individual horror stories we’ve heard before into a compelling, comprehensive, almost cinematic account. Phillips does justice to the moment, paying tribute to the victims of Beslan by not letting them be forgotten so easily. There’s almost no way to read it without weeping for Beslan and for Russia.

Phillips puts the unfathomable events into historical context, tracing the complex and deeply dysfunctional relationships between Russians, Chechens, Ossetians and Ingush over the centuries and explaining how the deaths of more than 300 men, women and children fit into a pattern of anger and atrocity. What is missing from this rendition, as the author admits at one point, is the current context: what Beslan means in terms of the country Putin has built.

“There is one person whose name is seldom mentioned in Beslan, but whose part in the siege was key,” Phillips writes. “President Putin has remained distant from the events. Indeed, on the basis of what is publicly known, it is hard to justify mentioning him in this book at all.” Phillips notes that Putin appeared only briefly on television and made his post-siege visit in the middle of the night, disappearing again before anyone awoke to realize he was there. “But just the fact of his immense and unrivaled power in Russia means that President Putin must have been involved.”

Alas, the two paragraphs devoted to the president belie the greater connection between Putin and Beslan. Although Phillips does place Beslan in the context of Putin’s war in Chechnya, the rules Putin has imposed on a society trying to find itself in the post-Soviet era are left unexplored. One of the things that made Beslan such a singular event in modern Russian history is that it exposed the broader reality of Putin’s rule — television stations that aired a Brazilian soap opera or a film about a parrot rather than cover the deadly denouement live, a newspaper editor fired for coverage that angered the Kremlin, a radio station that had to rely on CNN to tell its Russian listeners what was happening, investigations that covered up more questions than they answered.

Especially revealing was Putin’s own response. Even as the smoke was clearing to the south, the president invited Western scholars and journalists to his dacha and angrily denounced Europe and the United States for their long insistence that Moscow talk with Chechen leaders to seek an end to the war. “Why don’t you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House, engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?” Putin fumed. He dismissed Western criticism as Cold War mentality and said that the West wants to “pull the strings so that Russia won’t raise its head.”

A little more than a week later, Putin announced that because of the Beslan siege, he was eliminating the election of governors in Russia’s 89 regions in favor of Kremlin appointment, a move he had sworn repeatedly never to take, as well as eliminating the election of State Duma members by single-mandate districts in favor of easily controlled party lists. How terrorism in the Caucasus required the elimination of gubernatorial elections in, say, Siberia was never clear. But people close to the Kremlin indicated that Putin had long been planning such a move and simply took advantage of the moment to enact it.

Still, Phillips has offered us a worthy history of these three days, giving voice to the anguish of a small town buffeted by forces beyond its ken. And he ably points out the holes in the story that future authors will hopefully answer. “The absence of convincing or honest answers to important questions has caused many survivors to fall back on conspiracy theories,” he writes. “These are a tried and tested solution to many mysteries in a country with a pathological aversion to honesty and openness.”

Russia Today Propaganda Continues Apace

A report on state-owned propaganda network Russia Today illustrates the nefarious depths to which that organization is prepared to sink in order to advance the Kremlin’s interests.

Writing about yesterday’s “day of remembrance” for the Beslan disaster, Russia Today doesn’t say one single word about the Kremlin’s recent efforts to crack down on the Beslan protesters or their lawsuit in the European Court for Human Rights, where Russia has suffered innumerable defeats, seeking to blame the Kremlin as a guilty party in connection with the mass killing as the Kremlin has repeatedly stonewalled the investigation. Clear evidence shows that the Kremlin’s actions instigated the crisis. Instead, the article attempts to argue that the Kremlin was victimized in Beslan just the way Spain and London were in recent terrorist attacks. In other words, a multitude of contemptible lies and naked propaganda.

This is exactly the kind of pseudo-journalism we saw in Soviet times, and let’s not forget that it has been watered down for Western consumption. Russian’s get a much harder propaganda line, this one is aimed directly at us. The “journalists” at Russia Today should be ashamed of their complicity in the rise of the neo-Soviet state, and Russians should consider them more dangerous to Russia’s future than any foreign enemy.

Cowardly Kremlin Attacks Voice of Beslan

The Moscow Times reports:

A court has ruled that a group that has been fiercely critical of the government’s handling of the 2004 Beslan attack must change leaders. Ella Kesayeva, the current leader of the group, Voice of Beslan, called Friday’s decision by the Leninsky District Court in Vladikavkaz unjust and said it had been based on forged signatures. “Since the moment of our creation, the authorities have been fighting us with every means possible,” Kesayeva said by telephone Monday from Vladikavkaz.

Voice of Beslan was formed two years ago by relatives of victims of the 2004 hostage-taking incident, which ended with the deaths of more than 330 people, most of them children. Friday’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Marina Melikova, a former member of the group who claimed to be its rightful leader.

Kesayeva said Melikova backed her claim with documents purportedly showing that she had been elected to head the group. The court ruled in Melikova’s favor and ordered the North Ossetian branch of the Federal Registration Service to recognize her as the group’s leader. Kesayeva said the signatures on the documents had been forged and that witnesses who would have backed this up were not allowed to testify. She said she believed that Melikova was being used by the service to undermine the group. A statement on Voice of Beslan’s web site said Melikova had been kicked out 1 1/2 years ago for attempting to disrupt the group.

Attempts to reach Melikova on Monday were unsuccessful. The daily Gazeta reported Sunday that she had declined to comment and was planning to make a statement about the case later this week. A woman who answered the phone at the North Ossetian branch of the Federal Registration Service said Monday that the agency’s spokesman was on vacation.

Voice of Beslan said it would appeal the court’s decision Wednesday and ask prosecutors to investigate Melikova for fraud in connection with the signatures, Kesayeva said. A woman who answered the telephone at the Leninsky District Court on Monday said she was not authorized to comment on the case. In June, the organization helped 89 relatives of Beslan victims file a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights accusing the government of failing to investigate the massacre properly. Kesayeva said the Strasbourg lawsuit would not be affected by Friday’s ruling and that the group would continue functioning as it had before.

Editorial: Dear John (re Beslan)

EDITORIAL

Dear John (re Beslan)

It’s no secret that we here at La Russophobe consider ourselves to be rather good at exposing the flaws inherent in the the russophile position that supports continued power to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. But we have to admit that, next to the russophiles’ own ability to destroy themselves, our powers are puny indeed.

Case in point: A comment offered on our recent post about Beslan by a reader who calls him/herself “John.” This idiot says that blaming Vladimir Putin for the mass killing that occurred at Beslan is no more legitimate than blaming George Bush for the 9/11 killings. Let’s help “John” look foolish, shall we?

