Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 41

Police in Moscow briefly detained a group of protesters picketing the Prosecutor General’s Office building in central Moscow on October 27. Among those detained was Ella Kesaeva, a former co-Chairwoman of the Beslan Mothers’ Committee who heads the Voice of Beslan, which, as Kommersant reported on October 28, is composed of some 50 “more radical former members” of the mothers’ committee. A law enforcement source told Interfax that the protesters had permission to demonstrate—but not outside the Prosecutor General’s Office building. According to Ekho Moskvy radio, three women from Beslan and three women from Moscow who lost relatives in the October 2004 seizure of hostages at the Dubrovka theater were among the protesters. The radio station reported that during their action, the protesters held photographs of their relatives killed at Beslan and Dubrovka, as well as placards condemning the Russian authorities and calling for international experts to investigate the incidents.

On October 25, relatives of those who died in the Dubrovka theater siege teamed up with Beslan mothers and others affected by terrorist attacks, jointly announcing the formation of a new non-governmental organization called Nord Ost (named after the musical that was being performed at the theater when the incident occurred). At a Moscow news conference, the new group issued an appeal calling on President Vladimir Putin to ensure fair investigations into the incidents. “We also want you, the president of the country, to admit your own responsibility for the death of our children, relatives and loved ones and to disclose the entire truth … about Nord Ost,” the appeal stated, the Moscow Times reported on October 26. In addition to Dubrovka and Beslan families, the Nord Ost group includes relatives of victims of the Moscow apartment bombings in September 1999 and the bombings of two planes that took off from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in August 2004.

In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Russian-language service on October 27, Kasaeva said the protest in Moscow that day was aimed at voicing distrust of the official investigation into the Beslan tragedy by the Prosecutor General’s Office. After Beslan mothers met with President Vladimir Putin in early September and complained about the official probe, headed by Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, Putin sent Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov to Beslan. Kolesnikov reported back they he had found no irregularities in Shepel’s probe.

“We want to express with this our distrust in the Prosecutor General’s Office; we are expressing our distrust of Shepel,” Kasaeva told Radio Liberty. “He has had no effect whatsoever. The [Beslan] women traveled to see Putin for the truth, he sent down Kolesnikov, and the results were even worse. There wasn’t any investigation, and there isn’t one now. The testimonial evidence is not taken into account.” Asked why she is not satisfied with the results of the official investigation, Kesaeva replied: “Because they don’t acknowledge the facts as they are. In the words of Kolesnikov, all the actions of the military [at Beslan] were competent. And shooting with Shmels [flame-throwers] – it was all according to the law, and shooting from tanks was according to the law. The children weren’t saved—that was also lawful. Everything they did was pure, everything good, everything O.K.” Were the truth about the incident to come out, she added, “officials at the highest level” would have to be prosecuted.

For his part, Aleksandr Torshin, the deputy Federation Council speaker who is chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating the Beslan tragedy, rejected charges that his commission is deliberately dragging out the probe. “The slowdown is caused by the lack of a 100-percent certainty of our own conclusions,” he told Nezavisimaya gazeta in an interview published on October 27. “Another brake is the lack of the results of the on-site expert examination. Independent experts should have assessed the efficiency of the operation to free the hostages, however we still don’t have this document.”

Meanwhile, Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin claimed on October 26, the third anniversary of the storming of the Dubrovka theater by security forces, that the assault was supposed to have taken place in the hours immediately following the seizure of the theater by Chechen gunmen on October 23, 2002, but that this was made impossible by journalists. “We were ready to start the operation to free the hostages several hours after the seizure of the Theater Center on Dubrovka, Pronin told the “Terrorism and the Electronic Media” international conference held in Gelendjik, Russia, Izvestia reported on October 27. “The ‘Alpha’ [anti-terrorist] group was supposed to come by over-ground and underground routes. However, journalists, who somehow had gotten onto the roof of one of the buildings, saw the movement of the [Alpha] groups and broadcast live: ‘The spetsnaz have arrived. The operation has begun.’ As a result two Alpha [members] received serious wounds and we were forced to discontinue the operation.” According to Pronin, the number of people killed in the storming of the theater would have been far less had it been done immediately following the hostage seizure, because the hostage-takers had not yet had time to wire the theater with explosives and because the hostages became dehydrated and exhausted after three days of captivity—which he said, was the reason that many of them died. Pronin apparently did not mention the fact that nearly all of the 129 hostages killed in the Dubrovka incident died as a result of the gas used by the security forces to subdue the hostage-takers.

Some 300 people gathered at the Dubrovka theater center on October 26 to honor those victims. Along with relatives of those who died in the incident were officials from the Moscow mayor’s office and other city officials, State Duma deputies, a delegation from the North Ossetian government and the Beslan Mothers’ Committee, and relatives of people who died in the 1999 apartment building bombings and the August 2004 airliner bombings, reported. Yabloko party deputy chairman Sergei Mitrokhin noted “not a single official took responsibility for what happened (at Dubrovka) and that is one of the reasons why an analogous tragedy took place two years later in Beslan.”