It is not wise to assess the current international situation without taking the strategic reality into account. During the September 3, 2004 hostage taking in Beslan, Russia, resulting in 186 children killed, the major media outlets distanced themselves from the horror by throwing their support behind Aslan Maskhadov’s “moderate Chechens”, who were then backed by London and Washington. One year later, however, Shamil Basayev – the architect of this intentionally bloody operation – has just been proclaimed deputy prime minister of the government in exile. Once more, time has shown that immediate emotions serve more complex interests: the Caspian Sea resources.
One year ago now, on September 1st, 2004, a group of armed men broke into a school in Beslan (North Ossetia) taking children, parents and professors as hostages. At the end of three days of crisis, a series of explosions and a police raid, 376 people were killed, including 172 children. A Chechen military chief, Shamil Basayev, claimed responsibility for the action. Strange as it may seem, far from expressing any compassion for the Russians, the western press brutally blamed President Putin, holding him accountable for the slaughter for having maintained an appalling colonial war in Chechnya and simultaneously planned a blind raid. Some writers went further ahead, accusing Vladimir Putin of having deliberately caused such gory situation to justify new authoritarian measures. . On its side, the Kremlin responded saying that the hostage taking had no relation with the Chechen conflict, which was undergoing normalization, but evidently with the fact that Russia was a target of international terrorism. This version was soon amended when Russian experts hinted that the operation would actually have been prepared by the British service in order to weaken Russia .
Now it is one year later, and still what do we know about that tragedy, the political objectives of its leaders and its consequences?
The Chechen tragedy
To answer these questions, it is necessary to reconstruct the scene first. Chechnya is a member state of the Russian Federation, which suffered two successive wars in only a decade and is still immersed in chaos. . For those with an ethnic vision of Russia, white and orthodox, all boils down to a classic colonial war. On the other hand, for those with a Euro-Asian definition of the Federation, the current problem results from the state collapse during the 1991-1999 period where President Yeltsin hesitated between a war against his own people and a de facto independence. That power vacuum was used by both the armed groups and Islamist preachers for their profit at the same time, according to a scheme comparable to that known by Afghanistan during that same period.
Both points of view can be equally sustained, but it is important to have a good understanding of the ideologies behind them. The ethnic vision is defended by the extreme right-wing in Russia and Chechnya itself, and by the supporters of the “Clash of Civilizations” in the West. The Euro-Asian vision is the one promoted by President Putin, who does not skip an occasion to celebrate the Muslim contribution to the construction of Russia .
Historical analysis sides with the followers of the Euro-Asian vision, as Prof. Francisco Veiga of the University of Barcelona has pointed out . However, Prof. Veiga does not give up the ethnic approach, which may constitute a political approach.
Whatever it is, the Chechen issue is also and probably above all, an international strategic issue: there is an oil pipeline network going through that state, which is crucial for Russian exploitation of the Caspian Sea oil. Consequently, Russia’s rivals and opponents, particularly the United States, are interested in the conflict to go on and even spread all over the Caucasus . The U.S. efforts in that region are visible. The United States has established its servants in Georgia, whose army they control as well as their airspace from the Incirlik base in Turkey . In response, the Russians secretly supported South Ossetia’s separatists in Georgia .
The august 2004 elections
The political process underway has allowed the Russian Federation to organize elections in Chechnya on August 29, 2004. World observers, even those in the Arab League, have unanimously witnessed the fairness of the ballot, while, loyal to itself, the western press has kept denouncing a farce organized by dictator Putin’s apprentice.
- Chirac-Poutin-Schröder meeting in Sochi, on the eve of the hostage taking
The call of the independence movement to boycott the ballot has not succeeded as expected; the participation average reached 79%. General Alkanov – a candidate in favor of the Federation – won the election easily. A bad looser, the western press saw evidence of manipulation in the result. Two days later, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, who have a different view on this matter, traveled to Sochi to congratulate President Putin for having reestablished the democratic institutions in Chechnya.
However, the chaos supporters spared no efforts to frustrate the political process: on August 24, a Tupolev 154 of the Moscow-Sochi Airlines and a Tupolev 134 of the Moscow-Volgograd Airlines exploded in the air, claiming 90 lives. After having investigated the possibility of an accident, Russian authorities admitted that both airliners must have been the targets of attacks. The Al-Islambuli (Kata’ib al-Islambuli) Brigades  claimed responsibility for the action. On August 31, the same organization detonated a bomb in Moscow, across from the Moscow Subway Rizhskaya station, resulting in 10 people dead and 50 wounded. But the most terrible event was yet to come.
The Beslan massacre
On September 1st, 32 armed men and women broke into the Beslan school (North Ossetia, Russia Federation) during the celebrations of “The Knowledge Event”. They took 1300 hostages among students, student’s parents and school staff and concentrated them in the facility gym, where they put a great number of explosives.
