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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

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" (

"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.


SiberianLight said...

The para third from the end clearly says that this is the view of one member of the investigation, and not the view of the investigators as a whole. So I think it's a little extreme to say that the investingation has shown it was the Russians who fired the first shot.

I don't rule out the fact that they may have done so, but try to provide some slightly more reliable evidence than a rogue parliamentarian.

La Russophobe said...

Thanks for the comment!

I don't think that paragraph states that the investigators as whole had a different view. To the contrary, I think the paragraph says that it's the view of one member of the group that Russia didn't fire the first shot. It's quite possible that this one member is a Kremlin shil, or simply afraid of Kremlin retaliation.

We sincerely doubt that anyone would lie about a conclusion like the Kremlin firing the first shot, because there is a huge amount of personal risk involved. We think Radio Free Europoe feels the same way, and that is why the story is structured as it is, focussing on the claim rather than the contrary evidence. So we think this claim is emminently reliable. Given what happened at the Dubrovka, this charge certainly fits a pattern. Moroever, given the Kremlin's fundamental dishonesty, we don't see how information like this could possibly come to light except by means of a "rogue." The "mainstream" people simply won't do so.

But more important than that, we think that the main point is that the allegation that the Kremlin fired the first shot can't, as you say, be discounted. In the same way, it can't be discounted that the KGB planted the Moscow apartment bombs. This speaks volumes about the credibility and the true nature of those who rule over the Kremlin today and shouldn't be forgotten.

However, rest assured that we will stay on top of this story and provide future developments if/when they become available.