To start with, of course, there is no analogy between 9/11 and Beslan because at 9/11, unlike Beslan, all the victims were killed instantly by the terrorists. At Beslan, there was a siege and a so-called rescue effort. At 9/11 there was no such effort mounted by George Bush. So it’s clear from the beginning that “John” didn’t think for even a second before making his comment, he simply and predictably spewed out the same ridiculous sort of propaganda that destroyed the Soviet Union. It’s emperor’s-new-clothes stuff, all over again.

A better analogy to the Beslan crisis would have been, for instance, the 1993 assault by Bill Clinton on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which killed many of the people inside the compound, including innocent children. But if we actually go so far as to compare the facts of Waco and Beslan, then Vladimir Putin comes off looking even worse than he did in our post about Beslan. For that reason, perhaps, it’s not surprising that “John” would fail to do so. Then again, his failure might be attributable to simply russophile ignorance.

There are two key differences between Waco and Beslan.

1. Clinton Waited, Putin Attacked

Bill Clinton’s FBI forces laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco for a period of more than 50 days (nearly two months) before they attacked. They tried everything they could think of to negotiate with the terrorist group and save the innocent children inside before taking action.

Vladimir Putin, by contrast, waited only two days before attacking the Beslan compound. His government proved itself totally incompetent at the basic task of communicating with the terrorists, much less in protecting the interests of those inside the school. And this should not be surprising to anyone, given that Putin’s only strategy for dealing with Chechnya has been to kill its people (who are supposedly Russian citizens) “in their outhouses.”

2. Clinton Investigated, Putin Covered Up

After Waco turned ugly, Bill Clinton appointed an independent counsel, John Danforth, to investigate the Waco tragedy and issue a public report on accountability. Senator Danforth was a Republican, a member of Clinton’s opposition party, so nobody could question his objectivity, and he was given full power to explore all leads in his investigation, as well as the financial resources with which to do so. The Danforth report concludes that the Branch Davidians themselves set the fire which killed so many of their members.

Vladimir Putin, by contrast, has steadfastly refused to conduct any kind of genuine independent public investigation of the Beslan events, much less to place such an investigation in the hands of a rival like Grigori Yavlinsky, and thrust the matter into the backrooms of his rubber-stamp legislature. That investigation has been exposed as a pure sham. As Wikipedia states:

At a press conference with foreign journalists on September 6, 2004, Vladimir Putin rejected the prospect of an open public inquiry, but cautiously agreed with an idea of a parliamentary investigation led by the Duma. He warned, though, that the latter might turn into a “political show”. On November 27, 2004, the Interfax news agency reported Alexander Torshin, head of the parliamentary commission, as saying that there was evidence of involvement by a foreign intelligence agency. He declined to say which, but said “when we gather enough convincing evidence, we won’t hide it”. On December 26, 2005, Russian prosecutors investigating the siege on the school claimed that authorities had made no mistakes. Family members of the victims of the attacks have claimed the security forces of incompetence, and have demanded that authorities be held accountable. On August 28, 2006, Yuri Savelyev, an MP and member of the official parliamentary inquiry panel, publicized his report proving that Russian forces deliberately stormed the school on 4 September 2004 using maximum force. According to Savelyev, a weapons and explosives expert, special forces fired rocket-propelled grenades without warning as a prelude to an armed assault, ignoring apparently ongoing negotiations. On December 22, 2006, a Russian parliamentary commission ended their investigation into the incident. They concluded that the number of gunmen who stormed the school was 32 and laid much blame on the North Ossetian police; the commission stated that there was a severe shortcoming in security measures. Also, the commission said the attack on the school was premeditated by Chechen rebels including Aslan Maskhadov. In a controversial move, the commission claimed that the shoot-out that ended the siege was instigated by the hostage takers, not security forces. Ella Kesayeva, who leads the Voice of Beslan support group, suggested that the report was meant as a signal that Putin and his circle were no longer interested in having a discussion about the details. “We personally didn’t expect anything different from Torshin,” she said. In February 2007, two members of the commission broke their silence to denounce the investigation as a cover-up, and the Kremlin’s official version of events as fabricated. The pair said they refused to sign off on the report because of their misgivings.

Since then, as we reported in our post about Beslan, evidence continues to mount that the Russian government itself was the primary cause of the fatalities at Beslan. Putin’s dogged refusal to allow an independent public investigation, combined with the obviously rash manner in which his forces attacked the school, are clear indications that he has something to hide. In a courageous and heroic manner, the parents of the children who perished in Beslan are organizing and demanding that justice be served, and it is to be expected that they will be met with dishonest propaganda such as that which “John” is repeating on behalf the malignant little troll who dwells within the high blood-red walls of the Moscow Kremlin.

This is the way it has always been in Russia. Instead of actively looking to expose mistakes and reform, Russia’s response to failure is inevitably denial and cover-up. Instead of trying to root out Putin’s mistakes at Beslan, these russophile scum, more dangerous to Russia by far than any foreign enemy, argue instead that since George Bush has also made mistakes Russian errors should be ignored. Because of this, Russia goes on repeating the same mistakes over and over again (for instance, electing a KGB spy to be president) while America learns from its mistakes, reforms and grows stronger. In less than a century, Russian society has collapsed not once but four different times (Tsar Nikolai, Kerensky, Lenin and Yeltsin) while America has maintained the world’s oldest continuously effective constitutional democracy.

To be sure, the analogy between Waco and Beslan isn’t perfect. There was nobody inside the Waco compound except the extremist community; they were not taken hostage by interloping extremists from outside. But if the Kremlin thought it could save the hostages at Beslan by acting as it did, and that its action was justified because there were hostage-takers, nobody can now doubt that it was literally dead wrong. Yet it hasn’t apologized, much less reformed. And Waco shows that incidents like these can erupt not only from the actions of aggressive terrorists but also organically, and therefore government action must be more sophisticated than simple blunt trauma in attempting to deal with them. Sophistication begins with introspection, something it’s clear the Kremlin cannot even contemplate.

Indeed, Vladimir Putin’s thug-like Kremlin is capable of nothing besides blunt trauma and, as Beslan and Dubrovka clearly show, it can’t even do blunt trauma well. It’s hard to imagine how anything the terrorists might have done could have caused the two incidents to end more horrifically for the people of Russian than they did when the Kremlin became active. America has not had one single incident of domestic terrorism since 9/11, yet the American people still crush George Bush with wickedly unfavorable reviews in the polls. Meanwhile, the pathologically cowardly people of Russia douse Vladimir Putin with maniacal praise, encouraging him to do more of the same.

And so it goes in Russia.

Annals of Beslan

As much Putin’s handiwork as Basayev’s?

