Russian apartment bombings

The Russian apartment bombings were a series of explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999, killing more than 300, injuring more than 1000, and spreading a wave of fear across the country. The kidnapping of Gennady Shpigun by Chechen rebels in March 1999, the Invasion of Dagestan in August 1999, together with the September bombings triggered the Second Chechen War.[2][3] Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's handling of the crisis boosted his popularity greatly and helped him attain the presidency within a few months.[4][5]

Russian apartment bombings
Part of the Second Chechen War
Apartment bombing.jpg
LocationBuynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk
Date4–16 September 1999
TargetApartment buildings
Attack type
Time bombings, terrorism
Weaponsexplosives
Deaths367[1]
Injuredmore than 1000
Perpetrators

The blasts hit Buynaksk on 4 September and in Moscow on 9 and 13 September. On 13 September, Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov made an announcement in the Duma about receiving a report that another bombing had just happened in the city of Volgodonsk. A bombing did indeed happen in Volgodonsk, but only three days later, on 16 September. Chechen militants were blamed for the bombings, but denied responsibility, along with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.

A suspicious device resembling those used in the bombings was found and defused in an apartment block in the Russian city of Ryazan on 22 September.[6] Media reported that the local police tested the material on-site using a portable gas analyzer, later identified as "MO-2", and got a positive reading for RDX.[7][8] Further reports claimed that a different explosives detection equipment was actually used, and the detection of RDX was a false positive result caused by contamination.[9][10][11]

On 23 September, Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the inhabitants of Ryazan and ordered the air bombing of Grozny, which marked the beginning of the Second Chechen War.[12] Three FSB agents who had planted the devices at Ryazan were arrested by the local police.[13] On 24 September 1999, head of FSB Nikolay Patrushev announced that the incident in Ryazan had been an anti-terror drill and the device found there contained only sugar.[14]

The official Russian investigation of the Buinaksk bombing was completed in 2000, while the investigation of Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings was completed in 2002. In 2000, seven people were convicted of perpetrating the Buinaksk attack. According to the court ruling on the Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings, which was announced in 2004, the attacks were organised and led by Achemez Gochiyaev, who remains at large. All bombings were ordered by Islamist warlords Ibn Al-Khattab and Abu Omar al-Saif, who have been killed. Five other suspects have been killed and six have been convicted by Russian courts on terrorism-related charges.

Parliament member Yuri Shchekochikhin filed two motions for a parliamentary investigation of the events, but the motions were rejected by the Russian Duma in March 2000. An independent public commission to investigate the bombings was chaired by Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev.[15] The commission was rendered ineffective because of government refusal to respond to its inquiries. Two key members of the Kovalev Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, have since died in apparent assassinations.[16][17] The Commission’s lawyer and investigator Mikhail Trepashkin was arrested and served four years in prison for revealing state secrets.[18] Former agent Alexander Litvinenko, who blamed FSB for the bombings in two books, was poisoned by FSB agents in London in 2006.

According to David Satter, Yuri Felshtinsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Vladimir Pribylovsky, Boris Kagarlitsky and Amy Knight, the bombings were coordinated by the Russian state security services to bring Putin into the presidency.[19][20][21][22][23][24] This view was justified by a number of suspicious events, most notably, the Ryazan incident.[25]

Some experts are critical of that theory, however. Journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan believe that the Ryazan incident was actually a training exercise by the FSB.[26] Former U.S. official Strobe Talbott has pointed out the absence of evidence for the conspiracy theory.[5] Academic Robert Bruce Ware argued that the simplest explanation for the apartment block blasts is that they were indeed perpetrated by Islamist extremists.[27]

BombingsEdit

OverviewEdit

Five apartment bombings took place and at least three attempted bombings were prevented.[28] All bombings had the same "signature", judging from the nature and the volume of the destruction. In each case a powerful explosive was used, and the timers were set to go off at night and inflict the maximum number of civilian casualties.[29][30][31] The explosives were placed to destroy the weakest, most critical elements of the buildings and force the buildings to "collapse like a house of cards".[32] The individuals behind the bombings were able to obtain or manufacture several tons of powerful explosives and deliver them to numerous destinations across Russia.[32][33]

Moscow mallEdit

On 31 August 1999, at 20:00 local time, an explosion took place in "Okhotny Ryad" shopping mall on Manezhnaya Square, Moscow.[34][35] One person was killed, and some 30 to 40 others injured.[36][37][38][39] According to the FSB, the explosion had been caused by a bomb of about 300 grams of explosives.[34] On 2 September 1999, an unknown person called and claimed that the bombing was committed by the nonexistent militant organization "Liberation Army of Dagestan".[40]

Buynaksk, DagestanEdit

On 4 September 1999, at 22:00, a car bomb detonated outside a five-story apartment building in the city of Buynaksk in Dagestan, near the border of Chechnya. The building was housing Russian border guard soldiers and their families.[41] Sixty-four people were killed and 133 were injured in the explosion.[42][1] Another car bomb was found and defused in the same town.[41][43] The defused bomb was in a car containing 2,706 kilograms (5,966 lb) of explosives. It was discovered by local residents in a parking lot surrounded by an army hospital and residential buildings.[44]

Moscow, PechatnikiEdit

 
Bombing at Guryanova Street. One section of the building completely collapsed.

On 9 September 1999, shortly after midnight local time, at 20:00 GMT,[45] a bomb detonated on the ground floor of an apartment building in southeast Moscow (19 Guryanova Street). The explosive power was equivalent to 300–400 kilograms (660–880 lb) of TNT. The nine-story building was destroyed, killing 106 people inside (with early reports giving 93 dead[46]) and injuring 249 others, and damaging 19 nearby buildings.[45] A total of 108 apartments were destroyed during the bombing. An FSB spokesman announced that traces of RDX and TNT were found on items removed from the site of the explosion.[47] Residents said a few minutes before the blast four men were seen speeding away from the building in a car.[48]

Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered the search of 30,000 residential buildings in Moscow for explosives.[49] He took personal control of the investigation of the blast.[33] Putin declared 13 September a day of mourning for the victims of the attacks.[45]

Moscow, Kashirskoye highwayEdit

 
Rescuers digging for survivors after Kashira road bombing.

On 13 September 1999, at 05:00, a large bomb exploded in a basement of an apartment block on Kashirskoye Highway in southern Moscow, about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the place of the last attack. This was the deadliest blast in the chain of bombings (because the house was built with brick), with 119 people killed and 200 injured.[50] The eight-story building was flattened, littering the street with debris and throwing some concrete pieces hundreds of meters away.[46]

Moscow, prevented bombingsEdit

On 13 September, the police found and defused another bomb in an apartment block on Borisovskiye Prudy street in Moscow.[51][52]

Apart from the police measures, citizen patrols helped foil additional bombings in Moscow.[53] According to Irina Svyatenko, a Moscow City Parliament member,[54]

At that time, people just decided to start patrolling their neighborhoods. They did not ask anyone for permission, and there was no government initiative. People just decided that this was needed.

VolgodonskEdit

 
Volgodonsk bomb partially destroyed an apartment block.

