On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United Sates, a leading Russian essayist and journalist, Anton Orekh, shared with readers his opinion of a factually inaccurate film devoted to those attacks which had just been aired on Russian state television (the second channel). The film’s treatment of America’s 9/11 tragedy permitted Orekh to segue into personal reflections concerning the Moscow terror bombings of September 1999.
“For me personally,” Orekh wrote, “the bombings of the apartment houses [in Moscow in September 1999] are a key moment in our most recent history. Because if those bombings were not accidental in the sequence of the events which followed: if, to put it bluntly, they were the work of our [Russian] authorities—then everything will once and forever take its proper place. Then there is not and cannot be an iota of illusion about [the nature of] those who rule us. Then those people are not minor or large-scale swindlers and thieves. Then they are among the most terrible of criminals.” (ej.ru, 9/13/11)
There is a need, as I see it, for the eventual formation in Russia of a 9/99 commission analogous to the American 9/11 commission. The 9/11 commission, it will be recalled, was created by Congressional legislation and consisted of five Democrats and five Republicans. The commission “reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals in ten countries.” The commission also conducted nineteen days of hearings and took public testimony from 160 witnesses. The Commission’s 567-page report was published in the summer of 2004 and provided detailed information concerning precisely who the terrorists were and how they had managed to carry out their malign intentions.
When one compares this monumental effort by the U.S. government to get at the complex truth behind what occurred on 9/11 with the Russian state’s virtually non-existent effort to explain four major terrorist attacks which took place in September 1999, one is struck by a vast chasm in scope. As journalist Yuliya Kalinina noted in July 2002: “The Americans several months after 11 September 2001 already knew everything—who the terrorists were and where they came from… We in general know nothing….”
It seems clear that the formation of a Russian 9/99 Commission, on the model of the 9/11 National Commission, which would be chaired by Russian citizens of integrity, who would be charged with ferreting out the truth concerning what took place during September 1999, remains a pressing necessity. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely to occur any time in the foreseeable future. As long as Vladimir Putin remains ensconced as Russian head of state, the formation of a Russian 9/99 commission will remain an unrealizable fantasy. Putin’s current presidential term expires in 2018, but he has indicated that he might serve yet another term until 2024.
The aim of the essays contained in my book is an attempt to anticipate, in extremely modest and limited fashion, what such a Russian 9/99 commission might eventually be able to discover. I have attempted to perform a very small amount of the onerous spade work that would need to be done by such a commission. The truth behind the September 1999 bombings, I am convinced, will eventually see the light of day, but that may take a decade or more to occur.
The first chapter of my book is entitled “‘Storm in Moscow’: A Plan of the Yeltsin ‘Family’ to destabilize Russia.” It represents an expanded version of a paper which was originally presented at an October 2004 seminar held at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. The goal of the opening chapter is to focus on the short but extraordinarily charged period of time between 12 May 1999—when Evgenii Primakov was abruptly fired as Russian prime minister by Boris Yeltsin—and 9 August 1999 when Primakov’s successor, Sergei Stepashin, was likewise cashiered by the Russian president.
Before dealing with events occurring in 1999, it is necessary to cast a brief glance back at the year 1994. It was believed by Yeltsin’s hawkish advisors at the time that a surefire way to boost his ratings so that he could be re-elected in 1996 would be to provoke and win a “short victorious war”. Oleg Lobov, secretary of Yeltsin’s Security Council, confided to Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov in late 1994, “We need a small victorious war to raise the president’s ratings.”
The December 1994 invasion of Chechnya, however, did not produce the desired results. Rather it contributed to a deterioration of the political situation in Russia. In March of 1996, it looked to the ailing Yeltsin and to his entourage as if the Russian presidency might be captured that summer by forces unsympathetic to them or their financial interests. “I had to take a radical step”’ Yeltsin confided in his memoirs. “I told my staff to prepare the documents. Decrees were written to ban the Communist Party, dissolve the Duma and postpone the presidential elections.”
Here we see that, in 1996, Yeltsin was perfectly willing to violate the “Yeltsin Constitution” of 1993 in order to remain in power. Eventually Yeltsin was convinced by his interior and defense ministers and by his former chief of staff Anatolii Chubais and oligarch Boris Berezovskii that he could be reelected if the right “technologies” were applied.
By the spring of 1999, Yeltsin and his entourage found themselves once again in what they perceived to be a highly threatening situation. It seemed likely that forces mobilized by Moscow mayor Yurii Luzhkov (soon to be joined by former Russian prime minister Evgenii Primakov) would be able to make major gains during the parliamentary elections of December 1999 and then prove able to take the Russian presidency in June of 2000.
As Peter Reddaway of George Washington University has underscored, the modus operandi of Yeltsin and his entourage led more or less directly to the growth of various conspiracies in Russia. “Part of this process,” Reddaway has written, “was the growing non-accountability of the regime and the taking of most real decision-making out of the public sphere and into the privacy of the bath-houses and tennis courts used by Yeltsin and his cronies. The increasingly secretive method of government that this group developed involved the manipulation of parties, social groups, and public opinion, both through the media and through a wide range of deceptions and dirty tricks during election campaigns and in other contexts.”
Elsewhere Reddaway has emphasized that modern Russian political life cannot be understood without reference to “political technology,” which represents an extreme form of political consultancy involving manipulation of individuals and large-scale deception. Since, Reddaway explained, “at the core of any political technologist’s’ plan, there lies a conspiracy, any good analyst of Russian politics needs to be a conspiracy theorist as well.” Conspiracy theorists, he noted, are usually mocked in countries with transparent political systems [such as the US]. But a system becomes more prone to conspiracies if the ruler remains in power for a long time and controls large parts of its wealth. Russia and Iran, he observed, would be two examples of present-day countries with conspiratorial politics.
It was two well-connected Western correspondents who were the first to publicize the fact that a radical, bold and lawless group had managed to achieve political supremacy in the Kremlin. On 6 June 1999, the Moscow correspondent for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Daglabed, Jan Blomgren, reported that one option being seriously contemplated by this group was “terror bombings in Moscow which could be blamed on the Chechens.” Ten days later Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa issued a similar warning. Subsequently Chiesa revealed that he had “received information concerning the preparation of a series of terrorist acts in Russia which had the goal of canceling the future elections.”
Of greater public significance than these two warnings by foreigners was one issued by a Russian journalist, Aleksandr Zhilin, under the heading “Storm in Moscow [Burya v Moskve],” in the 22 July 1999 issue of the newspaper Moskovskaya pravda. “The Administration of the President,” Zhilin wrote, “has drafted and adopted (individual points have been reported to Yeltsin) a broad plan for discrediting [Mayor] Luzhkov with the aid of provocations, intended to destabilize the socio-psychological situation in Moscow… The city awaits great shocks. The conducting of loud terrorist acts (or attempts at terrorist acts) is being planned…” One of the editors of Moskovskya pravda later identified Sergei Zverev, a deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration, as the likely source for this leaked document
Contemporary historians are wont to begin their discussion of the Yeltsin “Family” by citing the opinion of a retired commander of the Russian Border-guards, General Nikolai Bordyuzha, who in early 1999 was serving both as secretary of the Russian Security Council and as head of the Russian Presidential Administration. On 19 March 1999, Bordyuzha took a telephone call from President Yeltsin that he had the wit to tape. Later he gave a copy of this tape to his political ally Evgenii Primakov, for publication in the latter’s book of memoirs.
