Members of the Voice of Belsan human rights group, which represents victims of the September 2004 terrorist act, issued a statement on June 4 demanding that the Prosecutor General’s Office question and launch a criminal case against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in connection with his handling of the terrorist hostage-taking in Beslan and bloody denouement. “In our statement to the Prosecutor General we are asking to investigate the actions of former President Vladimir Putin and question him for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the rejection of negotiations [with the Beslan hostage takers] and the use of tanks, flamethrowers, grenade launchers on the school building [in which the hostages were held],” the Sobkor website quoted Voice of Beslan co-chair Ella Kesaeva as saying. “We are also asking for the filing of criminal charges with respect to former President Vladimir Putin in accordance with a number of articles of the Russian Federation Criminal Code.”
The Voice of Beslan said the reason they asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to question Putin and investigate him for criminal wrongdoing was his interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, published on May 31, in which he defended the actions of the security forces during the Beslan incident. Specifically, Putin was asked whether he could have acted differently in both the Beslan hostage crisis and the Moscow theater siege of October 2002—whether it would have been possible, as the interviewer put it, “to resolve this problem in a different way.” Putin responded: “No. I am certain that if we had tried to resolve it differently, it would all still be continuing. One might have counted on more effective activity, maybe, by our special units, special services, but that we had to stop … these attempts to destabilize the situation in Russia is completely obvious. And any country in the world … the moment it makes concessions to terrorists, in the end it will suffer greater losses than those that occur while carrying out a special operation. In the final analysis, this tears down the state and increases the number of victims.”
According to the Voice of Beslan, Putin, in his comments to Le Monde, essentially took full responsibility for the actions of the special forces during the Beslan crisis and made it clear that he was personally in charge of the entire security operation. “It means that he in fact gave the command to use tanks and flamethrowers,” said Ella Kesaev, who added that the legality of the actions of the security forces during the Beslan crisis has still not been assessed and “that is why no one among those responsible for the deaths of more than 300 innocent civilians has yet been punished.”
The Voice of Beslan charges that in refusing to negotiate with the Beslan hostage takers, the operational headquarters set up by the federal authorities during the crisis violated the articles of the Russian constitution stating that an individual’s rights and freedoms are the highest value and guaranteeing all Russian citizens the right to life. The group also charges that Putin, as commander in chief of the armed forces, allowed indiscriminate weaponry (tanks, flamethrowers and grenade launchers) to be used against Beslan’s School No. 1, where the hostages were held, and also allowed the army to be used in a counter-terrorist operation, which is illegal. The group also claims that Putin’s actions at Beslan amounted to organizing a criminal group for committing crimes, given that the power structures accountable to the president committed crimes by refusing to negotiate with the hostage takers and by using the army unlawfully.
The Voice of Beslan also accuses Putin of using his official position to interfere with the work of investigators. In this they were supported by Tatyana Karpova, head of the group of victims of the Moscow theater siege, Newsru.com reported on June 4. “Beslan completely repeated ‘Nord-Ost’, except that three times more hostages at [the theater on] Dubrovka were killed than terrorists as a result of the special operation there, while in Beslan six times more innocent civilians died than terrorists,” Karpova said. In the Dubrovka siege, 130 hostages died when security forces stormed the theater, most of them from the incapacitating gas employed by the security forces. Forty terrorists were also killed, while nearly 800 hostages were freed. In the Beslan incident, 1,100 people were taken hostage, 331 were killed, more than half of them children, and 172 were wounded.