A truck bomb exploded on 16 September 1999, outside a nine-story apartment complex in the southern Russian city of Volgodonsk, killing 17 people and injuring 69.[49] The bombing took place at 5:57 am.[55] Surrounding buildings were also damaged. The blast also happened 14 km (9 mi) from a nuclear power plant.[55] Prime Minister Putin signed a decree calling on law enforcement and other agencies to develop plans within three days to protect industry, transportation, communications, food processing centres and nuclear complexes.[55]

Ryazan incidentEdit

At 20:30 on 22 September 1999, Alexei Kartofelnikov, a resident of an apartment building in the city of Ryazan noticed two suspicious men who carried sacks into the basement from a car.[44][56][57] While the license plate indicated that the car was registered in Moscow, a sheet of paper was taped over the last two digits, and the number written on it implied that the car was local.[58]

Kartofelnikov alerted the police, but by the time they arrived the car and the men were gone. The policemen found three sacks of white powder in the basement, each weighing 50 kg (110 lb). A detonator and a timing device were attached to the sacks.[31] The detonator was a 12-gauge shotgun shell filled with powder.[59] The timer was set to 5:30 AM.[31] Yuri Tkachenko, the head of the local bomb squad, disconnected the detonator and the timer. Reportedly, Tkachenko tested the three sacks of white substance with a "MO-2" gas analyser, which detected RDX vapors.[60]

Inhabitants of the apartment building were evacuated.[59] According to David Satter, residents of neighboring buildings fled their homes in terror, to the effect that nearly 30,000 residents spent the night on the street. Police and rescue vehicles converged from different parts of the city. As many as 1,200 local police officers were put on alert, the railroad stations and the airport were surrounded, and roadblocks were set up on highways leaving the city.[60]

At 01:30 on 23 September 1999, explosive engineers of the Ryazan UFSB took a bit of substance from the suspicious-looking sacks to a firing ground located about 1.6 km (1 mi) away from Ryazan for testing.[59][10] During the substance tests at that area they tried to explode it by means of a detonator, which was also made from a shotgun shell, but their efforts failed, the substance was not detonated, and the explosion did not occur.[59][61][62][63][64][65][66] At 05:00, Radio Rossiya reported about the attempted bombing, noting that the bomb was set up to go off at 05:30. In the morning, Ryazan resembled a city under siege. Composite sketches of three suspected terrorists, two men and a woman, were posted everywhere in the city and shown on TV. At 08:00 Russian television reported the attempt to blow out the building in Ryazan and identified the explosive used in the bomb as RDX.[61] Vladimir Rushailo announced later that police prevented a terrorist act. A news report at 16:00 reported that the explosives failed to detonate during their testing outside the city.[59][61][62][63][67][68]

At 19:00, Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the inhabitants of Ryazan, and called for the air bombing of the Chechen capital Grozny in response to the terrorism acts.[31] He said:[69]

If the sacks which proved to contain explosive were noticed, that means there is a positive side to it, if only the fact that the public is reacting correctly to the events taking place in our country today. I'd like ...to thank the public... No panic, no sympathy for the bandits.

On 23 September Natalia Yukhnova, a telephone service employee in Ryazan, tapped into a suspicious phone call to Moscow and overheard the following instruction: "Leave one at a time, there are patrols everywhere".[70][71][72] The called number was traced to a telephone exchange unit serving FSB offices.[73]

When arrested, the detainees produced FSB identification cards. They were soon released on orders from Moscow.[74][8][19][75]

On 24 September, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev announced that it was an exercise that was being carried out to test responses after the earlier blasts.[76][77]

The Ryazan FSB "reacted with fury" and issued a statement saying:[69]

This announcement came as a surprise to us and appeared at the moment when the ...FSB had identified the places of residence in Ryazan of those involved in planting the explosive device and was prepared to detain them.

FSB also issued a public apology about the incident.[76] In a show "Independent Investigation" on NTV, Evgeniy Savostyanov, former director of Moscow and Moscow Oblast regional FSB branch, has criticized the FSB for performing such exercise on residential buildings with inhabitants inside and without notifying local authorities.[78]

Detonator and explosives detection equipment controversyEdit

The position of Russian authorities on the Ryazan incident changed significantly over time. Initially, it was declared by the FSB and federal government to be a real threat. However, after the people who planted the bomb were identified, the official version changed to "security training".[79]

In February 2000, Novaya Gazeta journalist Pavel Voloshin has published an essay What happened in Ryazan: Sugar or Hexogen?, that was partly based on his two-hour long interview with Yuri Tkachenko, the police explosives expert who defused the Ryazan bomb.[80] The essay noted that it's well known that a gas analyser that tested the vapours coming from the sacks indicated the presence of RDX. Tkachenko said that he was completely certain that the instrument was in correct working order. The gas analyser was of world-class quality, cost $20,000, and was maintained by a specialist who worked according to a strict schedule, making frequent prophylactic checks, because the device contained a radioactive source. Meticulous care in the handling of the gas analyser was a necessity because the lives of the bomb squad experts depended on the reliability of their equipment. Speaking of the detonator, Voloshin noted that people who disarmed the device (Tkachenko and his bomb squad) claimed that the detonator attached to the sacks was not a dummy and had been prepared on a professional level.[80][81] The police warrant officer who answered the original call and discovered the bomb insisted that there were no doubts it was a combat situation.[81]

At a press conference on the occasion of the Security Agency Worker’s Day in December 2001, Tkachenko said that a gas analyser has not been used and the detonator was a shotgun shell that couldn't detonate any known explosives.[82]

In March 2000, newspaper Ryazanskiye Vedomosti published an interview with Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Maximov, the head of the investigative section of the Ryazan UFSB. Maximov said that the Ryazan bomb squad was equipped with explosive vapour detector "М-02", but bomb-disposal experts didn't like it and used analytical kit "Exprei", which was more accurate.[9]

In February 2003, Kommersant journalist Olga Allenova has studied the criminal investigation file on the Ryazan incident, obtained by Russian State Duma member Sergei Kovalev. According to the proceedings, a bomb disposal expert who arrived to the scene has twice performed a test which didn't show the presence of explosive particles. The head of the bomb squad Tkachenko, who arrived soon after that, made a test himself and found the RDX. The investigator who questioned Yuri Tkachenko concluded that the detection of RDX was made possible by contamination of Yuri Tkachenko's hands, since the latter worked with explosives containing RDX on the day before the incident without wearing sterile gloves. Another detail concerned the type of a device used to detect the explosives. The report submitted by the Ryazan UFSB claimed that gas analyser "M-02" was used. However, during Tkachenko's questioning it was revealed that he had used the device "Exprel" for the analysis. The investigation has resolved the contradiction in the following way. The bomb squad in Ryazan is equipped with the gas analyser "М-02", but the latter has certain limitations. The device has a high degree of imprecision, and the analysis takes a long time. So, the bomb squad used the device "Exprel", which is more robust, accurate and easy to use. But since they were not supposed to possess that device, the bomb squad has submitted the paperwork which showed that the gas analyser "M-02" had been used.[10]

In March 2000, head of the Ryazan UFSB General Sergeyev appeared on TV show "Independent Investigation" commenting on the device used to detect the RDX. According to Sergeyev, it was packed in a briefcase and acted like a litmus test from school. The substance to be investigated was wiped by a collection paper, which was subsequently sprayed from an aerosol can. A change of the paper color indicated the presence of explosives. Sergeyev explained the false positive result by prior contamination of the lid of the briefcase, on which Tkachenko poured some sugar from the sacks to perform the test.[11]

The case of private Alexei PinyaevEdit

In March 2000, Novaya Gazeta journalist Pavel Voloshin reported the account of Private Alexei P. (later identified as Pinyaev) of the 137th Regiment. Pinyaev guarded a storehouse with weapons and ammunition near the city of Ryazan. Together with a friend, he entered the storehouse to see the weapons. The friends were surprised to see that the storehouse contained sacks with the word "sugar" on them. Pinyaev and his friend were discouraged, but didn't want to leave the storehouse empty-handed. The two paratroopers cut a hole in one of the bags and put some sugar in a plastic bag. They made tea with the sugar, but the taste of the tea was terrible. They became frightened because the substance might turn out to be saltpeter, and brought the plastic bag to a platoon commander. He consulted a sapper, who identified the substance as hexogen.[83]

