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7 October, 2004
How The School Was Stormed
President Vladimir Putin was, of course, right when he immediately came out
strongly against a public inquiry into the Beslan tragedy. Neither Stalin
nor Khrushchev nor Brezhnev would ever have let any "parliamentary
commissions" get anywhere near them. But today's authorities are weak, and
constantly make threats, only to retreat again.
Obviously, the Kremlin hoped that the parliamentary commission
under the general leadership of the super-obedient Federation Council would
work on its own in conditions of secrecy, and some two years later publish
some report, shortened for reasons of secrecy, that would go unnoticed by a
society which would most probably have forgotten about Beslan as a result of
new disasters and tragedies.
Our leaders had never considered that Putin's "vertical of
power" was merely a stick poked into a bog.
In Russia today it is practically impossible to keep anything
secret for very long. Local inhabitants and military personnel in Beslan,
having talked to the commission, continue to talk as they did then, in
rather open terms. The information and rumours flow on, and get into print.
The official version of the events of 1-3 September, which right from the
outset was full of inner contradictions and incongruities, is falling apart
before our eyes.
After it became clear that some 90 percent of the hostages were
wounded or killed, the authorities began to claim that in fact no storming
had been prepared, that the Spetsnaz had merely hung about around the school
for three days, and then been compelled to act according to the situation,
hence the casualties - including those among fighters of the FSB "Vympel"
and "Alfa" units. It was stated that the terrorists "shot children in the
back", although no proof of this was ever presented. The nature of the
battle, in which anyone who felt like it could take part, makes it
impossible to determine precisely who was hit "in the back" and who simply
fell in the crossfire. This does not, of course, justify the terrorists,
who exposed children to death and bullets.
More and more proof is emerging that right from the start what
was prepared in Beslan was not a special operation to free the hostages, but
a military operation to destroy the fighters at any price. According to the
official chronology of events, at 2.02 pm on 3 September several explosions
occurred in the school, apparently by accident, and some of the hostages
made their escape. The Ossetian militiamen and "home guard volunteers"
[opolchentsy] began firing, but phone calls to the terrorists continued to
come from the operational command, offering a ceasefire, and only at around
3pm did the Spetsnaz of the FSB launch a storming of the building. And by
3pm on 3 September the operational command was already boldly informing the
news agencies that the school had been taken by the Spetsnaz, and that the
hostages were free. In reality, however, the battle continued for a whole 12
It is worth noting that at 2.17 pm, according to the
chronometric records of the operators of foreign television companies, when
an attempt was apparently made to stop the storming, a barrage from a Mi-24
attack helicopter was launched. The heavy armed helicopter could not have
appeared on the scene so quickly if it had not been prepared for flight at a
definite time, and the crew previously instructed about the location and
order of the battle. Now, according to the testimony of local people, it
emerges that the Mi-24 did not simply launch a barrage, but also carried out
air-strikes around Beslan on 3 September.
The Mi-24 is only able to fly and fire accurately during the
daytime and in good weather. So tanks of the 58th Army, which were used for
point-blank firing, were brought to Beslan, most probably in advance. Anyone
who has seen the footage of the battles in Moscow in 1993 will be able to
imagine what point-blank tank fire in an urban environment is like.
The sacred goal of any antiterrorist operation is to save as
many innocent people as possible. To this end negotiations are conducted,
concessions are made, there are promises to fulfil all the terrorists'
demands, in order to calm and cajole them, and to free as many hostages as
possible. Only when the possibilities for bargaining are completely
exhausted, and the number of hostages substantially reduced, can force be
used, in an attempt to act surgically.
In Beslan the making of concessions and the conducting of
serious negotiations about ending the war in Chechnya - a basic demand of
the invaders - were not attempted. The terrorists were brought to the point
of frenzy, and then, either spontaneously or simply as a result of
disorganization and lack of planning, a military operation to clean out the
school was begun.
According to eyewitnesses (and Russian TV confirms this), the
Spetsnaz used "Shmel'" (Bumblebee) rocket flame throwers with thermobaric
warheads (the RPO-A).
During the storming of Grozny in January 1995, sub-units of the Russian
Chemical Forces (khimvoyska) attached to the assault groups made widespread
and effective use of rocket flamethrowers for the neutralizing of
emplacements and snipers - burning down buildings.
Now the freeing of child hostages is done with flamethrowers. In using the
"Shmel'" the Spetsnaz obviously supposed there was no one left alive in the
building. The chances of saving anyone in a besieged school during the
course of an operation that involved the use of tanks, air power and
flamethrowers were truly small.
Pavel Felgenhauer, commentator for Novaya Gazeta.
A Specialist's Commentary
Lieutenant-colonel Aleksandr Silin (his name has been altered) commanded a
chemical sub-unit whose armoury included infantry rocket flamethrowers (RPO)
code-named "Shmel'" (Bunblebee).
"In the "Shmel'" RPO three kinds of projectiles are used: incendiary - the
same as napalm; smoke, producing a smoke screen that covers an area of more
than 3 kilometres; and thermobaric, creating high temperature and high
pressure which produce a vacuum explosion of great power. By accurately
firing three thermobaric projectiles from a "Shmel'" it is possible to
completely destroy a five-storey building.
I doubt that they could have fired those projectiles at the school. It's
possible that they used a thermobaric projectile, but one of considerably
less power than those that are used with the "Shmel'" flamethrower, like the
RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher, We call that missile a "pig". It
works in the same way as the "Shmel'", only its power is less. A projectile
like that is not used directly in a built up area, as the barrel of the RPG
or RPO gives off a very intense rocket flame, which can kill the person
firing the weapon.
Vyacheslav Izmailov, military commentator for Novaya Gazeta.
Kuvassa Shmel raketinlaukaisin, jonka taistelukärki on termobarinen. Kohteeseen osuessaa se muodostaa sisältämästään hiilivetyliuoksesta aerosolipilven, joka syttyessään aiheuttaa kovan kuumuuden ja paineaallon, ikäänkuin pieni tyhjiöpommi.