Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bloodbath and a propaganda point

I'm not going to try to say anything profound about the Beslan school massacre. All anything I say will do is to repeat that this is a horror so depraved it's blank, like trying to talk to a fish. What answer can there be to this? Discussing the grim politics that took Russia to this point is superfluous, and anyway the killers can hardly have believed they had any chance of seeing their demands granted. In fact, one of the most sinister facts was the degree to which they didn't seem to care if the Russians made concessions - they gave a phone number out as a contact but switched it off, sent out a video tape that reportedly turned out to be blank. All that was left was the blood. Very likely, they sought out North Ossetia with a view to stimulating an anti-Muslim pogrom; it has been a long standing aim of the Chechen rebels to broaden the war by revolutionising the Muslim republics to each flank, and a new civil war there would serve well. But I'm not sure this is really worth discussing.

The discussion will happen though. Vladimir Putin's "official aide on Chechnya" was translated on the BBC last night as speaking of "contracted gunmen" from abroad being among the killers. A curious statement, this. That English formulation can surely only translate the Russian "kontraktniki", a term for mercenaries hired by the Russian military to do their dirty work in Chechnya. Can they really mean that they were hired to carry out a mission which would involved the near certainty of killing several hundred children and then being hunted down by the Alpha Group? Clearly they are people who will do this, but I'm damn sure they aren't in it for the money. More like the Russians are trying - as if it was necessary - to demonise the Chechens still more. Kathryn Cramer covers this angle with reference to possible mercenary involvement. However the report she links to comes from a Russian "security source" too, perhaps the same one. How they can know that they were mercenaries so quickly, before they can even give accurate casualty figures for the victims, is a mystery.

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