Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 45

A leaked version of the North Ossetian parliamentary report on the Beslan hostage crisis was much more critical of federal authorities than the summary presented by the inquiry’s chairman, Stanislav Kesaev, to the legislature, victims’ relatives and reporters on November 29, the Moscow Times noted on December 1. The leaked version of the report by Kesaev, who is deputy speaker of North Ossetia’s parliament, was posted on the website of Novaya gazeta. The Kesaev report states, inter alia, that tanks opened fire on Beslan’s School No. 1 at 2 PM on September 3, 2004, while the hostage rescue operation was still going on. Federal officials claim that the shelling took place at 9 PM that day, after the surviving hostages had been taken away from the school. The tank commander who handed over the command of three T-72 tanks in Beslan to the Federal Security Service (FSB) on September 3, Col. Viktor Kindeyev, testified on November 22 that the tanks fired at 2 PM that day. Kindeyev was testifying in the trial of Nurpashi Kulaev, the sole living Beslan hostage-taker to be put on trial (see Chechnya Weekly, November 23).

The Kesaev report also contests claims by Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov that the North Ossetian branches of the Interior Ministry and the FSB had been repeatedly warned in August 2004 of preparations for terrorist attacks in the republic. The report cites FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev as saying at a federal parliamentary hearing last October that the authorities had no prior warning of the attack. The report blames the authorities for failing to intercept the armed terrorist group on its way to Beslan, but does not single out any official or agency. It also criticizes failures in the chain of command at the Beslan crisis headquarters, where seven North Ossetian officials were put in charge of rescue operations by President Vladimir Putin on September 1 several hours after the hostages were seized.

The Kesaev report states that designating as negotiators regional security officials—rather than federal officials like the two deputy FSB directors who were on the scene in Beslan—led the hostage-takers to believe that none of their demands would be met and thus they stopped giving the hostages water. The report also states that the authorities’ insistence that only 354 hostages were being held in the school, when it was clear that the actual number was over 1,000, led to inadequate preparations for the assault on the school and may have resulted in fewer emergency personnel and ambulances being made available, thereby raising the death toll among the hostages. The report also takes issue with the conclusion of federal prosecutors that the explosions in the school’s gym occurred after a bomb rigged by the hostage-takers fell off of a basketball hoop, stating that this assertion was “clearly of a hypothetical nature and allows anyone to draw his own conclusions.” According to the report, witnesses stated that the first explosion blew a hole in the school’s roof, while none of the bombs rigged by the hostage-takers in the gym were capable of doing this.

As the Moscow Times noted, the report concludes that the responses of the FSB, Interior Ministry and Emergency Situations Ministry during the crisis were “unsatisfactory.” The report also warns federal authorities against “excessive globalization of the problem” and downplaying the endemic causes of the Chechen conflict.