“Having worked in the Kremlin,” Bordyuzha told Yeltsin, “I have come to understand that the country is not ruled by the president but in the name of the president by a small group of un-conscientious people, that it is ruled in their interests and not those of the state. Boris Nikolaevich, I am prepared [to stay on] but on one condition: from the Kremlin there must today be removed your daughter—[Tatyana] Dyachenko—[Valentin] Yumashev and [Aleksandr] Voloshin, and free entry must be prohibited to [oligarchs] Abramovich, Mamut and Berezovskii.” At 8:00 p.m. that day, Yeltsin issued a decree removing Bordyuzha from both of his posts. Aleksandr Voloshin was named head of the Presidential Administration while Vladimir Putin, the then head of the FSB, also became secretary of the Security Council.”
That Bordyuzha’s harsh words to Yeltsin referred to a really existing group has been confirmed by numerous knowledgeable Russians including other senior figures who worked directly with Yeltsin. As one leading Russian political scientist Lilia Shevtsova of Carnegie Moscow has written: “In the spring of 1999,” she noted, “Yeltsin seemed to be considering leaving the political arena prematurely… As Yeltsin faded, he relied even more on the people around him, most of all on his younger daughter Tatyana, then in her mid-thirties… In actual fact, in the last year of Yeltsin’s second term, Tatyana became the virtual ruler of the country… Yeltsin’s last team, the one that prepared the Successor Project, was selected by his daughter and her intimate friends… In the late 1990’s, Russia entered the era of the political Family: rule by the president’s daughter and chums of hers… The Family was driven mainly by greed… From their position deep inside the Kremlin, this corrupt cooperative of friends and business comrades-in-arms created a giant vacuum to suck money out of Russia and into their own pockets.”
If oligarch Boris Berezovskii served as a fountainhead of at times useful ideas for the Family, it was another infinitely less flamboyant individual who methodically went about getting things done—even the most onerous tasks—on behalf of Yeltsin and his close entourage. In so doing, he manifested an appetite for intrigue and self-advancement that far exceeded that of the volatile, capricious and frequently unpredictable Berezovskii. On 25 July 1998, Yeltsin elevated Vladimir Putin to the post of director of the Russian secret police. Putin’s background in Russian intelligence and his unblinking loyalty to Yeltsin and the Family were presumably factors behind this decision. Not only was Putin a consistently loyal servant of the Russian president, but he reportedly also performed any and all tasks required by Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana who referred to him as “Vova.”
It was the ousting of Evgenii Primakov as Prime Minister on 12 May 1999, following in the wake of the removal of General Bordyuzha two months previously, which cleared the way for the unfettered rule of the radical group referred to in the Russian media as the Family. Primakov was replaced as prime minister by Sergei Stepashin, the head of the MVD or regular police.
Less than three months later, however, in August of 1999, Yeltsin had ousted Stepashin, replacing him as prime minister with another power minister, Vladimir Putin. As Yeltsin makes clear in his memoirs, Midnight Diaries (2000), it was Stepashin’s unwillingness to crack down on the Luzhkov-Primakov forces which served as the chief reason for his removal. “It was clear to me,” Yeltsin wrote, “that the final round of a pitched political battle was approaching…. Stepashin wasn’t going to become a political leader, a fighter, or a real ideological opponent to Luzhkov and Primakov in the Duma elections. A new political party had to be created and the prime minister had to be changed. I was prepared for battle.”
Journalist Aleksandr Zhilin has observed: “Sergei Stepashin categorically rejected any adventurous plans of the Kremlin connected with the canceling of elections, the fabrication of pseudo-kompromat against Luzhkov, etc. He insisted that in the situation which had been created it was necessary to emerge without shocks fraught with civil war. That is why the ‘Family’ decided to hurry up with concluding the formation of its own clan and its own executive power. In the event that Boris Yeltsin’s psycho-physical condition worsened, the obligations of the family would be carried out by the head of the government, Vladimir Putin…”
Following upon the heels of Primakov’s dismissal, the Yeltsin Family launched a series of sharp attacks on Mayor Luzhkov of Moscow, to which the mayor responded with spirited counter-attacks. In July of 1999, in a ratcheting up of the assault, the Kremlin turned its fire on Luzhkov’s wife, businesswoman Elena Baturina, head of the firm “Inteko.” The FSB, headed by Putin, served as the battering ram of this attack. In addition to seeking to destroy Luzhkov and his wife, the Family during the spring and early summer of 1999 also attempted to crush two TV channels seen as being pro-Luzhkov, NTV and “TV-center.” One key service rendered by close Family ally Vladimir Putin during the spring and summer of 1999 was to contain and attempt once and for all to remove from office the pesky General Procurator of Russia Yurii Skuratov who had strong support in the Russian parliament. Skuratov was allegedly filmed having sex with two call girls in February and this footage was then shown on Russian State Television (RTR) on 17 March. Unlike the fastidious Stepashin, Putin was completely prepared to publicly authenticate these videotapes.”
Commenting on Putin’s close ties to the Yeltsin Family, Lilia Shevtsova has observed: “Putin confirmed his capacity for loyalty in the spring of 1999, when he defended Yeltsin during his conflict with the then-procurator general Yuri Skuratov… Putin burned his bridges… The ruling Family saw that Putin could be trusted, that one could rely on him.”
There is abundant evidence that during this period Berezovskii was funneling large sums of money to Chechen extremists. Former MVD chair and deputy prime minister Anatolii Kulikov confided to the weekly Argumenty i fakty in 2002: “I have received a great deal of evidence that Berezovskii was funding Chechen extremists. He did it under the flag of the [Russian] Security Council, which had enormous powers under Boris Yeltsin… On April 29, 1997, I was informed that Berezovskii’s envoy Badri Patarkatishvili had arrived at the Ingushetian airport of Sleptsovsk. He gave Shamil Basaev $10 million—in the presence of Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and Vice-president B. Agapov…”
Why were both Berezovskii and the Russian special services engaged in de facto funding Chechen extremists? “To the extent that Berezovskii represented the interests of the Yeltsin regime in Chechnya,” the late American journalist Paul Klebnikov has written, “the Kremlin had been undermining the moderates, supporting the extremists financially and politically… At best, it was a misguided policy… The worst-case scenario is that the Berezovskii strategy with the Chechen warlords was a deliberate attempt to fan the flames of war.’”
During September of 1999, the Russian opposition press published transcripts of a number of alleged phone conversations conducted by Berezovskii with extremist leaders Movladi Udugov, Kazbek Makhashev and other radical Chechens. Although the reported conversations took place in a kind of primitive code, it seemed to press commentators [such as Aleksandr Khinshtein] that Berezovskii was negotiating a price for an incursion by the rebels into Dagestan. At this time, FAPSI (the rough equivalent of the American NSA) was conducting a harsh internal investigation concerning a leaking of tapes containing eavesdropping on confidential conversations. Supposedly a loss of eight cassettes by FAPSI had been discovered.