According to Felshtinsky and Pribylovsky, after the newspaper report FSB officers descended on Pinyayev’s unit, accused them of divulging a state secret and told them, "You guys can't even imagine what serious business you’ve got yourselves tangled up in." The regiment later sued publishers of Novaya Gazeta for insulting the honour of the Russian Army, since there was no Private Alexei Pinyayev in the regiment, according to their statement.[84]

A report aired by ORT in March 2000 and created by journalist Leonid Grozin and operator Dmitry Vishnevoy has accused Novaya Gazeta of lying. According to Grozin and Vishnevoy, there is no storehouse at the test range of the 137th Regiment. Alexei Pinyaev has admitted meeting with Pavel Voloshin, but claimed that he was merely asked to confirm a pre-conceived story.[85]

At an FSB press conference in 2001, Private Pinyayev stated that there was no hexogen in the 137th Airborne Regiment and that he was hospitalised in December 1999 and no longer visited the test range.[82]

Explosives in the apartment bombingsEdit

After the bombing at Guryanova Street on September 9, the Moscow FSB reported that items removed from the scene showed traces of TNT and RDX (or "hexogen").[47][86][87]

Later FSB declared that the explosive used in the bombings was a mixture of aluminium powder, ammonium nitrate, TNT and sugar prepared by the perpetrators in a concrete mixer at a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan, Chechnya.[30][88][89] Also, each bomb contained some plastic explosive used as an explosive booster.[29][30]

RDX is produced in only one factory in Russia, in the city of Perm.[90] According to David Satter, the FSB changed the story about the type of explosive, since it was difficult to explain how huge amounts of RDX disappeared from the closely guarded Perm facility.[90]

According to Satter, all four bombings that occurred had a similar "signature" which indicated that the explosives had been carefully prepared, a mark of skilled specialists. There is also no explanation as to how the terrorists were able to obtain tons of hexogen explosive and transport it to various locations in Russia; hexogen is produced in one plant in Perm Oblast for which the central FSB is responsible for the security. The culprits would also have needed to organise nine explosions (the four that occurred and the five attempted bombings reported by the authorities) in different cities in a two-week period. Satter's estimate for the time required for target plan development, site visits, explosives preparation, renting space at the sites and transporting explosives to the sites was four to four and a half months.[90]

According to Lieutenant General of the FSB Ivan Mironov, the precise composition of the explosive mixture was hard to determine, because no visible traces remain after the aluminium powder is consumed in a blast. Mironov credited Abu Omar with developing the technology of explosions, which was taught to perpetrators in training camps near Serzhen-Yurt and Urus-Martan. According to Mironov, the explosive mixture was relatively easy to produce, and one could find its ingredients almost in an ordinary kitchen.[30]

Controversy over the prevented bombingsEdit

According to Russian newspaper Kommersant and the public relations centre of the FSB, further bombings in Moscow were prevented with the help of a real estate agent who called the police after the second bombing in Moscow and told it about his client, who rented basements in the two buildings which were blown up in Moscow. The client was identified as Achemez Gochiyaev.[91][92][93]

According to Litvinenko, Felshtinsky and Goldfarb, on 13 September 1999, Achemez Gochiyaev called and reported about bombs planted in several locations. Gochiyaev claimed that he was framed by his old acquaintance, an FSB officer who asked him to rent basements "as storage facilities" at four locations where bombs were later found. After the second explosion on Kashirskoe highway Gochiyaev recognized he was set up, called the police and told them about the basements of two other buildings at Borisovskie Prudy and Kopotnya, where the explosives were actually found and explosions averted.[94][95][96]

Ivan Mironov, a lieutenant general of the FSB, has accused Gochiyaev of lying.[30]

Related eventsEdit

Law on Freedom of MovementEdit

In 1993, the Supreme Soviet of Russia adopted the "Law on Freedom of Movement and Freedom of Choice of Residence", which abolished the propiska system. Under the new law, no official authorization to live in a certain place was needed.[97]

Yuri Luzhkov, a mayor of Moscow at the time of the bombings, believed that while the bombings in Moscow were caused by unresolved problems of the 1990s in Russia, authors of that liberal law have torpedoed Moscow. The law made it possible for Chechen terrorists to bring weapons to Moscow and store them there, as well as purchase auto vehicles and provide housing for tens of bandits who had arrived in Moscow. According to Luzhkov, "for three months, after having arrived in Moscow, a terrorist could live wherever he wanted and stay with anyone, without notifying the police", which allowed the criminals to prepare the bombings.[98]

War of DagestanEdit

On 7 August 1999, an Islamist group, led by Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, invaded the Russian republic of Dagestan.

Advanced warnings about the impending bombingsEdit

In July 1999, Russian journalist Aleksandr Zhilin, writing in the Moskovskaya pravda, warned that there would be terrorist attacks in Moscow organised by the government. Using a leaked Kremlin document as evidence, he added that the motive would be to undermine the opponents of the Russian President Boris Yeltsin. These included Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. However, this warning was ignored.[13][99]

According to Amy Knight, "even more significant is the fact that a respected and influential Duma deputy, Konstantin Borovoi, was told on September 9, the day of the first Moscow apartment bombing, that there was to be a terrorist attack in the city. His source was an officer of the Russian military intelligence (GRU). Borovoy transmitted this information to FSB officials serving on Yeltsin's Security Council, but he was ignored."[13][100]

On 13 September 1999, Novaya Gazeta published a report by retired army major Vyacheslav Izmailov, which said that the editorial board of Novaya gazeta had received information about the planned terrorist attacks from its sources in Chechnya. According to the report, terrorist attacks were organized by Ibn Al-Khattab, Shamil Basayev and Shirvani Basayev, who sent groups of terrorists to Dagestan, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov and, possibly, other cities.[101] In a follow-up article published on 20 September 1999, Izmailov revealed that Novaya Gazeta had received the information on 8 September, twelve hours before the bombing on Guryanova street in Moscow, and immediately relayed it to the Chief Directorate Combating Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.[102] According to Izmailov, as many as 10 terrorist attacks have been planned.[102][55]

Announcement of impending Volgodonsk bombings in the Russian DumaEdit

On 13 September, just hours after the second explosion in Moscow, Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov of the Communist Party made an announcement, "I have just received a report. According to information from Rostov-on-Don, an apartment building in the city of Volgodonsk was blown up last night."[103][104][105][106][107] When the Volgodonsk bombing happened on 16 September, Vladimir Zhirinovsky demanded the following day an explanation in the Duma, but Seleznyov turned his microphone off.[103] Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in the Russian Duma: "Remember, Gennadiy Nikolaevich, how you told us that an apartment block has been blown up in Volgodonsk, three days prior to the blast? How should we interpret this? The State Duma knows that the apartment block was destroyed on Monday, and it has indeed been blown up on Thursday [same week]..."[108][109]

Alexander Litvinenko believed that someone had mixed up the order of the blasts, "the usual Kontora mess up". According to Litvinenko, "Moscow-2 was on the 13th and Volgodonsk on 16th, but they got it to the speaker the other way around". Investigator Mikhail Trepashkin confirmed that the man who gave Seleznyov the note was indeed an FSB officer.[110]