The Oman Observer reports:

Previously unseen film [LR: Watch the video here] proves that the bloody end to the 2004 Beslan siege was caused by security forces firing on a school crammed with hostages, not by blasts from within, a victim support group says. The Beslan Mothers’ Committee says the footage disproves the official version that the detonation of a boobytrap device planted by Chechen separatists inside the building caused the carnage at School No 1, in the southern Russian town of Beslan.

Some 333 victims, half of them children, were killed in the siege, which ended in chaos when security forces stormed the school gymnasium to free more than 1,000 children and parents held captive for three days. Committee head Susanna Dudiyeva said the video supports her conviction that security forces fired two grenade launcher rounds on the sports hall, igniting a fire that quickly engulfed the building.

“Why did they fire where there were children, on the sports hall?” Dudiyeva said to reporters after the film was shown at a local cultural centre this week. Investigators have yet to deliver a final report on modern Russia’s most harrowing hostage tragedy. Relatives of the dead say the videotape, received anonymously by post, supports their conviction that there has been a cover-up. “The prosecutor’s office rejects or ignores all our inquiries and insists that only the terrorists are to blame for what happened,” said Dudiyeva.

“We do not agree with that. We keep finding new evidence and we intend to prove to the prosecutor’s office what really happened.” Nobody answered a telephone call seeking comment yesterday from the Prosecutor General’s press office. Officials have said the more than 30 militants who seized the school on September 1, 2004, the first day of the academic year, had been determined to cause massive loss of life.

Many male hostages were executed, ruling out a negotiated solution. Only one captor survived, Nurpashi Kulayev, who was jailed last year for life for his part in the siege. The film, apparently shot by an investigator on a hand-held camera with the time and date shown on the screen, gives a graphic timeline of events on September 3, as the three-day hostage crisis descends into bloody chaos.

In one scene shot at lunchtime, escaping children run into the arms of civilian and military rescuers and beg for water. Then, at 3:08 pm, there are two loud blasts and sustained automatic gunfire. A large cloud of smoke can be seen rising outside the school building. At 5:49 pm, after the crisis is over, investigators examine some of the boobytrap devices that did not go off, lying on a table in a small room.

They are made of plastic bottles filled with ball bearings. One voice is heard saying: “They said there were two explosions, a hole in the wall and then they started running. “The hole in the wall is not from this (kind of) explosion. Apparently someone fired,” the voice continues, adding that many victims bore no sign of shrapnel wounds.

Video links from the Pravda Beslana website as to what occurred at Beslan during the tragedy can be accessed here (if you don’t speak Russian you can just click the links, they all lead to videos).

Beslan Mothers Sue Kremlin for Killing their Children


The Moscow Times reports:

Relatives of children killed in the 2004 Beslan attack have filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights accusing the government of failing to properly investigate the massacre that killed 330 people.

Ella Kesayeva, head of the Voice of Beslan group, said late Wednesday that 89 people had signed a lawsuit filed to the Strasbourg court. The application says Russian authorities violated human rights treaties by denying victims’ relatives the right to an objective investigation of the case.

Meanwhile, a court in Kabardino-Balkariya charged two police officers with negligence Wednesday in connection with the attack. The officers, Mukhazhir Yevloyev and Akhmed Kotiyev, are accused of failing to prevent the attackers from setting up their training and staging camp in Ingushetia.

Annals of the Beslan Coverup

Robert Amsterdam on the Beslan coverup (if Estonia moves a monument, Russians want blood; if Russian police kill Russian children with gross negligence, they get amnesty and Russians meekly approve):

Yesterday a local court in Beslan, Russia, granted amnesty to three policemen who had stood trial for criminal negligence in their handling of the 2004 school hostage crisis, opening up old wounds of what is indisputably the most reprehensible terrorist act in contemporary Russian history.

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A woman mourns at the memorial wall dedicated to the victims of the School No. 1 hostage crisis in Beslan

Women who lost relatives in Beslan rioted in court after amnesty was given

The verdict was met with outrage by victims’ groups, who allege a government cover up in the botched rescue attempt. Reports indicate that about 25 women who lost their children and relatives in the crisis erupted into a small riot, smashing courtroom windows, overturning furniture, and tearing down a Federation flag. Many observers were furious over the irregular procedures of the trial:

“The victims’ patience has run out. We think the justice system … is forcing us to take such steps because they have no interest in uncovering the truth about the Beslan tragedy,” said one of the women, Susanna Dudiyeva. … Dudiyeva, who lost a child in the siege and is one of the leaders of the Beslan Mothers campaign group, said the trial of the three policemen had been a whitewash designed to protect their superiors from blame.

She said her group did not recognise the court’s ruling because it was not made in the courtroom and the defendants were not present. “The trial should carry on until its conclusion, with the accused present,” she said.

“All the witnesses should be heard to determine the degree of guilt of each of them, and to find out all the reasons for this crime and all the reasons for this tragedy, to extract lessons from all of this.”

It is understandable that the Russian government may prefer to have this tragedy simply be forgotten – like the Kursk and the Nord Ost theatre stand-off, the president performs extremely poorly during times of crisis. So while the country’s main television stations played Brazilian soap operas and the movie “Die Hard” during the bloodiest sequences of the battle for the school, and spread considerable disinformation during the brief news reports (including lies about the number of hostages, the identity of the terrorists, and details about the rescue effort), the president took a little more than an entire day and a half to address the nation after the conclusion of the tragedy. The government’s handling of the Beslan crisis exhibited all of the traits that we would come to know so well over the years in dozens of circumstances – secrecy, opacity, dishonesty, and opportunism. The president used the opportunity to rail against Russia’s “weakness” as the cause of the Beslan tragedy, fondly invoking the authoritarian benefits and imposed ideological unity of the Soviet Union. Here’s an excerpt of the speech he gave:

Russia has lived through many tragic events and terrible ordeals over the course of its history. Today, we live in a time that follows the collapse of a vast and great state, a state that, unfortunately, proved unable to survive in a rapidly changing world. But despite all the difficulties, we were able to preserve the core of what was once the vast Soviet Union, and we named this new country the Russian Federation.

We all hoped for change, change for the better. But many of the changes that took place in our lives found us unprepared. Why ?

We are living at a time of an economy in transition, of a political system that does not yet correspond to the state and level of our society’s development.

We are living through a time when internal conflicts and interethnic divisions that were once firmly suppressed by the ruling ideology have now flared up.

We stopped paying the required attention to defence and security issues and we allowed corruption to undermine our judicial and law enforcement system.

Furthermore, our country, formerly protected by the most powerful defence system along the length of its external frontiers overnight found itself defenceless both from the east and the west.

It will take many years and billions of roubles to create new, modern and genuinely protected borders.

But even so, we could have been more effective if we had acted professionally and at the right moment.