Nine years later, in September of 2009, a close ally of Berezovskii and a resident of the US, Aleksandr Goldfarb, in effect admitted what the oligarch had earlier heatedly denied. “In two words,” Goldfarb wrote, “in the spring of 1999 on the threshold of the autumn elections, there was achieved a secret agreement [dogovorennost’] between Basaev and Udugov, on the one hand, and the Kremlin top leadership, on the other, for a short victorious (for Russia) war in the Caucasus….Udugov to achieve this end even flew to Moscow. It was proposed that, in response to the provocations of the wahhabis in Dagestan, Russia would begin limited military actions which would be crowned by the return of the Upper Terek district of Chechnya. As a result, the Maskhadov regime in Groznyi would fall, and his place would be taken by Basaev and Udugov.”
“Udugov’s rationale,” Goldfarb had earlier written in a 2007 book, “was geopolitical. Maskhadov’s long-term goal, he said, was to steer Chechnya to full independence and integrate it with the West, eventually joining NATO… This naturally would be bad for Russia. It would also be bad for Islam, Udugov argued, because America is the Great Satan and the ultimate enemy of all Muslims.”
During the period separating his ouster as prime minister in August of 1999 and the election of Putin as Russian president in March of 2000, the former silovik Sergei Stepashin made a number of striking admissions concerning the planning of the top Russian leadership to launch a new war in Chechnya. “In March of 1999…” he said, “we decided to close the border, create a sanitary cordon around Chechnya—like the Berlin wall.” His journalist interlocutor then asked, “An invasion of Chechnya was not on the table?” Stepashin replied: “Yes it was. In the summer, in July  we decided to seize territory [in Chechnya] north of the the Terek. Since Tsarist times this was Russian territory, populated mostly by Cossacks…” Journalist: “Does this mean that Russian forces would have entered Chechnya even if there had been no attack on Dagestan and no acts of terrorism in Moscow?” Stepashin: “Yes.”
“It should be underscored here that Stepashin candidly admitted that an invasion of Chechnya had been planned and authorized by himself, and, implicitly, by Vladimir Putin and other Russian siloviki, presumably with President Yeltsin’s consent, before the incursions by rebels into Dagestan in August and September of 1999.
Stepashin made roughly the same admissions to Michael Gordon of The New York Times in an interview published in the newspaper’s 1 February 2000 issue. “Work on the plan of an invasion began,” Gordon noted, “in March 1999 when Mr. Stepashin was interior minister and continued after he was appointed prime minister in May….In July 1999, the plan was broadened to include the seizure of the top third of Chechnya, down to the Terek River… Commando raids would be conducted throughout Chechnya to ferret out rebel leaders. But there would not be any ground operations south of the river and certainly no heavy street fighting in Grozny.”
When Stepashin was asked in mid-September 1999 by journalist Mark Deich whether Berezovskii’s negotiations with the radical Chechen leaders had been aimed at igniting a new conflict, he responded: “As for the version of a conspiracy, one has to realize that having provoked a war, it is difficult in that region to quickly gain a victory… It is another matter altogether that certain agreements were possible, in order to destabilize the situation and to bring it under Emergency Rule. Now that is a version.” (MK, 9/10/99)
What Stepashin appeared to be saying here was that Berezovskii and his allies (including Stepashin himself, as well as Putin) were seeking at the time to provoke a limited conflict, one which would permit the Yeltsin regime to declare Emergency Rule in Russia and thus to postpone the parliamentary and presidential elections.
Mathematician Andrei Piontkovskii has commented: “Stepashin, Putin and Berezovskii discussed with the international terrorist Basaev a plan for a campaign by the latter into Dagestan. That plan was carried out and, as a result, there perished hundreds of Russian soldiers and hundreds of peaceful Dagestanis and a bloodbath was unleashed in which tens of thousands of people have perished. This was a crime no less large-scale and repugnant than the bombings of the apartment houses which followed….”
The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: On the night from 8-9 September 1999, shortly after midnight, making use of a homemade explosive device, a criminal group blew up a nine-story, six-entry apartment building located at House No. 19 on Guryanov Street in Moscow. As a result of this blast, one hundred persons died, while 690 received wounds of various severity. Five days later, on 13 September, at approximately 5:00 a.m., once again using a powerful home-made detonator, the same group bombed an eight-story apartment house located at House No. 6, wing 3 on Kashirskii Highway in Moscow. This explosion proved to be significantly more “efficient” than had the first, killing 124 and wounding only seven.
These bombings, as is well known, paved the way for a full-scale Russian military invasion of Chechnya less than three weeks after the second explosion had occurred. They also served to propel a little-known retired lieutenant colonel in the secret police, who had been appointed by President Yeltsin to the post of acting prime minister a month previously, into the Russian presidency. Three-and-a-half months after the Moscow bombings took place Putin was elected president of the country in March of 2000.
A major reason for the difficulties involved in identifying those responsible for the September 1999 Moscow bombings has been the energetic and resourceful efforts at muddying the waters of two discrete groups: one of them, the Russian secret police, or FSB, working in consort with the Russian General Procucracy, and the other the so-called “BAB group,” a small but hyper-kinetic cluster of publicists looking to exiled oligarch Boris Abramovich Berezovskii (BAB) for material support and leadership.
In seeking to break free from the falsehoods and half-truths disseminated by these two groups, one is assisted, as we shall see, by four factors: first, Russia in September of 1999 represented a relatively free society boasting a vigorous opposition press, which immediately launched its own independent investigation of the bombings. Second, as will be shown, there has taken place a relentless quest for factual accuracy concerning the bombings on the part of a highly trained and decorated professional investigator, a former lieutenant colonel in the FSB, Mikhail Trepashkin. Third, there has been the research and the hearings held by the Public Commission for the Investigation of the Bombings of the Apartment Houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk, a body first chaired by State Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov (who was assassinated in 2003) and then by Duma deputy and former Russian human rights commissioner (under Boris Yeltsin) Sergei Kovalev. Finally, there has been the unblinking scrutiny of the Moscow bombings on the part of a distinguished Russian mathematician and gifted publicist, Andrei Piontkovskii. His probing commentaries are cited frequently in my book.
On 24 September, eleven days after the second Moscow bombing had occurred, Prime Minister Putin supercharged the Russian public by vowing publicly, “We will pursue the terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, then, in an airport, and, forgive me, if we catch them in the toilet, then we’ll rub them out in the crapper [mochit’ v sortire] in the final analysis. The question is closed once and for all.”
“The use here by Putin of crude criminal argot energized a Russian public which was already keen on revenge. A poll taken by VTsIOM [now the Levada Center] on 27 September showed a considerable hardening of public opinion. “There should either be an end to the terrorist acts or there should be a massive bombardment of the territory of the republic [Chechnya]…. This position is held by 64% of the participants in a poll just conducted by VTsIOM.” Approval of Putin’s work as Prime Minister also began to soar: to 53% in September, 66% in October, and 78% in November.
This marked upsurge in Putin’s ratings had apparently not been expected. One well-known Kremlin political technologist, Stanislav Belkovskii, who, in 1999, was reported to be closely allied with oligarch Boris Berezovskii, subsequently recalled (in 2006): “When they say today that Berezovskii, Yeltsin, Abramovich, Yumashev and someone else knew precisely that Putin would become president…that is, of course, complete nonsense. On 1 September 1999, when Putin had already for two weeks…been the official premier confirmed by the State Duma, I attended a closed meeting. In it one high personage…pronounced the following: ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, dear colleagues, would be a remarkable president of Russia… But you and I are not idiots, and we understand that the people will never elect him.’”