In an August 2017 interview with Yuri Dud, Vladimir Zhirinovsky suggested that the FSB had information that a terrorist attack in Volgodonsk was being prepared and relayed that to Seleznyov. However, due to a quite tense atmosphere in Russia at the time, the person responsible for relaying the message made a mistake, and Seleznyov was told that the attack in Volgodonsk had already occurred. Zhirinovsky denied the possibility that the bombing could be perpetrated by the FSB, citing the lack of utility, but claimed that the FSB could know about possible sites of terrorist attacks. That would be major cities, Rostov Oblast was at risk because of its proximity to the Caucasus, and Volgodonsk could be a site of an attack because of its nuclear power plant.[111]

Sealing of all materials by the Russian DumaEdit

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for a parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident.[112][113] In the Duma a pro-Kremlin party Unity, voted to seal all materials related to the Ryazan incident for the next 75 years and forbade an investigation into what happened.[69]

Claims and denials of responsibility for the blastsEdit

On 9 September, an anonymous person, speaking with a Caucasian accent, phoned the Interfax news agency, saying that the blasts in Moscow and Buynaksk were "our response to the bombings of civilians in the villages in Chechnya and Dagestan."[33][114]

On 15 September, an unidentified man, again speaking with a Caucasian accent, called the ITAR-TASS news agency, claiming to represent a group called the Liberation Army of Dagestan. He said that the explosions in Buynaksk and Moscow were carried out by his organisation.[33] According to him, the attacks were a retaliation to the deaths of Muslim women and children during Russian air raids in Dagestan. "We will answer death with death," the caller said.[115] Russian officials from both the Interior Ministry and FSB, at the time, expressed scepticism over the claims and said there is no such organization.[116][117] On 15 September 1999, a Dagestani official also denied the existence of a "Dagestan Liberation Army".[118]

In an interview published in Lidove Noviny on September 9, Shamil Basayev denied responsibility for the bombings and said that it had been the work of Dagestanis. According to Basayev, the bombings were a retribution for the military operation of the Russian Army against "three small villages" in Dagestan.[119][120][116] In subsequent interviews, Basayev said he didn't know who perpetrated the bombings.[121][116]

In a 12 September interview with Associated Press, Ibn al-Khattab said that "From now on they will get our bombs everywhere! Let Russia await our explosions blasting through their cities! I swear we will do it!"[122][123] However, in a subsequent interview on 14 September to the Interfax agency in Grozny, Khattab denied responsibility for the bombings.[123][124]

Chechen Foreign Ministry issued an official statement on 14 September condemning Moscow blasts, and affirming that "Ichkeria stands firmly against terrorism in any manifestation".[124]

Russia's Internal InvestigationsEdit

Criminal investigation and court rulingEdit

In 2000, investigation of the Buynaksk attack was complete and seven people were convicted of the bombing.[125][126][127]

Russia's pre-trial investigation of the Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings was finished in 2002. According to the Russian State Prosecutor office,[89][128] all apartment bombings were executed under command of ethnic Karachay Achemez Gochiyayev and planned by Ibn al-Khattab and Abu Omar al-Saif, Arab militants fighting in Chechnya on the side of Chechen insurgents.[129][130] Al-Khattab and al-Saif were killed during the Second Chechen War. According to investigators, the explosives were prepared at a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan Chechnya, by "mixing aluminium powder, nitre and sugar in a concrete mixer",[131] or by also putting there RDX and TNT.[89] From there they were sent to a food storage facility in Kislovodsk, which was managed by an uncle of one of the terrorists, Yusuf Krymshakhalov. Another conspirator, Ruslan Magayayev, leased a KamAZ truck in which the sacks were stored for two months. After everything was planned, the participants were organised into several groups which then transported the explosives to different cities.

According to investigators, the explosion in Moscow mall on 31 August was committed by another man, Magomed-Zagir Garzhikaev on the orders from Shamil Basayev, according to the FSB.[132]

Court hearings on the Moscow and Volgodonsk attacks were held behind closed doors, and were completed in 2004. The process has produced 90 volumes of proceedings, 5 of which were classified.[125][133]

Court rulingsEdit

According to the court ruling, Al-Khattab paid Gochiyayev $500,000 to carry out the attacks at Guryanova Street, Kashirskoye Highway, and Borisovskiye Prudy, and then helped to hide Gochiyayev and his accomplices in Chechnya.[134][96] In early September 1999, Magayayev, Krymshamkhalov, Batchayev and Dekkushev reloaded the cargo into a Mercedes-Benz 2236[135] trailer and delivered it to Moscow. En route, they were protected from possible complications by an accomplice, Khakim Abayev,[135] who accompanied the trailer in another car. In Moscow they were met by Achemez Gochiyayev, who registered in Hotel Altai under the fake name "Laipanov", and Denis Saitakov. The explosives were left in a warehouse in Ulitsa Krasnodonskaya, which was leased by pseudo-Laipanov (Gochiyayev). The next day, the explosives were delivered in "ZIL-5301" vans to three addresses—Ulitsa Guryanova, Kashirskoye Shosse and Ulitsa Borisovskiye Prudy, where pseudo-Laipanov leased cellars.[135] Gochiyayev supervised the placement of the bombs in the rented cellars. Next followed the explosions at the former two addresses. The explosion at 16 Borisovskiye Prudy was prevented.[134][136][137][138]

According to the court, 4 September Buinaksk bombing was ordered by Al-Khattab.[125][127][134] Reportedly, since the perpetrators have managed to explode only one truck bomb instead of the two, Khattab called it a "botched job" and paid $300,000 for it, which was a part of the sum he originally promised.[139] One of the suspects confessed having loaded the trucks with sacks in Buynaksk, but claimed he did not know what they were intended for.[140]

The explosion in the mall on Manezhnaya Square was the subject of a separate court process held in Moscow in 2009. The court accused Khalid Khuguyev (Russian: Халид Хугуев) and Magumadzir Gadzhikayev (Russian: Магумадзаир Гаджиакаев) of organisation and execution of the 1999 explosions in the Manezhnaya Square mall and in hotel Intourist and sentenced them to 25 years and 15 years of imprisonment, correspondingly.[141]

SentencesEdit

Adam Dekkushev [ru] and Yusuf Krymshakhalov [ru] have both been sentenced to life terms in a special regime colony.[142] Both defendants have pleaded guilty only to some of the charges. For instance, Dekkushev acknowledged that he knew the explosives he transported were to be used for an act of terror. Dekkushev also confirmed Gochiyaev's role in the attacks.[143] Dekkushev was extradited to Russia on 14 April 2002 to stand trial. Krymshakhalov was apprehended and extradicted to Moscow.[134][142] Achemez Gochiyaev, the head of the group that carried out the attacks and allegedly the main organiser, remains a fugitive, and is under an international search warrant.[142] In a statement released in January 2004, the FSB said, "until we arrest Gochiyayev, the case [of the apartment block bombings of 1999] will not be closed."[144][145]

Suspects and accusedEdit

In September 1999, hundreds of Chechen nationals (out of the more than 100,000 permanently living in Moscow) were briefly detained and interrogated in Moscow, as a wave of anti-Chechen sentiments swept the city.[146] However, no Chechens were tried for the Buinaksk, Moscow or Volgodonsk attacks. Rather, it were Dagestani Wahhabis in the case of the Buinaksk bombing, and Karachay Wahhabis in the case of Moscow and Volgodonsk attacks.[125]

According to the official investigation, the following people either delivered explosives, stored them, or harboured other suspects:

Moscow bombingsEdit
Volgodonsk bombingEdit
  • Timur Batchayev (an ethnic Karachai),[158] killed in Georgia in the clash with police during which Krymshakhalov was arrested[89]
  • Zaur Batchayev (an ethnic Karachai)[159] killed in Chechnya in 1999–2000[89]
  • Adam Dekkushev (an ethnic Karachai),[160] arrested in Georgia, threw a grenade at police during the arrest, extradited to Russia and sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2004, after a two-month secret trial held without a jury[161][88]
Buinaksk bombingEdit
  • Isa Zainutdinov (an ethnic Avar)[158] and native of Dagestan,[160] sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2001[162]
  • Alisultan Salikhov (an ethnic Avar)[158] and native of Dagestan,[160] sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2001[162]
  • Magomed Salikhov (an ethnic Avar)[158] and native of Dagestan,[163] arrested in Azerbaijan in November 2004, extradited to Russia, found not guilty on the charge of terrorism by the jury on 24 January 2006; found guilty of participating in an armed force and illegal crossing of the national border,[164] he was retried again on the same charges on 13 November 2006 and again found not guilty, this time on all charges, including the ones he was found guilty of in the first trial.[165] According to Kommersant Salikhov admitted that he made a delivery of paint to Dagestan for Ibn al-Khattab, although he was not sure what was really delivered.[166]
  • Ziyavudin Ziyavudinov (a native of Dagestan),[167] arrested in Kazakhstan, extradited to Russia, sentenced to 24 years in April 2002[168]
  • Abdulkadyr Abdulkadyrov (an ethnic Avar)[158] and native of Dagestan, sentenced to 9 years in March 2001[162]
  • Magomed Magomedov (Sentenced to 9 years in March 2001)[162]
  • Zainutdin Zainutdinov (an ethnic Avar)[158] and native of Dagestan, sentenced to 3 years in March 2001 and immediately released under amnesty[162]
  • Makhach Abdulsamedov (a native of Dagestan, sentenced to 3 years in March 2001 and immediately released under amnesty).[162]

Attempts at an independent investigationEdit

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for a parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident.[112][113]

An independent public commission to investigate the bombings was chaired by Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov.[169] The commission started its work in February 2002. On 5 March Sergei Yushenkov and Duma member Yuli Rybakov flew to London where they met Alexander Litvinenko and Mikhail Trepashkin. After this meeting, Trepashkin began working with the commission.[20]

However, the public commission was rendered ineffective because of government refusal to respond to its inquiries.[170][171][172] Two key members of the Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, both Duma members, have died in apparent assassinations in April 2003 and July 2003, respectively.[173][174] Another member of the commission, Otto Lacis, was assaulted in November 2003[175] and two years later, on 3 November 2005, he died in a hospital after a car accident.[176]

The commission asked lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin to investigate the case. Trepashkin claimed to have found that the basement of one of the bombed buildings was rented by FSB officer Vladimir Romanovich and that the latter was witnessed by several people. Trepashkin also investigated a letter attributed to Achemez Gochiyayev and found that the alleged assistant of Gochiyayev who arranged the delivery of sacks might have been Kapstroi-2000 vice president Alexander Karmishin, a resident of Vyazma.[177]

Trepashkin was unable to bring the alleged evidence to the court because he was arrested in October 2003 (on charges of illegal arms possession) and imprisoned in Nizhny Tagil, just a few days before he was to make his findings public.[178] He was sentenced by a Moscow military closed court to four years imprisonment on a charge of revealing state secrets.[179] Amnesty International issued a statement that "there are serious grounds to believe that Mikhail Trepashkin was arrested and convicted under falsified criminal charges which may be politically motivated, in order to prevent him continuing his investigative and legal work related to the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities".[180]

In a letter to Olga Konskaya, Trepashkin wrote that some time before the bombings, Moscow's Regional Directorate against Organized Crimes (RUOP GUVD) arrested several people for selling the explosive RDX. Following that, Nikolai Patrushev's Directorate of FSB officers came to the GUVD headquarters, captured evidence and ordered the investigators fired. Trepashkin wrote that he learned about the story at a meeting with several RUOP officers in the year 2000. They claimed that their colleagues could present eyewitness accounts in a court. They offered a video tape with evidence against the RDX dealers. Mr Trepashkin did not publicise the meeting fearing for lives of the witnesses and their families.[181][182]

According to Trepashkin, his supervisors and the people from the FSB promised not to arrest him if he left the Kovalev commission and started working together with the FSB "against Alexander Litvinenko".[183]

On 24 March 2000, two days before the presidential elections, NTV Russia featured the Ryazan events of Fall 1999 in the talk show Independent Investigation. The talk with the residents of the Ryazan apartment building along with FSB public relations director Alexander Zdanovich and Ryazan branch head Alexander Sergeyev was filmed few days earlier. On 26 March, Boris Nemtsov voiced his concern over the possible shut-down of NTV for airing the talk.[184] Seven months later, NTV general manager Igor Malashenko [ru] said at the JFK School of Government that Information Minister Mikhail Lesin warned him on several occasions. Malashenko's recollection of Lesin's warning was that by airing the talk show NTV "crossed the line" and that the NTV managers were "outlaws" in the eyes of the Kremlin.[185] According to Alexander Goldfarb, Mr. Malashenko told him that Valentin Yumashev brought a warning from the Kremlin, one day before airing the show, promising in no uncertain terms that the NTV managers "should consider themselves finished" if they went ahead with the broadcast.[186]

Artyom Borovik was among the people who investigated the bombings.[187] He received numerous death threats and died in a suspicious plane crash in March 2000[188] that was regarded by Felshtinsky and Pribylovsky as a probable assassination.[44]

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security service member Alexander Litvinenko, who investigated the bombings, were killed in 2006.[189]

Surviving victims of the Guryanova street bombing asked President Dmitry Medvedev to resume the official investigation in 2008,[190] but it was not resumed.

In a 2017 discussion at the RFE/RL Sergei Kovalyov said: "I think that the Chechen trace was skilfully fabricated. No one from the people who organized the bombings was found, and no one actually was looking for them".[191] He then was asked by Vladimir Kara-Murza if he believes that several key members of his commission, and even Boris Berezovskiy and Boris Nemtsov who "knew quite a few things about the bombings" were killed to prevent the independent investigation. Kovalev responded: "I cannot state with full confidence that the explosions were organized by the authorities. Although it's clear that the explosions were useful for them, useful for future President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, because he had just promised to "waste in the outhouse" (as he said) everyone who had any relation to terrorism. It was politically beneficial for him to scare people with terrorism. That is not proven. But what can be stated with full confidence is this: the investigation of both the Moscow explosions and the so-called "exercises" in Ryazan is trumped up. There can be various possibilities. It seems to me, that Ryazan should have been the next explosion, but I cannot prove that."

According to Elena Pokalova, an expert in security issues, Kovalev's commission "did not produce conclusive evidence to incriminate Russia's security services".[125]

Russian government involvement theoryEdit

According to David Satter, Yuri Felshtinsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Vladimir Pribylovsky and Boris Kagarlitsky, the bombings were a successful coup d'état coordinated by the Russian state security services to win public support for a new full-scale war in Chechnya and to bring Putin to power.[192][21][22][23][58][193][24][194][195] Some of them described the bombings as typical "active measures" practised by the KGB in the past. The war in Chechnya boosted Prime Minister and former FSB Director Vladimir Putin's popularity, and brought the pro-war Unity Party to the State Duma and Putin to the presidency within a few months.

