Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 34

Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov, meanwhile, accused North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov and the head of the republic’s parliamentary commission investigating the Beslan tragedy, Stanislav Kesaev, of being unwilling to cooperate with federal investigators. During a September 7 press conference in Vladikavkaz, Kolesnikov claimed that Mamsurov—whose children were among the Beslan hostages and who was part of the delegation that met with Putin on September 2—had been summoned for questioning but that neither he nor “a number of other high-ranking officials” had yet been questioned, Itar-Tass reported. “I cannot explain this behavior,” Kolesnikov said. “One is getting the impression that somebody is not interested in learning the truth.” He also claimed that Kesaev had refused to answer investigators’ questions in November 2004 and would be summoned for questioning a second time. “He refuses to answer the investigators’ questions and name his information sources,” Kolesnikov said of Kesaev. “The setting up of a republican parliamentary commission is not an end in itself.” Kesaev, it should be noted, has publicly questioned various aspects of the official version of the Beslan hostage seizure (see Chechnya Weekly, September 7, June 30).

Kommersant on September 8 quoted Kesaev as insisting that he was not refusing to cooperate with federal investigators. “We will certainly talk with the Kolesnikov group because this cooperation suits interests of society—but not until we have found a form of work acceptable for all the sides,” he told the newspaper. “Article 15 of the law on general principles for organizing state power in the Russian Federation subjects says that a deputy is allowed not to disclose information he obtained as a result his official activity. Therefore, I do not wish to cooperate with General Prosecutor’s Office representatives as a witness, but am ready to provide the information.” A spokeswoman for Mamsurov said he had received a letter from the Prosecutor General’s Office inviting him for an interrogation on September 7 at any time of his convenience. “Taymuraz Mamsurov is interested in an objective investigation,” the spokeswoman said. “He came back from Moscow specially for a meeting with the deputy general prosecutor. His airplane landed at [2 PM local time] but Mamsurov did not make it to the prosecutor’s office—Vladimir Kolesnikov had already issued his statement by that time.”

Mamsurov submitted to five hours of questioning by Prosecutor General’s Office investigators on September 9. In an interview with Izvestia published on September 12, he said: “Since the tragedy I have been invited to Moscow just once to attend the Torshin commission [the Russian parliamentary commission investigating Beslan headed by Federation Council vice speaker Aleksandr Torshin]. I gave all my evidence there. Since then no one has been interested in my opinion, including the Prosecutor General’s Office.”

On September 9, North Ossetia’s legislature sent a letter to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov demanding that Kolesnikov apologize for the remarks he made about the local authorities’ inability to solve the Beslan hostage case, RIA Novosti reported. The parliamentary deputies also said that Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel had insultingly reprimanded Kesaev and his republican investigative commission. “We are seeking an unbiased investigation into the causes and circumstances of the terrorist attack…and to determine the fault of officials, irrespective of their positions and previous services to the country,” the letter stated. “However, we believe groundless pressure is unacceptable and goes beyond Russian senior officials’ authority.”

Kesaev went in for questioning by the Vladikavkaz prosecutor’s office on September 12, Interfax reported. “The questioning proceeded normally,” Kesaev told journalists afterwards. “It met all procedural norms and I said everything I wanted to say. I have always said that I am not refusing to cooperate with the Prosecutor General’s Office. I was invited as a witness in, what is most important, that major criminal case [the overall Beslan criminal case], not the Kulaev case. I refused to give testimony in Kulaev’s case. I found it possible to provide the commission with numerous materials. I hope it will help the Prosecutor General’s Office establish the truth.”

The columnist Yulia Latynina suggested in her Moscow Times column published on September 14 that in attacking the North Ossetian authorities, the federal authorities are trying to drive a wedge between them and the Beslan Mothers’ Committee and pressure them to shut the mothers up. “It looks like the Kremlin is now playing off two sides against each other in a simple game,” Latynina wrote. “The new investigators [Kolesnikov, Shepel et al] will be very loyal to the Beslan mothers. At the same time, they will put as much pressure as possible on Mamsurov and his people to get the mothers to shut up. They will drive a wedge between the Beslan mothers and the North Ossetian government.”

Meanwhile, Vadim Rechkalov wrote in Moskovsky komsomolets on September 14 that following the storming of Beslan’s School No. 1 on September 3, 2004, he had managed to talk to an Emergency Situations Ministry (MChS) staffer who had been on the scene. The exchange of fire that led to the assault on the school by security forces began, Rechkalov recalled, when four MChS staffers went into the school to retrieve the bodies of hostages who had been killed when the terrorists first seized the school. Rechkalov quoted the MChS staffer as having told him: “We drove up in a truck, open the doors, opened the sides, showed that they were empty, carried the body of one [hostage taker] onto the steps—they themselves were afraid to take it from an open spot. And then a doctor went with them around the corner, and we remained standing at the fence with our arms in the air. And then shooting started. There was no explosion preceding it. After someone opened fire, the [hostage takers] began to shoot at us. If no one had started shooting, everything would have been okay. We had an understanding with the [hostage takers]. We were absolutely sure we would return.” The MChS staffer told Rechkalov that going to retrieve the bodies “was simply a set-up”—that is, that the security forces used the MChS staffers’ mission to collect bodies as a diversionary tactic for initiating a shootout and then an assault on the school. Two of the MChS staffers were killed in the shooting.