The “local” vigilantes whose gunfire helped cause the Beslan hostage standoff to explode out of control on September 3 included visitors who were not local at all, according to a respected Chechen journalist who was at the scene as a researcher/producer for a Japanese television network. Rustam Kaliev told Chechnya Weekly in an interview in Moscow last week that the gunmen surrounding the school in North Ossetia included South Ossetians—and that it was precisely these outsiders who opened fire first on that fateful Friday.
Kaliev’s version is far from proven, and in some ways seems inherently implausible. If the undisciplined civilians surrounding the school included South Ossetians, why did no other journalist notice and report on this? Nevertheless, it is known that South Ossetia’s president Eduard Kokoity was in North Ossetia during the hostage crisis; the Russian media have been noticeably incurious about the details of his activities.
Kaliev said that local residents, whose friends and relatives were being held captive in the school and who were keeping vigil outside, told him about the South Ossetians. They were well armed, he said, with AK-47 assault rifles and high-quality sniper rifles. Apparently they were members of South Ossetia’s Muslim minority.
In Kaliev’s view, the presence of the South Ossetians was “advantageous to the federal authorities—it helped them avoid responsibility.” He did not insist that their role had necessarily been agreed with the federals, but suggested that this was the most likely explanation. His theory, which he stressed is only a theory, is that the events of September 3 were not accidental—that the South Ossetian gunmen were being indirectly manipulated or controlled by the Kremlin.
Kaliev also stressed that the presidents of both Ossetias have good relations with each other—and with the Kremlin.
Anna Politkovskaya, the veteran reporter on Chechnya with Novaya gazeta, expressed skepticism about Kaliev’s theory. “Even if there were South Ossetians there,” she told Chechnya Weekly, “their presence probably doesn’t get to the essence of the matter. The hostage situation was so badly handled that it was probably going to spin out of control no matter what happened.”