In general, we need to admit that we did not fully understand the complexity and the dangers of the processes at work in our own country and in the world. In any case, we proved unable to react adequately. We showed ourselves to be weak. And the weak get beaten.

Following this speech, the president’s well-timed proposal to abolish gubernatorial elections and centralize power by appointing the regions’s representatives himself was met with great acclaim by the weary and grief-stricken populace. While most news reports cite the final count of victims around 330 (more than half of which were children), it is impossible to measure the collateral damage of Beslan suffered by the entire population of Russia in terms of their democratic freedoms, and the painfully obvious demonstration that their broadcast news is under tight government control.

Beslan Mothers Beg For Justice

The Moscow Times reports:

North Ossetia’s top judge promised on Thursday a fair hearing into possible misconduct by senior officials in the Beslan hostage crisis after former hostages and their relatives camped out overnight in the republic’s Supreme Court.

Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said a lower court would objectively consider their appeal to investigate officials’ conduct during the 2004 school attack, which killed more than 330 people, more than half of them children.

Last month, Vladikavkaz’s Leninsky District Court ordered the local prosecutor’s office to open an investigation, paving the way for the possible prosecution of former North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov and the former head of the Federal Security Service’s local branch, Valery Andreyev.

But prosecutors — whom Beslan survivors and relatives accuse of ignoring evidence that might incriminate officials — appealed the decision to the republic’s top court. The court on Wednesday sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing, citing procedural violations.

Beslan petitioners from two organizations, the Mothers of Beslan and the Voice of Beslan, refused to leave the Supreme Court in central Vladikavkaz after the ruling, spending the night in the building and demanding to meet with Aguzarov.

Voice of Beslan head Ella Kesayeva said she was glad the judge had met with them for an hour and offered assurances, but she expressed doubt that an investigation would ever be opened.

“We think there will always be a way to stall our pleas,” she said by telephone.

“We think the prosecutor’s office will not open a criminal case because it would require summoning high-ranking officials to court as witnesses, and the prosecutor’s office is acting in the interests of the Kremlin, which is not interested in digging into the Beslan tragedy,” she said.

The republic’s Supreme Court last year convicted the sole known surviving hostage-taker and sentenced him to life in prison. Several local police officers are now on trial on charges of failing to heed warnings of the attack and take action.

But some survivors and their relatives maintain that the officials in charge of running the crisis headquarters botched their duties, significantly increasing the death toll.

Prosecutors have refused to investigate anyone overseeing the operations. They have also maintained that there is no evidence to suggest that explosions inside the school could have been triggered by flame-throwing projectile fired by federal commandos.

Kremlin Accepts No Serious Blame On Beslan

The New York Times reports that, in yet another conclusive bit of evidence that Russia is now the neo-Soviet Union, the Kremlin had decided it played no significant role in murdering hundreds in the Belsan disaster, and chosen to cover itself with a sham parliamentary report. David McDuff translates Marina Litvinovich’s reactions to the sham report from Ezhedevny Zhurnal on A Day at a Time.

A parliamentary commission Friday issued its final report on the worst terrorist act in modern Russian history — the seizure of a public school in Beslan in 2004 — briefly highlighting law enforcement mistakes but placing blame for the hundreds of deaths on the Chechan-led militants alone.

The long-awaited conclusion, read aloud by the commission’s chairman during a session of the parliament’s upper house, ended more than two years of investigation into the incident that shocked Russia and the world. The death toll of 334 included 186 children.

The report suggested a hardening of the Kremlin’s position on one of the most painful public episodes of President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration, brushing aside lingering questions about the events and insisting that authorities, in spite of many well-documented problems, had done an adequate job.

The Kremlin had pledged that the special commission, stacked with politicians loyal to Putin and working almost entirely out of public view, would establish the facts and report the truth.

But the delivery of the report’s summary in a speech did little to satisfy embittered survivors and bereaved families, some of whom labeled it a whitewash meant to shield the Kremlin from responsibility for government negligence and disregard for hostages’ lives.

Copies of the full report were given to the Kremlin and parliamentary leaders, but not released to the public or the news media, making it nearly impossible to evaluate the evidence upon which the commission’s conclusions were based.

More than 1,100 people were taken hostage at Middle School No.1 on Sept. 1, 2004, the first day of the academic year in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia, in southwestern Russia. The terrorists had been sent by Shamil Basayev, the fugitive leader of a group that sought the independence of Chechnya, a small Muslim republic in the Caucasus.

The captors demanded that Russian forces withdraw from Chechen soil, where they have fought two wars against the separatists since 1994.

In his remarks to parliament, the chairman of the special commission, Aleksandr P. Torshin, called some of the terrorists’ requests “in-executable demands.”

In the three-day siege at the school, 333 died, almost all of them after two explosions in the gymnasium, where the hostages were held, led to a chaotic battle. Another hostage, among hundreds injured and hospitalized, died later.

Torshin said the terrorists intentionally detonated bombs among the hostages, starting the last battle to the surprise of Russian negotiators and commanders.

“It has been established that one of the gang members, acting according to the previously developed plan, actuated a homemade explosive device in the gym,” he said.

That statement went beyond previous government descriptions of the blasts, which have typically said that the bombs exploded in an unexplained mishap, perhaps by accident, as many hostages said immediately after the siege.

The evidence for this new claim was not clear. Torshin had said last year that his commission was waiting for forensic evidence and expert examinations of the blast sites. He made no mention of such materials Friday.

Torshin also dismissed as politically motivated the theory, presented last year by a dissenting commission member, that the explosions began when Russian forces fired rockets into the gymnasium.

The evidence for that theory is incomplete and unclear. Torshin suggested it had been circulated by those who “try to blame the federal authorities with attempting an assault, and shift the responsibility on them for the explosion.”

His summary speech, read from a several-page text, offered the only publicly available insights into the report and the commission’s work.

After giving his speech, Torshin said the commission was disbanded, a quiet and unceremonious end to a project once presented as a way to answer the long list of questions about the siege.

Many of those questions remain matters of vigorous dispute, including how many terrorists were involved; whether they had stashed weapons and ammunition in the school before the siege; and whether some of them escaped or were captured and not acknowledged by the Russian government.

Doubts about the government’s management have also persisted. These include troubling questions about the nature and content of negotiations with the terrorists; why firefighters were not prepared to battle a blaze that consumed the gymnasium; and why so few ambulances were available to transport the hundreds of injured victims.

Ella Kesayeva, who leads the Voice of Beslan support group, suggested the report was meant as a signal that Putin and his circle were no longer interested in having a discussion about the details.

“We personally didn’t expect anything different from Torshin,” she said. Kesayeva lost a teenaged son in the siege.

“If he thinks, despite all the evidence and the testimony of hundreds of hostages,” she added, “that the power structures acted correctly, it is his personal opinion and we, the victims, are not interested in it.