“The original scenario,” Belkovskii went on to stress with remarkable candor, “did not propose a sharp rise in the ratings of Vladimir Vladimirovich as a result of the Chechen war, while the bombings of the apartment houses served as grounds for the introduction of Emergency Rule and the postponement of the elections. And only when it became clear that his rating was growing, and that it was not necessary to postpone the elections, then the theme of Emergency Rule was removed from the agenda…” (Newtimes.ru, no. 32, 2006)
The continuing upward movement in Putin’s approval rating was accompanied by an increase in the hatred, which soon became incandescent, on the part of ethnic Russians for Chechens. Mathematician Andrei Piontkovskii wrote on 30 September 1999: “Recently I had an opportunity to participate in a discussion within the walls of the State Duma… Several speakers were discussing the question of using nuclear weapons in Chechnya. I spoke against this, marshalling a series of obvious arguments concerning the absurdity and suicidal nature of such an action for Russia.”
A little over a week after the second Moscow bombing had occurred, Russian forces were primed for a full-scale military assault on Chechnya. On 30 September, the military correspondent of the newspaper Komsomolskaya pravda reported that “In recent days the minister of defense Igor Sergeev reported a strictly secret plan to the President of the Russian Federation, and he [Yeltsin] approved it….. Through an introduction of groups (50,000-60,000 men) into Chechnya in several directions, there will, in stages, be established control over the entire territory of the republic.” On 1 October 1999, Russian troops pushed decisively into Chechnya.
In a piece entitled “Putin’s War,” which appeared in The New York Review of Books in February of 2000, Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev recalled: “These explosions [in Moscow] were a crucial moment in the unfolding of our current history. After the first shock passed, it turned out that we were living in an entirely different country… How, it was asked, can you negotiate with people who murder children at night in their beds? War and only war is the solution! What we want—so went the rhetoric of many politicians, including Vladimir Putin—is the merciless extermination of the ‘adversary’ wherever he may be, whatever the casualties, no matter how many unarmed civilians must die in the process…”
In similar fashion, Andrei Piontkovskii commented in October of 1999: “A month has passed since the bombings of the apartment houses in Moscow. The crime has not been solved, and the investigation has not presented the slightest proof of the guilt of any concrete person (or persons) of Chechen nationality. But, in public awareness, the word ‘Chechen’ has already become a synonym for the word ‘terrorist’ and has been linked to the word ‘destroy.’”
There was, it was reported in September 1999, a warning delivered to the FSB and the staff of the Russian Security Council on the same day as the Guryanov Street bombing took place (i.e., September ninth). Journalist Elena Tokareva wrote in the 16 September 1999 issue of Obshchaya gazeta: “The special services knew about the terrorist acts that were being prepared…This is maintained by [Duma] deputy [Konstantin] Borovoi….Borovoi told me in a conversation that he was located last Thursday [i.e., on Sept. 9] by an officer of the GRU who had come especially from Krasnodar to see him. Borovoi did not intend to publicize his name… The officer handed the deputy a list, consisting of several names of participants in the terrorist act and communicated that, as much as was known to him, explosions were planned not only for Moscow but for St. Petersburg as well… Borovoi immediately tried to connect the volunteer with members of the Security Council and gave them the officer’s coordinates and the information he had. But the bureaucrats of the Security Council, who were connected with the FSB, said that the officer of the GRU was simply abnormal or was holding a grudge of some kind against his service and did not make use of the exclusive information received. The officer then raced off to Peter[sburg]…”
Tokareva then summed up: “Inasmuch as one of the obligations of the special services is to check such information [i.e., concerning impending terrorist incidents], the impression was formed that the special services intentionally did not conduct active operations and did not inform the government of Moscow concerning a terrorist act that was being prepared, since connivance was profitable for the Kremlin and its political goals.”
Konstantin Borovoi, it should be noted, was an influential and well-regarded liberal, pro-market deputy as well as a well-informed source on developments in the North Caucasus. He had, for example, in an apparent effort to advance the peace process, conducted talks by phone with General Dzhokhar Dudaev, the elected president of the Chechen separatists, in 1995 and early 1996. He had, in fact, been talking on a satellite phone with Dudaev at the precise moment when the general was killed in April 1996 by a Russian missile.
It is striking that the FSB and the personnel of the Russian Security Council chose to ignore the critical information that the GRU officer had to impart on September 9th, especially since—and this seems crucial—the first terrorist bomb had already gone off, shortly after midnight, on that same day on Guryanov Street. According to Argumenty i fakty, for several days the federal authorities had acted as if a gas explosion or other everyday accident had occurred.
During August of 2010, Borovoi recalled during an interview with Ekho Moskvy Radio that he had, in September 1999, received documentary evidence of who it was that was behind the explosions. “In 1999,” he confided, “[Anatolii] Sobchak asked me to support [Putin]; it was in the middle of 1999, but then there began the explosions….To me as a [Duma] deputy was handed a very serious document. As a deputy I held a press conference, during which I said that…these bombings are being organized by the FSB. Putin immediately made a [sarcastic] declaration that this Borovoi should be sent out to de-fuse the bombs. Why was he lying?... My relations with Putin came to an end, so to speak, in 1999.” In a second interview with Ekho Moskvy, in September of 2010, Borovoi recalled what the GRU officer had told him: “The person who presented this witness’s testimony, that the FSB was a participant [in the bombings], that person telephoned me after his meeting with the representatives of the Security Council and said: ‘Why did you send me to the FSB? Those are the very same FSBshniki. I was relating to them what they were [already engaged in] doing.’”
In other words, according to Borovoi, FSB officers serving on the staff of the Security Council, with whom he was acquainted, were, in some sense, also involved in the carrying out of the Moscow bombings.
In my book, I also discuss a warning received by retired Major Vyacheslav Izmailov, a correspondent for Novaya gazeta, on 8 September, and one received by the newspaper Moskvovskii komsomolets on 14 September concerning a third powerful blast in the capital that had already been prepared. Police operatives, who revealed that they had received the same warning, on 17 September discovered several sacks containing a hexogen (RDX) explosive mixture in an apartment building on Butyrskii Val 73/68 in central Moscow housing 800 persons.
On 16 September 1999, just three days after the terror bombing on Kashirskii Highway in Moscow, a powerful homemade explosive device (a truck bomb) detonated outside House No. 35 on Oktyabrskii Highway in the city of Volgodonsk, Rostov oblast, in southern Russia. As in Moscow most of the victims of this blast were ethnic Russians. Eighteen persons died and 89 were hospitalized with serious wounds. Thirty-seven nearby apartment houses sustained damage. Given the immense power of the explosive device used in this terrorist act, it seems semi-miraculous that so few persons were in fact killed.
On 14 September 1999, one day after the second Moscow apartment building had been bombed, Prime Minister Putin observed, citing the sources of the special services, that there were numerous foundations to suspect that individuals linked to Osama bin Laden “are connected with the events taking place in the North Caucasus.” The FSB and the Russian General Procuracy were to hew closely to this “Arab” line first enunciated by Prime Minister Putin in the aftermath of the Moscow bombings.
