From A World to Win News Service

South Russia School Massacre: Who Is Responsible?

Revolutionary Worker #1253, October 3, 2004, posted at

We received this article from A World to Win News Service.

September 6, 2004. A World to Win News Service. The murder of hundreds of schoolchildren in Belsan in the North Ossetia area of southern Russia was monstrous. As of this writing, the Russian government has given out conflicting claims about the identity of the hostage-takers and their political aims. But enough is clearly known to reveal the enormous guilt of the Russian government and of the various Western governments that have backed President Vladimir Putin in this crime, whether out of complicity or rivalry with Russia's rulers.

The first fact that no one can deny is that the massive killing started when Russian troops stormed the school. According to Le Monde , "Many people in Beslan blame the forces of order and accuse them of provoking the massacre." The authorities had announced that the children's lives were the most important thing and that they had no plans to stage an assault that could endanger them, and then they did exactly that.

Even the Dutch government, which currently holds the European Union presidency, sent its ambassador to demand that Moscow explain "how this tragedy could have happened." The Russian foreign minister angrily called this "blasphemy."

The core unit of Russian troops sent to Beslan was the Alfa brigade of Russia's Special Forces. This elite hit squad is modelled on the U.S. Delta Forces, the British SAS and units of Israel's Mossad. When Chechen rebels seized the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow almost two years ago, the Alfa brigade was sent in. Most of the 129 hostages who died were killed when the security forces flooded the theatre with poison gas. Alfa troops then entered the building from the sewers and shot 18 unconscious female hostage-takers in the head, according to The Guardian. Killing hostages and hostage-takers alike is standard procedure for the Alfa brigade. One way or another, they seem to have done it again in Beslan.

For Putin, the only thing that mattered in Beslan was to assert his authority and power to crush any threat to his regime. No matter who the hostage-takers were, the action was linked to the Russian invasion and occupation of Chechnya, and Putin treated them the same way his troops and police treat Chechens of all stripes, whether guerrilla fighters or ordinary people: by killing them indiscriminately.

This link with the Chechnya war is the second fact no one can deny, and yet it seems as if all the world's political authorities have done so. No major government mentioned Chechnya before, during or after this crisis. Instead, they all shared the attitude expressed by Israel, which pledged increased cooperation with Russia "in the struggle against terrorism carried out by the worldwide Islamic jihad." This is a racist codeword to justify war against the peoples of the Middle East and a big chunk of the third world.

The war in Chechnya is not about religion. Further, regardless of the horror of Beslan, it must be said that acting like Russia is a victim is turning reality completely upside down.

The seizure of the Beslan gymnasium, like the recent bombing of two planes leaving Moscow and a suicide bombing in the Moscow metro, came on the heels of the August presidential elections in Chechnya, an exercise in Russian cynicism and ruthlessness. The last Russian puppet president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, a brute who along with his security chief son terrorized the country, was assassinated last May. The elections brought the Kremlin's candidate, Alu Alkhanov, 74 percent of the vote. The New York Times described the runner-up in the elections as "Moscow's backup candidate in case Alkhanov was killed before election day." BBC reporters who visited polling places where thousands of votes for Alkhanov were reported said they had seen no one there all day. The Times recounted how a Russian journalist demonstrated the fraudulence of the elections by voting four times himself. "I could have voted even more, but I had to file my story," he explained.

The Chechens are one of many nationalities in the Caucasus mountains historically oppressed by Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the small Chechen republic tried to withdraw from the Russian Federation. Russia invaded in 1994, but two years later was forced to withdraw in temporary defeat. Chechnya was given substantial autonomy. Aslan Maskhadov, who had been chief of staff under the Russians, became president. In 1999, faced with a growing independence movement, Putin launched another invasion and overthrew Maskhadov.

Aerial bombardments, raids on villages, death squads, assassinations and widespread torture--to put it briefly, the Russian occupiers have fought much like the U.S. in Iraq. Chechnya's population is less than a million. Some estimate that almost a quarter have been killed during the Russian occupations, and another third turned into refugees.

Writing in The Guardian , a British columnist compared Russia's war in Chechnya to the U.S. in Vietnam. Its policy, he explained, is best explained by a quote from U.S. General William Westmoreland. Asked by a reporter named Neil Sheehan "if he was troubled by the number of Vietnamese civilians killed by indiscriminate bombing and shelling, the general answered, `Yes, Neil, it is a problem, but it does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn't it?'"

The reasons why Russia has not been called to account before world public opinion for its crimes are complex. It could be described as a big-power conspiracy in which the players have conflicting interests. The presidents of France and Germany met with Putin at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi just after the Chechen elections and just before the Beslan crisis and raised no embarrassing questions or criticisms. For these countries, the considerable military strength of this former superpower, which still maintains an enormous nuclear arsenal, makes it a potential key element in developing a rival bloc that could challenge U.S. imperialist efforts to grab up the whole world for itself. After the massacre, French President Chirac's "solidarity with the Russian people" (really with Putin) contrasted sharply with his pointed rebukes to the U.S. for acting similarly in Iraq. The UK and Italy issued similar assurances of continuing respect for the criminal Putin. George Bush called the incident "another grim reminder of the length to which terrorists will go to threaten this civilized world, " in essence supporting Putin's (and Israel's) claim that this whole incident could be put down to Islam.

North Ossetia, the Russian Federation Republic where Beslan is located, is home to one of the biggest Russian military installations in the region and has played a key role in Russian efforts to keep the Caucasus under its control. Its people are considered particularly pro-Russian among the small states stretching from the Caspian to the Black Sea.

Journalists sometimes describe the people of the Caucasus as fearsome, but the big imperialists have long turned this region into a battleground for their conflicting interests. This is the most important factor in the fierceness that has characterized recent conflicts there. In its plan to set up a ring of U.S.-friendly regimes and military bases around Russia's southern flanks, the U.S. has turned Georgia into a key pawn currently in its possession. Russia, in turn, has supported minority nationality attempts to secede from Georgia, including in South Ossetia. Russia has long charged the U.S. with supporting Chechen independence forces. One piece of evidence that would seem to support this is that the UK and U.S. have given asylum to still very politically active ministers in the Maskhadov government overthrown by Putin.

The complex situation among the Chechen resistance forces reflects all this. Russia once considered Maskhadov useful as a potential neo-colonial figure, and the U.S. today apparently has some hopes for him and the forces he represents to serve their interests. Some observers say that Maskhadov's failure to make any headway against intransigent Russian brutality is a factor in creating the political vacuum in which Moslem fundamentalist forces have arisen. It seems that one element that has favored this development is that such forces are seen as not being compromised with the big powers. It is commonly noted that many of Chechnya's current suicide bombers are widows, orphans and other relatives of men tortured and killed by the Russians.

Making this even more complicated is the fact that many in the Chechen independence movement formerly held positions under the Russians, while Russia has spent money freely to buy the loyalty of Chechen feudals and other notables. Many of these men have shifting loyalties. Russian security forces are said to be thoroughly penetrated by Chechen sympathizers and vice versa. Again, this is not unlike the U.S.'s relations with some Islamic forces. Kadyrov, the Russian puppet assassinated in May, died when a bomb blew up under his seat while he was addressing a rally in a stadium. It may have been planted by people in his own security services. In short, the situation is very murky, and no matter which group took the children hostage in Beslan, they themselves might have no idea who they were really working for.

Whatever the conscious goals of these people may have been, it should be clear that the Chechen conflict is not about religion or the kind of "irrational" war on the West that Putin, Sharon and Bush label it. As in other countries in the region and much of the world, both the just struggles of the people and the machinations of the imperialist powers are at work.