Communication Breakdown

ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AP

MEDIATOR: Dzasokhov, above, wanted Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and his spokesman Akhmed Zakayev to negotiate with the terrorists

Russian President Vladimir Putin has steadfastly refused to negotiate with Chechen extremists. But a TIME reconstruction of the events leading up to the slaughter at Beslan's School No. 1 suggests that the Kremlin might have had a chance to defuse the standoff if it had moved quickly to enlist the aid of intermediaries, especially moderate Chechen separatist leaders. Did the authorities miss an opportunity to avoid bloodshed?

One potential mediator was Anna Politkovskaya, a columnist with Moscow's Novaya Gazeta, who in 2002 served as an intermediary during the Moscow theater siege. On her way to Beslan on Sept. 1, the...

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