David Satter stated, during his testimony in the United States House of Representatives, that "With Yeltsin and his family facing possible criminal prosecution, however, a plan was put into motion to put in place a successor who would guarantee that Yeltsin and his family would be safe from prosecution and the criminal division of property in the country would not be subject to reexamination. For "Operation Successor" to succeed, however, it was necessary to have a massive provocation. In my view, this provocation was the bombing in September 1999 of the apartment building bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. In the aftermath of these attacks, which claimed 300 lives, a new war was launched against Chechnya. Putin, the newly appointed prime minister who was put in charge of that war, achieved overnight popularity. Yeltsin resigned early. Putin was elected president and his first act was to guarantee Yeltsin immunity from prosecution."[196]

According to reconstruction of the events by Felshtinsky and Pribylovsky,[197]

  • The bombings in Buynaksk were carried out by a team of twelve GRU officers who were sent to Dagestan and supervised by the head of GRU's 14th Directorate General Kostechenko. That version was partly based on a testimony by Aleksey Galkin. The bombing in Buynaksk was conducted by the GRU to avoid an "interagency conflict between the FSB and the Ministry of Defense".
  • In Moscow, Volgodonsk and Ryazan, the attacks were organized by the FSB through a chain of command that included director of the counter-terrorism department General German Ugryumov, FSB operatives Maxim Lazovsky, Vladimir Romanovich, Ramazan Dyshekov and others. Achemez Gochiyayev, Tatyana Korolyeva, and Alexander Karmishin rented warehouses that received shipments of hexogen disguised as sugar and possibly did not know that the explosives were delivered.
  • Adam Dekkushev, Krymshamkhalov, and Timur Batchayev were recruited by FSB agents who presented themselves as "Chechen separatists" to deliver explosives to Volgodonsk and Moscow.
  • Names and the fate of FSB agents who planted the bomb in the city of Ryazan remain unknown.

SupportEdit

Historian Amy Knight wrote that it was "abundantly clear" that the FSB was responsible for carrying out the attacks and that Vladimir Putin's "guilt seems clear," since it was inconceivable that the FSB would have done so without the sanction of Putin, the agency's former director and by then Prime Minister of Russia.[19][198]

David Satter considers the bombings as a political provocation by the Russian secret services that was similar to the burning of the Reichstag.[199]

In 2003, U.S. senator John McCain said that "It was during Mr. Putin's tenure as Prime Minister in 1999 that he launched the Second Chechen War following the Moscow apartment bombings. There remain credible allegations that Russia's FSB had a hand in carrying out these attacks. Mr. Putin ascended to the presidency in 2000 by pointing a finger at the Chechens for committing these crimes, launching a new military campaign in Chechnya, and riding a frenzy of public anger into office."[194]

Former Russian State Security Council chief Alexandr Lebed in his 29 September 1999 interview with Le Figaro said he was almost convinced that the government organised the terrorist acts.[200][201][202] Later Lebed's public relations staff claimed that he was quoted out of the context.[200]

Andrei Illarionov, a former key economic adviser to the Russian president, said that FSB involvement "is not a theory, it is a fact. There is no other element that could have organized the bombings except for the FSB."[203]

A PBS Frontline documentary on Vladimir Putin also mentioned the theory and FSB involvement, citing the quick removal of rubble and bodies from the bombing scenes before any investigation could take place, the discovery of the Ryazan bomb, the deaths of several people who had attempted to investigate the bombings, as well as the defused Ryazan bomb being made of Russian military explosives and detonators.[204][205]

According to former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky, "Litvinenko's accusations are not unfounded. Chechen rebels were incapable of organising a series of bombings without help from high-ranking Moscow officials."[206]

In 2008, British journalist Edward Lucas concluded in his book The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West that "The weight of evidence so far supports the grimmest interpretation: that the attacks were a ruthlessly planned stunt to create a climate of panic and fear in which Putin would quickly become the country's indisputable leader, as indeed he did."[69]

In the September 2009 issue of GQ, veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson wrote about on Putin's role in the Russian apartment bombings, based in part on his interviews with Mikhail Trepashkin[207] The journal owner, Condé Nast, then took extreme measures to prevent an article by Anderson from appearing in the Russian media, both physically and in translation.[208]

In her book Putin's Kleptocracy, historian Karen Dawisha summarized evidence related to the bombings and concluded that "to blow up your own innocent and sleeping people in your capital city is an action almost unthinkable. Yet the evidence that the FSB was at least involved in planting a bomb in Ryazan is incontrovertible."[209]

According to Timothy Snyder, "it seemed possible" that the perpetrators of the apartment bombings were FSB officers.[210]

CriticismEdit

In March 2000, Putin dismissed the allegations of FSB involvement in the bombings as "delirious nonsense." "There are no people in the Russian secret services who would be capable of such crime against their own people. The very allegation is immoral," he said.[211] An FSB spokesman said that "Litvinenko's evidence cannot be taken seriously by those who are investigating the bombings".[206]

According to Strobe Talbott who was a United States Deputy Secretary of State during the events, "there was no evidence to support" the "conspiracy theory, although Russian public opinion did indeed solidify behind Putin in his determination to carry out a swift, decisive counteroffensive."[5] The U.S. believed that leaders of Chechen rebels had "indisputably—and, it seemed, deliberately—brought down the wrath of the Russian armed forces on their people". Therefore, the U.S. has limited its response to the Chechen conflict to urging Russia to follow its obligations under various international treaties to protect civilian life.[5]

According to historian René De La Pedraja, after the kidnapping of a high official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Gennady Shpigun, in March 1999, the ministry developed a plan for a limited military campaign to occupy the northern third of Chechnya up to the Terek River valley. As the FSB chief, Putin strongly supported the Terek River Valley plan. As a prime minister, Putin showed every intention to respond to the Dagestan invasion with the original plan to occupy the northern third of Chechnya, while carrying out the original proposal on an accelerated schedule to provide a timely response to the attack. However, after terrorists perpetrated the apartment bombings, "the usually cool and cautious Putin was swept away in the popular outrage" and decided to approve a much more ambitious campaign to subdue all of Chechnya, while the Russian Army wasn't prepared to pursue that campaign.[3]

According to Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, "From the start, it seemed that the Kremlin was determined to suppress all discussion ... When Alexander Podrabinek, a Russian human rights activist, tried to import copies of Litvinenko's and Felshtinsky's Blowing up Russia in 2003, they were confiscated by the FSB. Trepashkin himself, acting as a lawyer for two relatives of the victims of the blast, was unable to obtain information he requested and was entitled to see by law". However, Soldatov believed that the obstruction might reflect "“paranoia” rather than guilt on the part of the authorities". Consequently, Soldatov argued, that paranoia has produced the very conspiracy theories that the Russian Government intended to eradicate.[212]

Journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in their 2010 book The New Nobility have expressed their conviction that the Ryazan incident had actually been a training exercise.[26] According to the authors, such exercises are typical for Vympel, a unit of the FSB whose mission is to verify the efficacy of counterterrorism measures at sites such as nuclear plants.[26] In authors' opinion, the book Blowing Up Russia by Felshtinsky and Litvinenko contained no new evidence against the FSB, and claims by Trepashkin were highly dubious.[213] Soldatov and Borogan noted that the main point of allegations against the FSB was that Achemez Gochiyaev was an innocent businessman, who was made a scapegoat by the FSB and falsely accused of perpetrating the bombings. While in fact, Gochiyaev was well known in the Russian republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia as a leader of a local islamist group since the mid-1990s. Gochiyaev, Dekkushev and Krymshamkhalov were members of the "Muslim Society No. 3", founded in 1995, which counted more than 500 members by 2001, and was responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s. Soldatov and Borogan have also noted a partial admission of guilt by Dekkushev and Krymshamkhalov during a trial in 2003.[214]