The final and, in many ways, the definite statement of the Russian General Procuracy’s version—it was also, of course, the version of the FSB-- is contained in the text of the January 2004 “Case [Delo] against A[dam]. Dekkushev and Yu[suf]. Krymshamkhalov” and in the “Sentence” [Prigovor] handed down against them by a Moscow court on 12 January 2004.
The Delo asserted: “The bombings of the apartment houses in Moscow in September 1999 were carried out by the group of [Achemez] Gochiyaev. To Moscow were sent approximately 200 sacks containing about ten tons of explosive material and to [Moscow] in order to carry out the bombings there travelled Achemez Gochiyaev [and three other terrorists, two Karachai and a Tatar]. All of these terrorists were reportedly eventually killed with the exception of the accused ringleader Gochiyaev. In the view of the FSB and of the Russian General Procuracy, the Moscow bombings were the work of cynical Arab masters assisted by a small band of fanatical but also highly greedy ethnic Karachai. The Delo, it should be noted, omitted all mention of the use of the explosive hexogen in the bombings.
Two Karachai terrorists, Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshamkhalov, had reportedly been concealing themselves in Georgia but were then apprehended by the Georgian authorities in 2002 and extradited to Russia, where they were subsequently put on trial. The only participant in the Moscow bombings said to be still at large was the ringleader, the Mohammed Atta of the Moscow bombings, Achemez Gochiyaev.
It needs to be emphasized here that virtually all of the available information concerning the Moscow bombers was generated by the Russian authorities, chiefly by the FSB and the General Procuracy. But is this information credible? One significant test of the accuracy, or lack thereof, of this information would be two trials that were held for the accused terrorists in mid-to-late 2001 and in 2003-2004.
The 2001 trial of five ethnic Karachai at an isolated location in Stavropol Krai in southern Russia was so flimsily prepared that the judge and even the prosecutor denigrated the case that had been cobbled together. The judge announced publically that he did not consider the accused to be the direct perpetrators of the terrorist acts. It should be emphasized that the trial was a closed one. It was not open to the public or even to the press.
During 2003-2004, an attempt was made by the authorities to try the aforementioned ethnic Karachai Dekkushev and Krymshamkhalov for participation in the Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings. It is noteworthy that neither of the two was in fact charged with being present in the capital at the time of the blasts. The newspaper Novye izvestiya reported: “All of the sessions [of the trial], except the final one, took place in a closed regime… Even the sentence was read in an abridged version.” The trial was held in complete secrecy even though, according to one press report, “only five of the ninety-one volumes in the criminal case had been declared secret.” Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev later commented: “This was not a trial. It was an elementary political deceit.” A civilized regime, in his view, would not have permitted such a trial—one which attracted significant public attention—to be closed.
At the time that the Moscow bombings occurred, in September of 1999, Russia still boasted a relatively free press, including media that were openly in opposition to President Yeltsin, and much of that press undertook its own investigation of the bombings. The influential anti-Yeltsin newspaper Moskovskii komsomolets, which at the time featured a stable of well-informed, high-octane investigative journalists, almost immediately surfaced versions that were at variance with the interpretations put forward by spokespersons for the FSB. Thus on 13 September, the day of the second bombing, the newspaper published a provocative article entitled “Was the explosion prepared by employees of the special services?”
A second investigative article, provocatively entitled “Were the bombs assembled in the Kremlin?” appeared two days later, on 15 September. The essay concluded: “The terrorist acts on Guryanov and Kashirka were with almost 100% certainty carried out by professionals. The question may have concerned employees of the special services. According to this version, former employees.”
Another article which attracted a great deal of public attention, appeared in the 24 September issue of Moskovskii komsomolets. Entitled “Operation Exploded World,” it focused on the perceived efforts of the Yeltsin “Family” and of Prime Minister Putin to prepare the way for the Moscow bombings.
As can be seen, much of the heavy lifting with regard to this theme was performed by the opposition newspaper Moskovskii komsomolets. But other newspapers also chipped in. An article entitled, “Putin is accused of organizing the explosions” appeared in the 25 September issue of Nezavismaya gazeta. The article represented an extended commentary on the Moskovskii komsomolets piece which had been published the previous day.
“[Yeltsin’s] entourage,” the Nezavismaya gazeta article reported, “examined two variants for realizing the continuity of power in the country. The first was a peaceful [variant], through the elections of a parliament and the organization of a victory in presidential elections of a figure loyal to Yeltsin. The second was a coercive [silovoi] variant, through the introduction of Emergency Rule and the abolishing of all elections. The ‘Family’ selected the first variant, but, just in case, carried out a secret preparation for the second one. The situation in Karachaevo-Cherkesiya was specially destabilized… Employees of the FSB, under the control of the then head of this power structure, Vladimir Putin, carried out a preparation for the conducting of mass terrorist acts in the country, which would have served as a justification for the introduction of Emergency Rule. Thus secret employees of the FSB legalized, through a false death, the agent Laipanov, who had a passport from Karachaevo-Cherkesiya: he later rented storage space in Moscow and brought the explosives there…”
On 30 September, journalist Elena Skvortsova reported in Obshchaya gazeta: “The [police] operatives subsequently succeeded in establishing that the real name of Laipanov is Gochiyaev . He took up residence in Moscow in March . Precisely four-and-a-half months before the explosions. At that time, there was no talk of an incursion into Dagestan. But they had already begun to prepare the explosions [in Moscow]…How precisely did [Gochiyaev] come into the possession of the documents of the deceased?... There arises the question, who—the special services or a terrorist—created a ‘legend’ for Gochiyaev and worked on its documentary confirmation?”
During September of 1999, a number of articles appeared in the opposition or non-regime-controlled press on the subject of the key explosive ingredient used in the bombings, hexogen (RDX), which is a powerful substance tightly controlled by the Russian power ministries. On the heels of the bombing, General Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the FSB, and other secret police spokesmen had identified hexogen as a key element in the explosives used. Later they began to deny that this was so.
In contrast to the dubious information and flawed interpretations disseminated by the General Procuracy and the FSB, on the one hand, and by the “Berezovskii Group,” on the other, there has been the consistent effort of a highly-trained retired FSB professional investigator, Mikhail Trepashkin, to ferret out, with enormous difficulty, a portion of the truth concerning what occurred in September of 1999. In November of 2003, just four months before the holding of new Russian presidential elections, during which Putin was triumphantly returned to the country’s presidency, a remarkable article appeared in the weekly Moskovskie novosti, authored by a leading investigative journalist, Igor Korolkov. “The day before his arrest,” Korolkov wrote, “the former lieutenant colonel of the FSB, Mikhail Trepashkin, was at the editorial offices of Moskovskie novosti. During the course of his interview, he produced a series of facts which make his testimony sensational.”
“One day before his arrest,” Korolkov recalled. “Trepashkin gave me the name and the telephone number of a former businessman who had rented the basement in the apartment house on Guryanov to a person from the Caucasus who today is charged with organizing the terrorist act. Mark Blumenfeld was that very man from whose words the law-enforcement organs had compiled a composite photo [fotorobot] of the criminal whose name on his passport was Laipanov.”
“We met with Mr. Blumenfeld,” Korolkov’s account continued, “at the editorial board of Moskovskie novosti. To a tape-recorder the former businessman made a sensational declaration: the person who was making use of the Laipanov passport, and who was publicly presented by the investigation as Gochiyaev, was not in fact Gochiyaev.”