“Who stands behind such a report? The ones who are guilty in this tragedy,” Kesayeva said.

On certain points, Torshin’s report did not seem to square with witness accounts.

He said, for example, that the commission concluded that tanks from Russia’s 58th Army did not fire into the school while hostages were in the building, as witnesses and survivors have said. Two journalists for The New York Times also witnessed two T-72 tanks advance on the school that afternoon; at least one of them fired several times.

In a brief series of points near the end of his speech, Torshin did criticize the authorities.

The command post, he said, was not properly trained. He noted that intelligence agencies had not adequately penetrated or gathered timely information about Chechen terrorist groups, which made preventing the attack difficult.

He also criticized the local police, saying they ignored warnings of imminent terrorist attacks and did not have adequate presence on the roads or near the school that day.

And Torshin noted that some of the terrorists had been arrested and charged with other crimes before the school was seized, but had inexplicably been set free.

Each of these findings, while critical on the surface, were in many ways self-evident and already well known. They offered little new insight into the public understanding of the event.

And in a final sign that the commission would tolerate clear mistakes, Torshin made a coldly understated reference to the repeated official insistence during the siege that only 354 hostages were in the school when, in fact, the government knew there were more than 1,100.

“The work on informing the population was not properly organized,” he said, describing statements that the victims have called outright lies.

More on the Beslan Coverup

The Weekly Standard appears to be signaling its intention to take up the Russia cause. First it published a blistering attack on the Kremlin by Anders Aslund and now it offers a lengthy piece by David Satter of the Hoover Institution, the Hudson Institute, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies regarding the Kremlin’s coverup at Beslan. Satter’s most recent book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State (Yale). La Russophobe has already reported on the Dubrovka coverup and the related effort to coverup the Kremlin’s malfeasance at Beslan, as well as a book review showing how the two are linked, but the story continues to unfold. It seems that foreigners are more intersted in justice than the Russians themselves, which tells you something about the idea of Russia as a partner of the West.

ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2004, the children of School Number One in Beslan, a town of 30,000 in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, gathered to go in for the first day of school. Suddenly, the air was filled with machine gun fire. A military truck pulled up and two dozen men with Kalashnikov assault rifles jumped out. Other terrorists appeared out of nowhere. The terrorists herded 1,200 students and parents into the school gymnasium, where they were held for 52 hours before a pitched battle broke out between the terrorists and Russian forces. The fighting led to the deaths of 332 people, including 186 children. It was the worst terrorist act since September 11, 2001.

While it was going on, the Beslan standoff riveted the attention of the world. Once it was over, however, the incident was largely forgotten. The day after the storming of the school, on September 4, bulldozers gathered the debris of the building, including children’s notebooks and the body parts of the victims, and removed it to a garbage dump on the outskirts of town.

The survivors, however, wanted justice, and they were plunged into emotional turmoil as they listened to the version of events propagated by the Russian authorities, who put the blame entirely on the terrorists, exonerated officials of any wrongdoing (many of them were later promoted), and refused to listen to the survivors’ accounts of what they had seen and experienced.

Some of the parents turned to a cult leader to help resurrect their dead children. Others, however, began their own investigation. They were joined by journalists, a commission of the North Ossetian parliament, and, finally, Yuri Saveliev, a member of the federal parliamentary investigative commission. Aided by testimony at the trial of Nurpashi Kulayev, a surviving terrorist, they carefully reconstructed what had happened. The picture they present raises doubts as to whether even today Russia can be considered a civilized country.

In the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy, three questions are uppermost: Could the attack have been prevented? Were the terrorists–Islamic insurgents and supporters of independence for neighboring Chechnya–willing to negotiate? And, Who started the final, fatal battle? The answers to these questions present a chilling portrait of the Russian leadership and its total disregard for human life.

It is now all but certain that the terrorists’ attack on the school could have been prevented. According to internal police documents obtained by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow knew four hours in advance that an attack on a school in Beslan was planned for September 1, 2004. The information came from a man named Arsamikov who had been arrested in the city of Shali in Chechnya. The information, however, was not acted upon.

Equally puzzling, the terrorists trained for weeks without interference in the woods in the republic of Ingushetia, which neighbors North Ossetia, although a bloody terrorist attack less than three months before, on June 21-22, had supposedly put Ingushetia on high alert. The terrorists traveled unimpeded to the school in several vehicles over roads that were supposedly heavily guarded.

Perhaps most unnerving, of the 18 terrorists who were later positively identified, the majority were supposed to have been in prison. The second in command, Vladimir Kho dov, a Ukrain ian convert to Islam, had been arrested in 2003 for a rape committed in 1998, but was immediately let go. He then was involved in two terrorist acts in North Ossetia, a car bombing in Vladi kav kaz in February 2004 and the derailment of a train near his hometown of Elkhotovo in May. Despite this, for a month and a half before the Beslan events, he lived openly in his hometown, spending long hours in the mosque. Other terrorist leaders were wanted criminals of many years’ standing who also moved about freely in their home villages.

Besides these indications that the disaster could have been prevented, there is evidence that the terrorists’ real aim was not to kill the hostages but to negotiate a political settlement of the Chechen conflict. The terrorists demanded that the president of North Ossetia, Alexander Dzasokhov, begin negotiations with them. But the Federal Security Service (FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB) set up a crisis headquarters from which Dzasokhov was excluded, and threatened to arrest him if he tried to go to the school.

Dzasokhov appealed for help to the former president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, a critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and made contact with a representative of the Chechen resistance in London, Akhmed Zakayev. On September 2, Aushev entered the school and left with 26 hostages, 15 children and 11 women. He also brought out a note with demands from Shamil Basayev, the terrorist leader who had organized the attack but was not himself present in Beslan. The existence of the note was concealed from the public. The authorities falsely stated that the terrorists had presented no demands.

In fact, the conditions suggested by Basayev were not unreasonable. While he proposed formal independence for Chechnya in exchange for security for Russia, he also said an independent Chechnya would conclude no military or political agreements directed against Russia, would remain in the ruble zone, and would join the Commonwealth of Independent States. Finally, Basayev said that although the Chechen rebels had played no part in the 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk that had served as the pretext for the start of the Second Chechen War, the rebels would publicly take responsibility for them, an indication that Basayev really believed the bombings had been carried out by the FSB.

At noon on September 3, Zakayev informed President Dzasokhov that Aslan Maskhadov, the former Chech en president, was prepared to come to Beslan to mediate the crisis. Dzasokhov reported Maskhadov’s willingness to come to Beslan to General Vladimir Pronichev, the head of the FSB operation on the ground there. The Russian authorities’ agreement to allow Maskhadov safe passage would have almost certainly ended the crisis because it would have signified implicit Russian recognition of Chechen aspirations. The Russian authorities, however, did not respond to Maskhadov’s proposal. Within an hour, the storming of the school had begun.

