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FSB tanks fired on Beslan school

The Jamestown Foundation notes that Defense Ministry tanks, under the command of the FSB, fired on Beslan School number one, as the school was being stormed. The revelation was made during the trial of Nurpashi Kulaev, the sole surviving hostage taker.

I have to say, I’m not actually all that surprised at this news. Storming a building of that size when you don’t know exactly what is inside is likely to require some pretty heavy duty firepower. Even though schoolchildren were inside, the military on the ground would have calculated that the risk that children would be hurt by tank fire was outweighed by the need to get into the building as quickly as possible in order to save as many lives as possible.

What did surprise me, though, was this:

Kindeyev said that the tanks were handed over to the FSB’s command because no one from the Defense Ministry, including the Defense Minister himself, has the right to order a tank to fire.

My understanding of just who has responsibility for what in Russia’s maze like security structures is pretty hazy, but I find it more than a little odd that the Defense Ministry has tanks, but doesn’t have the right to order them to fire. Can anybody out there with a better knowledge of the military help me out?


  • I’m betting that the MoD has tanks and the authority to order them to fire on combatants in a wartime situation, but not the authority to order them to fire in a law-enforcement-type hostage situation involving civilians on Russian territory. The same thing would probably be true in the US.

  • The US military takes orders from a civilian (Commander in Chief, El Presidente Bush). In times of war or military action, the US President hands over field control to the US military, and that command extends down the line from general to colonel, etc. I believe this occurs in the form of war orders or some other such term. The military still takes broad orders from the President.

    However, my understanding has always been that the Russian MoD is NOT under civilian control. In fact, I’ve read several articles and journals discussing this, and wondering if the Russian military would ever be under civilian jurisdiction. Still, they must have some way to be issued command and fire orders in a domestic terrorist incident. I’m just a bit surprised it comes from the FSB and not the Putin (or the executive branch of the Russian Government) more directly. Then again, maybe the FSB giving the order amounts to the same thing?

  • As much as it’s tempting to cover for the Russian government simply because of the nature of the Beslan siege, it begs me to wonder why on earth the government would try so hard to hide the information and lie about it on television while it was actually happening. And what about the flamethrowers?

  • At the time of the seige, I don’t think the Russian government was trying to keep information under wraps to cover up anything in particular. I think, more likely, it was a standard Russian reaction to any kind of dramatic incident – to not release any information unless absolutely necessary.

    As for afterwards… a combination of the above, plus a recognition that, with hundreds dead, there was no way the Russian government could come out of this without being savaged by public opinion, whether they had acted competently or not. And given that they didn’t seem to have handled things particularly competently, they have even more incentive not to be particularly forthcoming.

    I don’t think we should look at this as an attempt to cover up anything sinister, though. That would be reading too much into things.

  • Nothing out-of-the-ordinary sinister. Just the Russian government’s habitual non-transparency about such things. For me, that’s sinister enough.

    The problem is that if cover-ups extend to every situation which is handled incompetently by the security services, that’s a whole lot of cover-ups. Not that an American can weigh in on this with any moral authority anymore, what with our secret prisons and all…

    I’m sure you’ve all seen this – – but it’s a good place to learn more (mostly in Russian) about what actually happened down there.

  • If you like, check out this book called Kremlin Rising, which goes into incredible detail about the Russian government from 2000-2004. Some of the most interesting parts are just how far it went to cover up what was happening in Beslan.

  • I’m not sure the US ever really had moral authority to the extent our citizens might like to believe. I always thought an interesting comparison could be made to Beslan and Waco. They are not the same, of course … Waco was a 51-day siege of citizens with suspected criminal activities … and Beslan was a terrorist action against a school. But the responses of the government (both the similarities and differences) as well as the responses of each countries citizens … are very telling.

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