“In Lefortovo [Prison],” Korolkov quoted from Blumenfeld’s statement, “they showed me a photograph of a certain person, and they said that it was Gochiyaev and that I had supposedly rented the basement to him. I answered that I had never seen that man. But it was insistently recommended to me that I identify Gochiyaev. I understood everything and ceased arguing, and I signed the testimony. In point of fact, the person whose photograph was shown to me, and whom they called Gochiyaev, was not the person who had come to me. I formed the impression that he was a Jew. Moreover, a Jew with Caucasus roots. And I declared that more than once to the investigation.”
“On the photo [Blumenfeld continued] there was depicted a man with a simple [prostovatoe] face, but the person who had come to me, and to whom I had rented the premises, looked externally like an intellectual… In addition to me, False-Laipanov was seen by several persons. They all maintained that the [original] composite photo was very similar to the real person [who rented the storage facilities].” The composite photo which had been compiled with Mark Blumenfeld’s assistance was posted on the Russian Net on 13 September 1999. [You can access it through newsru.com] A photo of Achemez Gochiyaev was subsequently posted on the Novaya gazeta web-site.
The criminal case [Delo] of A. Dekkushev and Yu. Krymshamkhalov, compiled by the Russian Procuracy and released in January of 2004, contains information that appears to support Mikhail Trepashkin’s claim that the accused terrorist Gochiyaev was in fact wrongly identified as “False-Laipanov.” The “Delo,” to take one example, fails to report that either of the two owners of the storage areas that were physically bombed on 9 and 13 September had identified Gochiyaev as the man who had rented the premises.
A brief biography of Mikhail Trepashkin: Trepashkin completed his military service in the Soviet navy as a sailor on an atomic submarine. In 1979, he enrolled in the Investigations Faculty of the F.E. Dzerzhinksii Higher KGB School, where he studied for five years. Following his graduation, with honors, he was employed as an investigator in the Second Department of the USSR KGB at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. He worked there for ten years until February of 1994. A hardliner in his views, he was reprimanded for having supported the August 1991 putsch.
In 1994, Trepashkin received a noteworthy promotion when he was transferred to the Protection Administration (USB) of the FSB of the Russian Federation. This elite unit was engaged in “the protection of officers, of the members of their families and persons close to them.” “Working in this way,” Trepashkin noted in 2003, “I collected information on criminal groups in Moscow and Russia.”
“Working precisely in this direction,” he recounted in 2004, “I accumulated information concerning the activity in Moscow of a group of Chechen extremists and field commanders who were being sheltered by employees of the law enforcement organs, including the FSB of the Russian Federation.”
The first Chechen war (1994-1996) had commenced in December of 1994, and so the activities of Chechen extremists located in the Russian capital were naturally of interest to a Moscow-based officer of the USB.
Trepashkin and his fellow officers uncovered “entire warehouses containing weapons and explosives” in Moscow. In the summer of 1995, grenade-launchers, flamethrowers, Bickford fuses for underground explosions and other weapons and ammunition were seized by the unit.
“I was awarded,” Trepashkin has recalled, “in December 1995 the medal ‘For Valor’ (Za otvagu).” It was at this point, when his career seemed to be on a steep upward trajectory, that Trepashkin suddenly and precipitously fell out of favor with the commander of the USB unit, General Nikolai Patrushev, subsequently named director of the FSB under Putin.
Trepashkin has noted: “Supposedly by taking Chechen rebels and bandits into custody, I had abused my service position. At [Patrushev’s] order I was forbidden to work further along this line, and the [Chechen] field commanders…were released.”
It was the intertwining of high-ranking Russian military and state security officials with Chechen criminal gangs—many of them active supporters of the Chechen separatists, who were at that time warring with Russia—that introduced Trepashkin to a shadowy figure who represents, he believes, an important key to understanding the Moscow bombings of September 1999.
“In the first hours after the appearance of the composite photo [compiled from the words of Mark Blumenfeld in September 1999] I recognized in it,” Trepashkin has stated, “Vladimir Mikhailovich Romanovich who, in 1995, had been working in Moscow with the goal of receiving criminal money together with [four Chechen] field commanders…Romanovich was a specialist on banks and had helped the Chechens to rent a number of premises in the city of Moscow… The premises were used for the laundering of ‘black’ money, for extortion and so on.” Trepashkin wanted to interrogate Romanovich but was prevented from doing so by his superiors in the FSB.
In a September 2003 article, Trepashkin recalled: “In the composite photo that was disseminated after the explosion of the house on Guryanov Street in Moscow, I, as well as [Aleksandr] Gagaev and [Aleksandr] Shevchenko (former employees of the ‘Soldi’ bank) recognized Volodya Romanovich.”
Once he had had a chance to see, in the direct wake of the Moscow bombings, the composite photo of the Moscow bomber which had been compiled from Blumenfeld’s words, Trepashkin informed his former leaders in the FSB that the composite photo was very similar to Romanovich. “Soon,” he has recalled, “I paid attention to the fact that the composite photo had been transformed: the face had become more elongated. And later I learned that Romanovich, who had left for Cyprus, had been struck and killed by a car.”
It is worth briefly summarizing what Trepashkin maintained that he had discovered concerning the man who likely played the role of Mohamed Atta in the Moscow bombings. Vladimir Romanovich, he contended, was both an FSB operative and an organized crime figure, with ample experience in renting real estate in the capital. It is self-evident that such a shadowy and complex individual would be an ideal candidate to play the role of “False-Laipanov.”
On 23 October 2003, it was reported that Trepashkin had been arrested on an illegal weapons charge. He insisted that a weapon had been planted in his car. On the eve of his arrest, sensing that his time was up, Trepashkin, as has been noted, visited a reporter for Moskovskie novosti and told him of Mark Blumenfeld’s revelations concerning “False-Laipanov.”
On 19 May 2004, the Moscow District Military Court found Trepashkin guilty of having made public a state secret and sentenced him to four years of incarceration in a penal colony. Another year was tacked onto his sentence subsequently.
In September of 2005, Trepashkin’s jailers appear to have reached a decision not just to punish Trepashkin for his obstinacy but to kill him, through a brutal neglect for his health. Suffering from severe bronchial asthma—and refused the necessary medicines —Trepashkin barely survived his sentence. As leading journalist Anna Politkovskaya noted: “It is completely clear that the still unbroken Trepashkin… will be squeezed to the end. The end is that he will die.”
Western attention to Trepashkin’s plight may have been a factor behind the Russian justice system’s eventual decision to release him from prison in November of 2007. In November 2005, Amnesty International had concluded that the criminal case against Trepashkin had a political context and that the evidence of his crimes had been falsified. Trepashkin appealed to the Strasbourg International Court, which in July of 2007 approved Trepashkin’s complaint and required the Russian government to pay him a fine of 3,000 euros.”
Perhaps concluding that Trepashkin was not likely in the near term to die of natural causes, and that the focused attention of the International Court was politically embarrassing, the authorities took a decision to release the former secret police officer from prison.