In an interview published on May 18, 2020, Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon asked former FSB officer Igor Strelkov, whether the latter took part in the FSB special operation to blow up the apartment buildings in Russia. Strelkov replied that he doubted that was a special operation at all. He clarified that during the initial stage of the Second Chechen war, he was a part of a group which attempted to capture Achemez Gochiyaev. The effort was for real, and no one in the group had doubts that it was Gochiyaev and his people who blew up the apartment buildings, at least in Volgodonsk. When pressed further with the original question, Strelkov said that, definitely, he did not blow up the blocks of apartments.[215]

American journalist Paul Klebnikov believed that the most likely explanation for the bombings was that they were in fact perpetrated by Chechen militants or Islamic extremists. To support his view, Klebnikov cited past terrorist attacks by Basayev and other Chechen militants, Khattab's links to Osama bin Laden and the brutality demonstrated by Chechen field commanders in their handling of Russian prisoners of war and civilian hostages. On the contrary, Klebnikov found it hard to believe that the bombings were organized by Putin, citing his "unusual dedication to a fixed code of conduct (albeit an authoritarian one)".[216]

According to Robert Bruce Ware, the simplest explanation for the apartment block blasts is that they were perpetrated by Islamist extremists from North Caucasus who sought retribution for the attacks of the Federal forces against the Islamist enclave in the central Dagestan, known as the Islamic Djamaat.[27] Ware points out that that would explain the timing of the attacks, and why there were no attacks after the date on which the insurgents were driven from Dagestan. It would also explain why no Chechen claimed responsibility. Also it would explain Basayev's reference to responsibility of Dagestanis and it would be consistent with the initial vow of Khattab to set off the bombs blasting through Russian cities.[27]

Ware also criticizes an argument that David Satter and Rajan Menon use to support the view of Russian security services responsibility for the bombings — that the apartment block explosions involved hexogen, which is a highly controlled substance in Russia and is extraordinarily difficult to obtain. According to Ware, that's not the case, as sizable amounts of hexogen (as well as other weaponry) were readily available in Dagestan. As a proof, Ware cites the police reports of the program for voluntary surrender of arms in Dagestan which ran for a couple of months in 2003 and revealed large quantities of hexogen and ammonite.[27]

Max Abrahms, an academic who is critical of the efficacy of terrorism in general, compared the allegations of Russian government involvement in the bombings to false flag conspiracy theories such as 9/11 conspiracy theories and claims that the Algerian government co-opted the notoriously violent Armed Islamic Group, emphasizing that such alternative explanations for terrorist atrocities are commonplace but typically not predicated on specific evidence. Instead, conspiracy theorists recognize the counterproductive effects of terrorism and conclude that the actual perpetrators must be the prime beneficiaries of terrorist attacks.[217]

According to Abrahms, the case of Russian apartment bombings supports his theory that such attacks were always counterproductive for the perpetrators. He argued that the bombings were detrimental for the self-determination of Chechnya. He noted that the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria has achieved a de facto independence from Russia after the Khasavyurt Accord, with two thirds of Russian citizens favoring the separation of the breakaway republic. However, the public opinion in Russia has changed dramatically after the bombings. Most Russians started "baying for blood" and strongly supporting the war with Chechnya that became inevitable and led to the loss of the independence as a result of the bombings.[218]

Political scientist Ronald R. Pope in his review of David Satter's book Darkness at Dawn cited Kirill Pankratov's criticism, published as a contribution to Johnson's Russia List. Regarding the apartment bombings, Pankratov argued that the Russian authorities did not need an additional justification to wage a war against Chechnya, in view of high-profile kidnappings and the invasion of Dagestan. One of his other arguments was that the theory of FSB responsibility for the bombings implied that it had been able to keep the lid on the operation much more effectively than the FSB had been able to execute it.[219][220]

Political scientist Brian Taylor believes that there's too little evidence to decide which version of the events is correct, as the available evidence is fragmentary and controversial.[221]

Taylor identifies several reasons to doubt the conspiracy version. First, while the bombings did propel Putin to power, by itself it's not the evidence that this was the goal of the attacks. Second, there was a casus belli even without the bombings—namely, the invasion of Dagestan and multiple kidnappings in the region in the preceding years. Third, if the goal of the bombings was to justify a new war, one or two bombings in Moscow would be more than adequate. Any subsequent bombings would be potentially dangerous, because they would increase the risk to expose the conspiracy. Fourth, the conspiracy version implies that a plot involving multiple players in and out of government (and presumably a large number of FSB operatives) could be kept secret, which seems dubious.[221]

According to Taylor, the most obvious version—that the attacks were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists—could well be correct. The major problem with it is the Ryazan incident. However, realizing the peculiarities of that episode does not necessarily lead to a conspiracy. It's plausible that FSB "simulated" an attack in Ryazan in order to claim credit for "uncovering" it; however the plot was foiled by vigilant local denizens and law enforcement personnel. The "training exercise" justification was improvised after the plot failed.[221]

Russian politician Maxim Katz in a video devoted to criticism of Vladimir Putin's early political career has also criticized the conspiracy theory approach to the apartment bombings. Katz finds the Ryazan incident quite strange indeed, but believes there are too many inconsistencies in the conspiracy version of the events. In particular, the detonator was not powerful enough to blow up such amount of explosives. The sacks themselves failed to explode at the testing range. The gas analyzer used by the sappers to detect RDX was unsuitable to perform such an analysis. Katz believes that a much more trustworthy explanation is that the FSB intended to prevent a fake terrorist attack, in order to boost the prestige of the FSB and earn personal medals and promotions. Once that plot failed due to alertness of Ryazan citizens, the training exercise explanation was hastily concocted.[222]

Political scientist Andrei Tsygankov criticizes the promotion of the 1999 conspiracy theory, which claims that the Kremlin was responsible for the apartment bombings, in the West. Tsygankov argues that that gives an air of legitimacy to main assertions of the theory, despite weak evidence.[223]

OtherEdit

Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer noted that "The FSB accused Khattab and Gochiyaev, but oddly they did not point the finger at Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov's regime, which is what the war was launched against."[206]

Position of the US governmentEdit

In the wake of the apartment bombings president Clinton, secretary of defense Cohen and secretary of state Albright have condemned the bombings as acts of terrorism.[224][225][226][227]

In an interview with Novaya Gazeta published on 27 September 1999, director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare Yossef Bodansky claimed that the goal of extremists, who blew up the apartment buildings, was to make the war in the Caucasus untenable for Russians and cause the latter to demand the cessation of hostilities.[228]

During a 4 November 1999 Senate hearing, the position of the U.S. administration in relation to the conflict in Chechnya has been voiced by ambassador-at-large Stephen Sestanovich. According to Sestanovich, Russia had "an obligation to protect itself and its citizens from terrorists and other attacks", however, the said obligation did not justify violations of human rights such as indiscriminate attacks against civilians and closing borders to prevent civilians from fleeing.[227]

On 8 February 2000, the secretary of state Madeleine Albright was questioned by senator Jesse Helms during her testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Albright was asked whether Russian Government was justified when it accused Chechen groups of perpetrating the bombings and whether she could forward to the Committee any evidence linking the bombings to Chechen entities. She responded that the U.S. Government had condemned the bombings in the harshest terms and offered Russia its help with the ongoing investigation, while "we have not seen evidence that ties the bombings to Chechnya."[229][230]

On 11 January 2017, senator Marco Rubio raised the issue of the 1999 bombings during the confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson.[229] According to senator Rubio, "there's [an] incredible body of reporting, open source and other, that this was all—all those bombings were part of a black flag operation on the part of the FSB."[87]

On 10 January 2018, senator Ben Cardin of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report entitled "Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security".[87] According to the report, "no credible evidence has been presented by the Russian authorities linking Chechen terrorists, or anyone else, to the Moscow bombings."