Of all the issues connected to Beslan, the most emotional for the survivors was the question of who shot first, provoking the massacre. Survivors testifying at the trial of the surviving terrorist said that the Russians struck first, attacking the school with flamethrowers and grenade launchers. When officials denied that flamethrowers had been used, the survivors presented the court with used tubes from flamethrowers that had been found in the area near the school. The implications of this discovery were harrowing. The flame thrower to which the tubes belonged shoots a capsule that on detonation creates a fireball and a shock wave capable of destroying everything in its path. It is impossible to use the weapon “surgically.”

The version of the Beslan parents was supported by the findings of a commission of the North Ossetian parliament. In a report released on November 29, 2005, the commission concluded that the first explosion was produced by either a flamethrower or grenade launcher fired from outside the building.

The most powerful confirmation, however, came in a report released by Yuri Saveliev, a member of the federal parliamentary investigative commission and a highly regarded expert on the physics of combustion. Saveliev, a Duma deputy, was the only such expert on the commission. Saveliev concluded that the first explosion was the result of a shot from a flame thrower fired from the fifth story of a building near the school at 1:03 P.M. The second explosion came 22 seconds later and was caused by a high explosive fragmentation grenade with a dynamite equivalent of 6.1 kilograms shot from another five story building on the same street. The explosions, according to Saveliev, caused a catastrophic fire and the collapse of the roof of the school gymnasium, which led to the deaths of the majority of the hostages. The order to put out the fire did not come for two hours. As a result, hostages who could have been saved were burned alive.

According to Saveliev, another 106 to 110 hostages died after terrorists moved them from the burning gym to the school’s cafeteria, which came under heavy fire from security forces using flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and tanks. His analysis thus supports the view of human rights activists that at least 80 percent of the hostages were killed by indiscriminate Russian fire.

When Saveliev presented his conclusions to the other members of the parliamentary investigating commission, he was accused by the chairman, Alexander Torshin, of “deliberate falsification.” Saveliev then released his findings independently on August 29 and October 12. The release of the findings of the Torshin commission has been postponed indefinitely.

The evidence that is now available makes it clear that, despite Putin’s promise to protect the host ages, Russian forces attacked the school in Beslan according to classic military doctrine for destroying reinforced objects without the slightest regard for innocent life. This was done although agreement had been reached between the former Chechen president and local Russian political authorities on negotiations that would have ended the crisis. It is also possible that the ease with which the terrorists took over the school was not solely the result of official incompetence. The Russian authorities may have deliberately allowed the terrorists to take over the school in order to have an excuse to destroy them.

The sad reality is that 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the role of the individual in Russia has not changed. He is seen as a means to an end, not an end in himself. This is why the lives of the children of Beslan were written off the moment the school was seized, a fact to keep in mind lest we agree to give Russia carte blanche in its own “neighborhood” or look again into Putin’s eyes and see something we think resembles a soul.


Beslan Censorship Continues Apace: What does the Kremlin have to Hide?

If you know that a majority of Russians feel their government’s handling of the Beslan terrorist disaster contributed to the apalling loss of life rather than preventing it, then you will not be surprised to learn that the Kremlin brutally crushed an attempt to commemorate the disaster in Moscow on the anniversary. However, given this, it probably would surprise you to know that cowardly, lemming-like Russians continue to favor “President” Putin with 70%+ approval ratings (unless, of course, Putin is rigging the polls, which probably wouldn’t surprise you at at all). Reuters reports:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police on Sunday broke up a human rights campaigners’ rally calling on President Vladimir Putin to tell the whole truth about the deaths of more than 300 hostages in the Beslan school siege two years ago. On September 1, 2004 pro-Chechnya rebels seized more than 1,000 children and parents attending a ceremony to mark the start of the school year. Two days later, 333 hostages, more than half of them children, died in a chaotic storming of the school. Commemorating the drama in North Ossetia, Russia held a day of solidarity against terrorism and observed a minute of silence on Sunday, and 333 white balloons symbolizing the souls of the dead hostages flew into the sky in Beslan. A religious service was held at the charred ruins of the school gym where the hostages had been held, and a requiem concert will be held in Beslan in the evening.

Special police dispersed a rally of mourning staged by some 80 human rights activists who gathered in Moscow near the headquarters of the FSB security service. Many human rights activists and some victims’ relatives believe that a botched rescue operation contributed to the deaths and that the authorities have deliberately covered up mistakes made by senior officials overseeing the operation. “Putin and (FSB chief Nikolai) Patrushev must share responsibility for the death of people,” read a poster held by Lev Ponomarev, head of campaigners For Human Rights. “Storming of the school is the authorities’ disgrace,” read another. “The Caucasus war spread the cancer of Nazism across Russia,” read the one held by a woman standing nearby.

The protesters, carrying lit candles and flowers, attempted to approach a stone erected in memory of Soviet-era political prisoners, but police clamped down on them, dragging around two dozens into buses waiting nearby. Many posters were torn down. Rights campaigner Ponomarev was among those detained. Events in Beslan shocked the world and prompted Putin to launch some controversial political reforms, citing the need to face what he described as a “war declared by terrorists on Russia”.

“The massacre of the innocent women and children shocked not only our country but the whole world,” Putin said on Sunday. “This tragedy, the inconsolable grief of the parents who lost their most precious — their children — will remain our common anguish forever.” Prosecutors are still investigating the siege.

The Kremlin Fired the First Shot at Beslan


Radio Free Europe reports that, of course, the Kremlin lied when it said the hostage takers fired off the first explosion in Belsan. In fact, an investigation has shown that it was the Russian side that fired the first explosion and triggered the fire that killed so many children. The unmistakable signature of high-tech weaponry that only the Kremlin’s special forces had available was discovered amid the ruins. Naturally, after the Dubrovka fiasco, this result is hardly a suprise either in terms of the Kremlin’s actions to incite the mass killing or in terms of its willingness to lie about it afterwards. Given the outrage Russians showed agains the terrorists at the time, will they call their own government equally to account, or will they simply wait for the same thing to happen a third time?

The controversy over the events that led to the tragic conclusion of the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis spilled into the public domain yesterday with the publication of a lengthy report on the tragedy that differs sharply from the official line.

Parts of the report, penned by a member of the State Duma commission investigating the siege, were published just days ahead of its second anniversary.

The most stunning allegation made pertains to responsibility for the two blasts that precipitated the bloody end of the siege of School No. 1, which resulted in the deaths of more than 330 people, half of them children.

More than 1,000 hostages were taken at the Beslan school in the early hours of September 1, 2004, by guerrillas demanding an end to the war in nearby Chechnya. A standoff ensued until September 3, when Russian personnel stormed the school after explosions were heard and a blaze broke out in the gymnasium that held most of the hostages.