Trepashkin has summarized some of his findings thus: “It emerged that there had existed the firm ‘Kapstroi-2000’ [where Gochiyaev claimed that he had worked] and Gochiyaev had many relatives in Moscow, he had de facto become a russified Karachai who was located there. I would like to say that if he [Gochiyaev] had been a participant [in the bombings] he would not have placed all of his relatives at risk….As for the information that Gochiyaev was an adherent of the wahhabis—that version is solely that of the investigation… We know that the materials of the FSB are often put forward without the information being checked.”
In Trepashkin’s view, the russified Karachai Achemez Gochiyaev, a Moscow businessman, who owned a home in the capital and had numerous relatives living in the city, was an unlikely candidate for the role of “False-Laipanov.”
Trepashkin has also noted: “According to the conclusion of the investigation, the organizer [of the bombings] was Achemez Gochiyaev, and the zakazchiki were Emir al-Khattab and Abu Umar [both of them Arabs]. As evidence of the guilt of Umar, they produce notebooks that were found containing diagrams of the apartment houses, with the places marked where the bombs were to be placed. But the apartment houses shown in his [Umar’s] diagrams have nothing in common with the architecture of the Moscow apartment houses.”
From these fragmentary but useful observations, one can see that Trepashkin was adroit at poking holes in the Russian General Procuracy’s version of events. His arrest, on a trumped–up charge in October of 2003, removed the threat of his playing an unwelcome role (from the point of view of the authorities) at the trial of the accused terrorists Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshamkhalov which was about to begin.
A member of the Sergei Kovalev commission, human rights defender Valerii Borshchev, commented in a 2011 interview: “There were suspicions that the special services had participated in the terrorist acts, and even the names of certain persons were cited, and we tried to determine how accurate all that was. But they [the authorities] began actively to hinder us and did not let us carry out our work to the end. For that reason suspicions remain.”
The Moscow Bombings—Cui Bono? At the time that the Moscow terror bombings were occurring, I happened to run into Vitalii Korotch, who had served as chief editor of one of the so-called flagships of glasnost, the magazine Ogonek, during the Gorbachev period. Korotich at the time was doing a brief stint as a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. When I asked for his opinion concerning who was behind the bombings, he offered a terse four-word reply: “Why kill poor people?” That was all that he said, but I understood that he was making the same point that would subsequently be made by General Aleksandr Lebed and General Oleg Kalugin, namely, it was patently not in the interest of Chechen rebels or radical Islamists from the North Caucasus to blow up apartment buildings housing poor ethnic Russians in the Russian capital.
Lebed, a former secretary of the Russian Security Council under Yeltsin, stated in an interview published on 30 September 1999 in the French newspaper Figaro: “Any Chechen commander who wanted revenge would have begun to blow up [Russian] generals. He would have struck at the buildings of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the FSB, or at weapons storage areas or at atomic electric power stations. He would not have chosen as a target simple and innocent people.” It was, by contrast, as Lebed saw it, definitely in the interest of the hard-line members of the Yeltsin “Family” to blow up the buildings. “The President and the Family,” he said, “today are in isolation. They do not have the strength to win the elections. Thus, seeing the entire hopelessness of the situation, the regime can have only one goal: to destabilize the situation, so that there will not be any elections.”
In March of 2000, retired KGB major-general Oleg Kalugin, a well-known political defector to the United States, expressed views similar to those of Lebed. A journalist summed up Kaluigin’s ideas thus: “He [Kalugin] finds it hard to believe the official explanation of these events [the Moscow bombings]. According to Kalugin, the FSB and he Interior Ministry failed to produce a single piece of evidence implicating Chechen terrorists in the blasts. He thinks that the official version of events is false because, among other things, the Chechens could not have profited from blowing up residential buildings with a large number of civilian casualties. If it was Chechens, they would blow up some nuclear power plant or some military object, an army storehouse, but not residential apartment blocks, said Kalugin. Events in Ryazan…confirm his opinion.”
The Ryazan Incident: The Ryazan incident represents low-hanging fruit for those who suspect an FSB involvement in all of the September bombings. As former Financial Times and New York Times journalist, David Satter, has observed: “If the bomb planted by the FSB in the basement of 14/16 Novoselov [in Ryazan] was real and intended to murder 250 people as they slept, it seems very plausible that the successful bombings of the buildings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk, in which hundreds died, were also carried out by the FSB.’”
In contrast to the murky circumstances surrounding the Moscow terror bombings, the basic facts concerning the Ryazan incident are not in dispute. The FSB and the Russian General Procuracy, as well as their harshest critics, have expressed agreement on many of the details. It was widely reported in the Western and Russian press that two of the 250 residents of House 14/16 Novoselov, a bus driver, Aleksei Kartofelnikov, and a radio engineer, Vladimir Vasilev, had distinguished themselves as vigilant observers. Both had observed three suspicious individuals—two men and a woman, all of Slavic appearance—exiting the basement of the building where they lived shortly after 9:00 p.m. on 22 September 1999. The license plate of the Zhiguli they were driving was partly covered over by a piece of paper on which someone had written the registration number for Ryazan. Both Kartofelnikov and Vasilev became alarmed and called the police—it took them some time to get through.
When the police arrived at the apartment house, Kartofelnikov’s daughter Yuliya directed the unit to the basement of the building. The commander of the police squad, Inspector Andrei Chernyshev, recalled in a February 2000 interview: “I left one policeman at the entryway and with the other one went down into the basement. The basement in that house was deep and completely inundated with water. The sole dry spot was a small heap, a kind of stone pantry. We shined our flashlights and saw several [large] sacks for sugar stacked in a pile. The sack on top was cut open, and some kind of electrical device was visible: a wire wrapped with insulation tape, a watch…We ran out of the basement.”
“Fifteen minutes later,” Chernyshev went on, “there arrived reinforcements; the leadership of the UVD [regular police] arrived. The sacks containing the explosives were then taken away by employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in the presence of representatives of the FSB. Of course after that our sappers disarmed them.’”
“No-one had any doubts,” Chernyshev has summarized his experience, “that the situation was a combat [boevaya] one. I continue to be certain it was not exercises. And the selection of the apartment house for a terrorist act is characteristic: it is easily seen and is situated in a crowded place.” The police hastily evacuated the building.
It was at the point of the discovery by the Ryazan police of three fifty kilogram sugar sacks and an attached detonating device that the versions of the FSB and its critics began to diverge. The head of the Ryazan MVD bomb squad Yuri Tkachenko, a highly trained specialist, has recalled: “It was a live bomb. I was in a combat situation.” He tested the three sugar sacks in the basement with his MO-2 portable gas analyzer, and got a positive reading for hexogen, the explosive that had been used in the Moscow bombs. The timer of the detonator had been set for 5:30 a.m. which would have killed many of the 250 tenants… The sacks were taken out of the basement around 1:30 a.m. and driven away by the FSB. But the secret police forgot to take away the detonator, which was left in the hands of the bomb squad. They photographed it the next day. [see photo posted at http://cryptome.org/putin-bomb5.htm]
On 24 September 1999, at about noon—more than a day-and -a-half after the explosive device had been discovered—Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB of the Russian Federation, announced on television that the placing of the bomb in Ryazan had been nothing more than a “training exercise.”