- Still of a video taken by the kidnappers inside the school
The security forces surrounded the school while Dr. Leonid Roshal (who had already acted as a go-between during the hostages crises at the Moscow Theater) came to negotiate. However, the kidnappers made no demand; they just refused to feed and give water to the hostages, killing 20 of them every time a member of their group was wounded by the security forces.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin, which did not think the problem was related to the Chechen cause but that it was organized by a foreign power, brought the matter up to the UN Security Council. The latter refused to debate a resolution project and just limited itself to condemn the holding of hostages and the attacks against the airplanes through a communiqué in which it urged the international community to cooperate with the Russian authorities, so that the culprits would be arrested and tried .
The next day, Ingushetia’s former president Ruslan Aushev tried, in turn, to serve as an intermediary and obtained the freedom of some hostages. Children were still without water or food and had to drink their own urine in order to survive. Kidnappers showed themselves particularly insensitive and sarcastic. The chief of the squad declared that he acted by order of military chief Shamil Basáyev, without formulating any demand whatsoever. His game consisted of leaving the situation to deteriorate while the mass media kept arriving in the small city. Unexpectedly, the chief of the squad demanded the presence of several personalities and stated that he would not let the children drink water until President Putin announced Chechnya’s independence on television.
On the third day, the kidnappers authorized the medical service to evacuate the bodies of 21 hostages that had begun to rot due to hot and humid weather. An explosion was then heard and nobody knew whether it was some pupil’s father who had fired from outside the school or, what was more likely, the accidental blow-up of a bomb. The explosion triggered a general shooting amidst which the police launched the assault. The shoot-out and bombs resulted in 376 people killed, 11 Russian soldiers and 32 kidnappers among them.
Only one kidnapper survived, who would be judged. The autopsies revealed that 22 of his comrades-in-arms were drug addicts and died under stress due to lack of drugs. Their ID’s are still uncertain.
Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the action, which was condemned by the Chechen government spokesman in exile, Ahmed Zakaiev.
A few remarks
For the attack in Beslan, Shamil Basayev could not rely on his militant forces. He had to resort to drug addicts, paid with drugs and commanded by various battle-hardened combatants. Basayev does not enjoy any legitimacy at all in Chechnya and has no supporters. He is a military chief with a mercenary career in different conflicts before unsuccessfully trying to be part of Chechnya’s policy-making and eventually return to armed action.
The operation had been devised to end up in slaughter. The squad had placed bombs in the gym, sticking them onto the roofs with surgical tape – such a precarious system that one may wonder how it could last three days. Seemingly, the military commanders of the group had decided to flee, leaving the rest of their comrades to sacrifice, but they were caught after the facts sped up. The squad did not make any demand before the second day came to an end, that is, before the arrival of foreign reporters. The demand they formulated was unrealistic and purely formal. The purpose was, therefore, to create a situation of crisis instead of negotiating anything. .
The hostages holding took place three days after the presidential election in Chechnya and hours after the end of the Russian-German-French summit in Sochi, which had welcomed the political normalization in Chechnya. Such an action had aimed at stopping the political process and international recognition of Vladimir Putin’s action to establish democracy.
While the first anniversary of the Beslan massacre got closer, Shamil Basayev, subjected to an international order of arrest, gave an interview to a U.S. television channel. After that, he was named deputy prime minister of the Chechen government in exile in Washington and London, though that same government had officially condemned the Beslan operation.
That Chechen government in exile is supported by the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, led by former National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, located at the site of the Freedom House , led, in turn, by former CIA director James Woolsey.
Shamil Basáyev said he had recently been in contact with Osama Bin Laden, whom the United States is currently trying to capture in vain.
Zbigniew Brzezinski is known as the U.S. official that personally recruited Osama Bin Laden, and also for having entrusted him with the organization of a series of attacks in Afghanistan aimed at prompting the soviet intervention. In various works and lectures, Brzezinski has not ceased to advocate the dismantling not only of the USSR but of the Russian Federation as well, and to bring his support to all separatist movements so that they become anti-Russian.
What can be inferred from all this
The Beslan operation was not perpetrated by militants but by mercenaries. Its objective, therefore, was not the defense of a cause, either the independence of Chechnya or the establishment of a caliphate. It was part of the “great game” where big powers vie for control of the Caucasus and the resources of the Caspian Sea. Its organizer, Shamil Basayev, is deputy prime minister of a government in exile with contacts in Washington and London. He has all the necessary logistics aid provided by the U.S. government through institutions known to have links with the CIA.
In collaboration with journalists from France, Spain and Great Britain, the European Institute for Political Pluralism undertook an action in London, Paris and Madrid in the spirit of commemorating the tragedy of Beslan.
From September 1st to 3rd, a mobile platform circulated on the main streets of the French, Spanish and British capitals, carrying a transparent 120 cm x 120 cm cube containing a mutilated teddy bear, followed by the inscriptions “DON’T FORGET BESLAN” and “DON’T TOY WITH INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM”.
On September 3rd at 12:00 hours, an act of gathering took place around that symbol in London (Potters field – South Bank – London Bridge), in Paris (Mur de la Paix, avenue de La Motte Piquet, frente a l’École Militaire) and in Madrid (Plaza de La Provincia).
Participants paid tribute there to the memory of the victims of that inhumane action.