Familiar Investigator, Different Result

The official line has long been that militants set off the initial explosion and that grenades fired by Russian troops could not have started the blaze. The State Duma’s official investigative commission, headed by deputy speaker Aleksandr Torshin, is expected to release its final report in September.

But the independent investigation of explosives expert Yury Savelyev, a member of Motherland (Rodina), veers sharply from the official explanation. Excerpts of Savelyev’s 700-page report were published yesterday in “Novaya gazeta” and on the website “Pravda-Beslana” (pravdabeslana.ru).

“Pravda-Beslana” editor in chief Marina Litvinovich explained the main findings in an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

“The main conclusion of Savelyev’s report concerns the first explosions in the gymnasium on September 3, which set off of the storming of the school,” Litvinovich said. “In his report, Yury Petrovich Savelyev [says he] found out that the first shots against the gymnasium were made from a certain weapon — the first shot was made from an RPO-A thermobaric flame-thrower, or a similar weapon, and the second shot was made from an RShG-1 rocket-propelled grenade.”

Investigation Turns

Savelyev told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station that his investigation was initially based on the premise that the first two explosions resulted from the hostage takers’ homemade explosives. However, he said the scientific evidence simply did not support that scenario.

He said that in conducting his investigation he found that surviving hostages were talking about explosions in parts of the school other than those referred to by officials.

Savelyev concluded that the authorities decided to storm the school building, but wanted to create the impression they were acting in response to actions taken by the hostage takers. Thus, Savelyev believes, the military may have initiated the bloody conclusion to the siege.

“It is known where the shots were fired from,” Litvinovich said. “The first shot was fired from a five-story building at 37 Shkolny Pereulok, the second shot was fired from 41 Shkolny Pereulok. Those buildings are adjacent to the school. Accordingly, it is also known where the shots were fired at. The first shot was fired at the gymnasium’s attic above the hostages, and the second shot was fired under a gymnasium window. However, it remains unclear who exactly fired the shots, but this question is less important. The more important question is who ordered it.”

Numerous Questions Raised

Savelyev’s report also claims that police in Chechnya learned of the attacks three hours ahead of time but failed to alert law-enforcement officials in North Ossetia.

He also raises the possibility that as many as 60-70 attackers were involved in the three-day siege. Officials have claimed that 32 hostage takers were involved, and that all but one were killed on September 3. The lone survivor among the hostage takers was sentenced to prison earlier this year.

Savelyev’s report has become a lightning rod, drawing prominent supporters and detractors alike.

Stanislav Kesayev, the first deputy chairman of the North Ossetian parliament who headed the republic’s investigation of Beslan, told Ekho Moskvy on August 28 that Savelyev “did a thorough job. He relied on his own knowledge as a weapons specialist and as a mathematician.” Kesayev’s own commission determined that the causes of the first and second explosions were unclear.

And a member of the Beslan Mothers Committee, Ella Kesayeva, told the radio station that Savelyev’s findings are comparable to those of the group’s own independent investigation. She said Beslan Mothers is preparing to submit an appeal to the authorities.

Murat Kuboyev, a Beslan-based journalist, lauded Savelyev’s for making his findings public.

“The Beslan Mothers Committee and the Voice of Beslan hoped very much that Savelyev would in fact make things clear,” Kuboyev said. “We have known for a long time that security services were to blame for killing many of the hostages. It does not matter whether they did it intentionally or unintentionally. But the Prosecutor-General’s Office flatly refuses to listen to the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw it.”

Political Agenda?

However, others have refuted Savelyev’s claims and accused him of playing politics.

Arkady Baskayev, a fellow member of the Duma’s investigative commission, told Ekho Moskvy that Savelyev’s conclusions are based on personal opinions that “do not match the actual events at all.” He said expert examinations were carried out to determine the causes of the initial explosions, and that the scenario Savelyev’s has forwarded was ruled out.

Investigators from the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the North Ossetian police maintain that there was no concrete information about an impending attack.

On August 16, the official death toll resulting from the siege was raised to 332, when one of the victims died of complications resulting from her injuries.

More on Dubrovka and Beslan

Here is a current analysis of the ongoing saga of the Beslan and Dubrovka terrorist attacks by Jeremy Putley, a freelance writer who lives in Yorkshire, England. His previous articles have appeared in the Political Quarterly, The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, openDemocracy, and Prospect. The review highlights the fact that the Kremlin has sought to sweep these outrages under the carpet just as rapidly as it did the Moscow apartment bombings, due obviously to their own culpablity in the events.

The following book review appears in the August Online Review of Books. Its current relevance is that next month the Torshin commission is to publish further findings, arising from its investigation of the September 2004 events at Beslan.

The 2002 Dubrovka and 2004 Beslan Hostage Crises
Author: John B Dunlop
Publisher: ibidem-Verlag

The horrifying 2004 hostage-taking incident at a school in Beslan, Russia, which resulted in the deaths of 330 individuals — including 186 children– is sometimes described as Russia’s 9/11. Beslan and 9/11 were incomparably different. But Beslan was an event of such depravity it must be considered uniquely terrible in its own way.

John Dunlop’s book covers the Beslan events and, in a second section, the October 2002 hostage crisis at the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow. These dramatic events during the presidency of Vladimir Putin both provoked armed responses, and Dr. Dunlop, a senior lecturer at Stanford University, examines the evidence in detail. Dunlop is acknowledged to be a pre-eminent authority on both tragedies. These meticulous and comprehensively annotated — yet dramatically readable– studies have previously been made available on the Internet.

The book provides striking evidence of complicity in both atrocities by the security forces, and a shocking indifference to the fate of innocent hostages. While the chief guilt must obviously remain that of the terrorists, the book amounts to a severe indictment of the conduct and morality of the Russian authorities.

Dunlop’s research has established the following facts, as to Beslan: first, there was credible advance warning of a planned assault on the town of Beslan; but in spite of this, there were no police guarding School No. 1 on the first day of the school year save for one unarmed policewoman– the police who should have been there were apparently bribed to ensure their absence; the terrorists had access to the school premises prior to the attack, since they had hidden weapons and explosives there, and constructed a sniper’s lair on the gymnasium roof; the number of the terrorists is unknown, but was certainly more than those killed– a considerable number escaped after the storming of the school; it is only too probable that the leader of the assault, Ruslan Khuchbarov, alias “The Colonel,” was one of those who got away and is still at large.

There is evidence implicating officials in assisting the seizure of the school. It shows that many of the terrorists had been in prison until just prior to the raid and were released purposely in order to allow them to take part.