Patrushev apparently had little choice but to make this announcement. “By the evening of September 23,” David Satter has reported, “the police dragnet [in Ryazan] was producing results. The white [Zhiguli vehicle] was found abandoned in a parking lot. A short time later a call to Moscow was made from a telephone bureau for intercity calls, and the operator [Nadezhda Yukhanova] who connected the call stayed on the line long enough to catch a fragment of conversation. The caller said there was no way to get out of town undetected. The voice on the other end replied, ‘Split up and each of you make your way out.’ The operator reported the call to the police, who traced the number. To their astonishment, it belonged to the FSB. A short time later [Satter continued] the Ryazan police, with the help of tips from local people, arrested two of the terrorists. The detainees then produced identification showing that they worked for the FSB. On orders from Moscow, they were soon released. Some type of explanation from the central FSB, however, was now inevitable…”
On the previous day, both Prime Minister Putin and MVD minister Vladimir Rushailo had expressed their belief that the bomb in the basement of the Ryazan apartment building had been a real one. The Ryazan regular police, who had 1,200 servicemen combing the city for more explosives, expressed outrage at Patrushev’s unexpected statement.
Journalist Maksim Glinkin commented in Obshchaya gazeta in March of 2002: “If these were exercises, then why was the all-clear not given a half hour after the discovery of the sacks and the evacuation of the residents? Why was the entire block kept in suspense for the whole night, and why were the local militia and counter-intelligence officers compiling composite photos and seeking the terrorists throughout the following day? By whom and why were Premier Putin and the head of the MVD Rushailo at first confidently informed that a terrorist act had been prevented? Why did the head of the FSB Patrushev announce his new version only when the Ryazan chekisty had discovered the apartments where, probably, the terrorists….were located? Why did the examination of the contents of the ill-fated sacks last for almost half a year if the chekisty knew from the first day that sugar was in them?... And what is to be done with the testimony of the first expert-sapper who maintained that it was nonetheless hexogen?”
“The authorities,” Glinkin remarked, “are conducting themselves like criminals in an Agatha Christie novel who have been almost caught out by Hercule Poirot.”
In 2002, on the pages of the publication sovsekretno.ru [i.e., Top Secret.ru] the FSB replied to its numerous critics. The author of the piece, Rustam Arifdzhanov, “had an opportunity to acquaint himself with the real [FSB] documents of this case and to conduct his own investigation…”
Arifdzhanov cheerfully admitted that the FSB had not informed the heads of the FSB and MVD in Ryazan concerning the exercises being conducted, as was required by law. “On the 20th of September,” he wrote, “the head of the Special Purpose Center [of the FSB] Major-General [Aleksandr] Tikhonov posed a training-combat task… to send under the guise of terrorists groups from the administrations ‘A’ [Alfa] and ‘B’ [Vympel] of the Special Purpose Center…”
Arifdzhanov proceeded to describe the arrival of three FSB special forces operatives in Ryazan on 21 September as a kind of lark, something akin to the spring break antics of American college students. “They thought up this legend—we are looking for [grocery] products. On 20 September 1999, when it was almost night… three employees of the FSB, Tatyana Ivanovna, Vasilii Anatolevich and Petr Dmitrievich (their names and patronymcs are authentic), one of whom, Vasilii, was designated the senior member of the group, left the capital.”
The three operatives are said by Arifdzhanov to have traveled to Ryazan in Petr’s own car. An apartment building located at 14/16 Novoselov Street struck Petr as especially promising. Tatyna and Vasilii agreed with his choice. They then went to the local market and bought the needed equipment: batteries, a micro-switch, a 12-caliber shotgun shell. “Granulated sugar in 50 kilogram sacks was purchased here… They rented a UAZ-452 truck [to transport the sugar].”
At this point, Arifdzhanov related, the operatives began their final preparations. “Well, now I will go and make ‘the bomb’!’ said Petr, making terrible eyes.… Vasilii and Tatyana then proceeded to Novoselov Street. ‘Let’s take Petr’s car,’ decided Vasilii… No even slightly trained terrorist would ever carry out a diversion in a car registered in his own name.”
The terrorist act itself is described fairly tersely by Arifdzhanov: “At 8:00 p.m. [on 22 September] Vasilii and Tanya….arrived at the place of conducting the ‘diversion’… ‘What have you done?’ asked Tatyana, noticing the papered over license plate… ‘This is kindergarten.’… Vasilii shrugged his shoulders. He precisely understood his task thus: to provoke…”
“At 9:20 p.m., Petr sat down in the car, drove it to the entryway and parked it at the door of the basement…The entire operation took only four minutes and thirty seconds. Opening the trunk, Vasilii and Petr quickly unloaded the sacks. Tanya was located in the basement… Petr set up the dummy [mulyazh] in a ‘maximally frightening’ manner without sparing the insulating tape… The last to quit the basement was Vasilii. At 9:27 p.m. the group left the site of the ‘diversion.’”
“On 23 September, having telephoned the Center [in Moscow], Vasilii received an order immediately to return to his place of permanent basing. Vasilii, Petr and Tatyana then by various paths at various times left the city of Ryazan. The elder of the group… Vasilii M-v…wrote a report for the Center…The report immediately was sent to Major General Tikhonov, and he reported it to the director of the FSB. On 24 September, at noon, Nikolai Patrushev announced that exercises had been conducted in Ryazan.”
There are numerous difficulties connected with this attempt an apologia for the FSB. First, it strikes on as noteworthy that the task of carrying fifty kilogram sacks of sugar and a false detonator into the basement had been entrusted to elite commandos belonging to FSB special forces reporting to General Aleksandr Tikhonov, commander of the most prestigious spetsnaz center in Russia. If a live bomb had in fact been placed in the basement, then it would of course have made sense to utilize precisely such specialists… The reported bomb-maker, Petr, could quite conceivably have been a highly trained saboteur and he was the one who selected the building to be bombed.
The account of the vehicle used in the incident manifestly does not square with numerous press accounts, since the car used by the terrorists was said to have been a stolen one with plates that could not be traced back to the vehicle’s owner. Arifdhanov’s piece also of course ignores the fact that two of the putative terrorists had been identified and reportedly arrested by the local Ryazan police.
It should be noted that the Russian General Procuracy’s account of the Ryazan incident essentially replicates Arifdhanov’s version.
To conclude, it is worth revisiting the questions asked by journalist Pavel Voloshin of Novaya gazeta whose relentless digging represents a beacon for those who contend that a live bomb had been placed in the apartment building. “Why,” he asked, “were the Ryazan specialists [i.e., the bomb squad] not given the possibility to conduct a full investigation of what was contained in the sacks… The inspection of explosive substances is a complicated task…that takes time. But even before the conclusion of the tests, the FSB announced that the substance that had been found was harmless sugar…Our conclusion: the Ryazanites were not mistaken. The equipment and the people [of the bomb squad] worked professionally. In the ‘exercise’ sacks was hexogen.”
“The second ‘piece of evidence’,” Voloshin went on to remark “is the detonator. According to the testimony of those who disarmed the device that was found, the detonator that was attached to the sacks was not a dummy and had been prepared on a professional level (see photo). It is therefore incomprehensible why it was necessary to equip a dummy with a combat detonator.”
“For the conducting of a terrorist act,” Voloshin concluded, “the house on Novoselev Street [in Ryazan] works better than any [of the adjacent or nearby houses]. Especially if the goal of the bombing was a maximum number of victims.” In my view, Voloshin’s conclusion is fully justified by the available evidence.