GTD entriesEdit

According to the Global Terrorism Database, Chechen rebels led by Khattab were suspected of perpetrating the bombings in Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk, while no responsibility had been claimed.[231][232][233][234]

FOIA requestsEdit

On 14 July 2016, David Satter filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, inquiring about documents pertaining to the apartment bombings, the Ryazan incident and persons who tried to investigate the bombings and were killed.[229] The agencies acknowledged receipt of the requests, but Satter received no other response within the statutory time limit. On 29 August 2016, Satter filed suit against the Department of Justice and other agencies involved.[235]

CIA refused even to acknowledge the existence of any relevant records because doing so would reveal "very specific aspects of the Agency's intelligence interest, or lack thereof, in the Russian bombings."[229]

The State Department responded with a redacted copy of a cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. According to the cable, on 24 March 2000, a former member of Russian intelligence services told a U.S. diplomat that the real story about the Ryazan incident could never be known because it "would destroy the country." The informant said the FSB had "a specially trained team of men" whose mission was "to carry out this type of urban warfare".[87] The informant has also said that Viktor Cherkesov, the FSB's first deputy director and an interrogator of Soviet dissidents was "exactly the right person to order and carry out such actions."[229]

David Satter made a renewed FOIA request, and on 22 March 2017, State Department responded that documents concerning the U.S. assessment of the bombings would remain secret. A draft Vaughn index, a document used by agencies to justify withholdings in FOIA cases, said that the release of that information had "the potential to inject friction into or cause serious damage" to relationships with the Russian Government that were "vital to U.S. national security".[236]

On 16 March 2018, the case Satter v. Department of Justice was closed.[237]

Books and filmsEdit

The theory of Russian government involvement appears in books and movies on the subject.

DocumentariesEdit

David Satter, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, authored two books Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State and The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin (published by Yale University Press in 2003 and 2016) where he scrutinized the events and came to the conclusion that the bombings were organized by Russian state security services.(Satter 2003)[74]

In 2002, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko and historian Yuri Felshtinsky published a book Blowing up Russia: Terror from within.(Felshtinsky & Litvinenko 2007) According to authors the bombings and other terrorist acts have been committed by Russian security services to justify the Second Chechen War and to bring Vladimir Putin to power.[238]

In another book, Lubyanka Criminal Group, Litvinenko and Alexander Goldfarb described the transformation of the FSB into a criminal and terrorist organization, including conducting the bombings. (Litvinenko 2002) Former GRU analyst and historian Viktor Suvorov said that the book describes "a leading criminal group that provides "protection" for all other organized crime in the country and which continues the criminal war against their own people", like their predecessors NKVD and KGB. He added: "The book proves: Lubyanka [the KGB headquarters] was taken over by enemies of the people... If Putin's team can not disprove the facts provided by Litvinenko, Putin must shoot himself. Patrushev and all other leadership of Lubyanka Criminal Group must follow his example."[239]

Alexander Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko published a book Death of a Dissident. They asserted that the murder of Mr. Litvinenko was "the most compelling proof" of the FSB involvement theory. According to the book, the murder of Litvinenko "gave credence to all his previous theories, delivering justice for the tenants of the bombed apartment blocks, the Moscow theater-goers, Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Anna Politkovskaya, and the half-exterminated nation of Chechnya, exposing their killers for the whole world to see."[240]

A documentary film Assassination of Russia was made in 2000 by two French producers who had previously worked on NTV's Sugar of Ryazan program.[241][242] Sergei Markov, director of the Political Research Institute in Moscow, criticised the film as "a well-made professional example of the propagandist and psychological war", dismissing its accusations as a conspiracy theory and comparing them to 9/11 conspiracy theories.[243]

A documentary Nedoverie ("Disbelief") about the bombing controversy made by Russian director Andrei Nekrasov was premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles the story of Tatyana and Alyona Morozova, the two Russian-American sisters, who had lost their mother in the attack, and decided to find out who did it.[244][245][246] His next film on the subject was Rebellion: the Litvinenko Case. The film doesn't intend to investigate the Litvinenko murder, rather than that, its goal is to put the case into a wider context of the events unfolding in post-Soviet Russia.[247]

FictionEdit

Writer Alexander Prokhanov authored a prize-winning and best-selling political thriller Mr. Hexogen, published in 2002, which described the bombings as a "chekist electoral technique".[248][249] Librarian of Congress James H. Billington referred to Prokhanov's novel as a continuation of a downward spiral in the Russian literature of the time. The plot of Mr. Hexogen has been likened to a nested doll of conspiracies within conspiracies. According to the plot, the apartment bombings have been staged by KGB agents, probably at the behest of the Jewish oligarchs, whose ultimate goal was to take power and move Russians to the Arctic while selling the organs of the healthy to Israel. Billington described the book as a "merciless, anti-Semitic, surrealistic gloss on Moscow politics in the 1990s".[250]

Yuli Dubov, author of The Big Slice, wrote a novel The Lesser Evil, based on the bombings. The main characters of the story are Platon (Boris Berezovsky) and Larry (Badri Patarkatsishvili). They struggle against an evil KGB officer, Old man (apparently inspired by the legendary Philipp Bobkov), who brings another KGB officer, Fedor Fedorovich (Vladimir Putin) to power by staging a series of apartment bombings.[251]

Impact on survivorsEdit

Multiple survivors of the bombings have developed disabilities, many of them were diagnosed with a posttraumatic stress disorder. In 2006 Irina Khalai, a survivor of the Volgodonsk bombing, has founded an NGO "Volga-Don", which promotes legislation for the legal recognition of victims of terrorist attacks.[252]

Chronology of eventsEdit

  • 5 August 1999: Shamil Basayev entered western Dagestan from Chechnya starting Dagestan war
  • 9 August 1999: Stepashin was dismissed and Putin became prime minister
  • 22 August 1999: The forces of Shamil Basayev withdrew back into Chechnya
  • 25 August 1999: Russian jets made bombing runs against 16 sites in Chechnya[253]
  • 4 September 1999: Bombing in Buynaksk, 64 people killed, 133 are injured.
  • 9 September 1999: Bombing in Moscow, Pechatniki, 94 people are killed, 249 are injured.
  • 13 September 1999: Bombing in Moscow, Kashirskoye highway, 118 are killed.
  • 13 September 1999: A bomb was defused and a warehouse containing several tons of explosives and six timing devices have been found in Moscow.
  • 13 September 1999: Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov made an announcement about bombing of an apartment building in the city of Volgodonsk that took place only three days later, on 16 September.
  • 16 September 1999: Bombing in Volgodonsk, 18 are killed, 288 injured.
  • 23 September 1999: An apartment bomb was found in the city of Ryazan. Vladimir Rushailo announced that police prevented a terrorist act. Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the citizens and called for the air bombing of Grozny.
  • 23–24 September 1999: According to David Satter, FSB agent who planted the bomb in Ryazan were arrested by local police.[74]
  • 24 September 1999: Nikolai Patrushev declared that the incident was a training exercise.
  • 24 September 1999: Second Chechen War begins.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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