The siege ended only after the armed forces, in obedience to orders and in accordance with a deliberate plan, commenced storming the building; the use of flamethrowers and tanks in the assault, carried out while the hostages were still present in the gymnasium, resulted in the collapse of the roof onto the hostages below, killing 160 of them and producing more than half of the hostage fatalities.

In the planning of the federal response, the government had priorities that had little to do with saving the hostages. It seems that the decision to storm the building was taken at the top: that is to say, the decision was presumably that of President Putin himself. Aslan Maskhadov, who as the elected Chechen president was leading a guerrilla war against the federal forces in Chechnya, and who had repeatedly condemned all terrorist action, had volunteered to mediate in order to bring the siege to an end so that the hostages could be saved. The storming of the building which resulted in the loss of so many lives was precipitately initiated with the intention of ensuring that Maskhadov could not carry out his intervention. It follows that, when Putin emphasised on television, “Our chief goal consists, of course, in saving the lives and preserving the health of those who are hostages,” he was not being accurate. His chief goal was to bring the siege to a swift conclusion, and not to try to save lives by entering into negotiations.

Although Putin declared that Russia had been attacked by Al Qaeda, he has not repeated the statement since, perhaps realising that it has little credibility.

One of the terrorists’ demands was the release from prison of some 30 previously captured terrorists. The release of a considerable number of hostages could perhaps have been negotiated by acceding to this request. But the FSB (formerly the KGB), which had been appointed by President Putin to control the federal response, had been ordered to mount an attack on the school in order to bring the siege to an end, and this was what they did.

At the trial of a surviving terrorist, the head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, was summoned to give evidence, but did not attend. Apparently no political figure will resign or be held to account for what happened at Beslan. It seems certain that, first, much could have been achieved by negotiations; and, second, that the storming of the school was virtually certain from the outset to result in children’s deaths. This did not weigh sufficiently in the balance. The lives of innocents do not seem to count for much in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The second section of the book covers the events at the Dubrovka house of culture in Moscow, where the musical Nord-Ost was being performed on the night of 23 October 2002. Forty or more Chechen terrorists invaded the theatre and took hostage some 970 people. The official number of the hostages, who died as a result of the subsequent rescue effort, three nights later, was 129. The actual number was perhaps 204, according to a list of victims’ names published on the internet. The Dubrovka atrocity was a joint venture “involving elements of the Russian special services and also radical Chechen leaders such as Shamil Basaev and Movladi Udugov.” Shared motives were the desire to discredit the moderate Chechen president and commander, Aslan Maskhadov, and to derail the movement towards a negotiated settlement of the war in Chechnya.

At the end of the siege, when the surrounding forces brought matters to a conclusion with the use of a powerful gas, all forty of the hostages were reported as having been killed by the rescuers. There was at least one terrorist, however, whose body was not found among the others. This was Ruslan Elmurzaev, alias Abubakar, who– like “The Colonel” at Beslan– had been in de facto control of events and who escaped at their conclusion. Abubakar was, the evidence suggests, an FSB “plant” and double agent who was rewarded for the success of the operation with his life and, presumably, other consideration. For the operation was indeed successful in the achievement of its secret objectives: negotiations for an end to the conflict did not proceed, Maskhadov was discredited in the eyes of the US government, and the war of attrition in Chechnya continued, to the satisfaction of the siloviki for whom the war was a source of promotions in rank and of lucrative “financial flows.”

The facts are shocking mainly for the apparent criminal involvement of the FSB in an atrocity which it was constitutionally required to combat. Given this evidence, a strong argument could be made that the FSB, under its present director Nikolai Patrushev, appears to be a corrupt and hopelessly compromised body, fit only to be disbanded. Unfortunately, in today’s Russia it seems as if the heirs of evil still occupy positions of power– just as if Nazis had been permitted to remain in positions of power in the post-war period. Thus one must ask, how many years will it be before they are finally gone?

Dunlop’s book is the best available research on two Russian tragedies that have already indelibly scarred this century. In accordance with what has to be recognised as a Russian norm during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, strenuous efforts have been made by the Russian government to keep secret or disguise the details of what really occurred at Beslan and at Dubrovka. For this reason the book is a particularly important record, standing as it does in place of the objective and truthful accounts of the events that should have been produced by properly appointed Russian federal commissions of enquiry. It is essential reading for anyone seeking the truth about these tragedies.

The facts are shocking mainly for the criminal involvement of the FSB in an atrocity which it was constitutionally required to combat. The FSB under its present director Nikolai Patrushev is confirmed, on this evidence, as a corrupt and hopelessly compromised body, fit only to be disbanded. The Russia of today, it must be concluded, is still cursed by remnants of its totalitarian past. The heirs of evil still occupy positions of power – just as if Nazis had been permitted to remain in positions of power in the post-war period. One must ask, how many years will it be before they are finally gone?

Sharapova the Scrooge

According to Forbes magazine, Maria Sharapova had an income last year of $18.2 million, making her the 62nd highest paid celebrity and the wealthiest female athlete in the world.

Guess how much she donated to charity. Come on, La Russophobe dares you. Go on, guess.

You know that Maria comes from humble beginnings in Siberia. You know that her country has an average wage of $300 per month and a declining population suffering from all manner of dire maladies. You know she should be insanely grateful to her adopted home, America, which has afforded her both training and merchandising.

Here’s the answer, provided by a puff piece on Maria from Australia:

When she heard news of the Beslan school massacre last year in which Chechen rebels slaughtered 344 people – most of them children – the Siberian-born Muscovite immediately fashioned black ribbons for her fellow Russians on the women’s tour and auctioned off the Porsche she received as part of her prize for winning the end-of-season WTA Championship title, raising over $US56,000 ($73,700) for the appeal. “Each of us must do what we can do,” she said. Sharapova, it has to be conceded, does more than most. After her Beslan initiative, she took part in a charity exhibition match to help victims of the Florida hurricane, and personally handed over a $US10,000 cheque to the Thai prime minister when she flew into Bangkok 48 hours after the tsunami disaster.” Every individual can have a big impact,” she says. “It is very important, if you get a chance, to help in any way you can. I am fortunate to make a good living, but you never know what can happen tomorrow.”

Let’s see now: $73,700 + $10,000 = $83,700

That’s 0.4% of her income. Of that, only $10,000 was money that actually came out of her own pocket. And not one red cent was donated to America, just played a charity game.

Hey, big spender, spend a little time with me!

Incidentally, the puff piece does not contain one single word about the quality of Maria’s TENNIS playing, due no doubt to the fact that her opening match at the French Open was a near disaster where she only barely managed to stave of defeat to an unseeded American in three closely fought sets.

PS: Now, I ask you, does that picture look completely ridiculous, or what? She says in the article that she doesn’t WANT to be a model, too “boring.” As if, Maria baby, as if.