15 Years On, Suspicions About Putin’s Involvement in Apartment Bombings Linger in Russia

September 8, 2014
A destroyed apartment building at the site of one of the Moscow bombings, September 9, 1999. Photo: AP/van Sekretarev

Staunton, September 6 – This month marks the 15th anniversary of the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia that sparked the rise of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency and the opening of a new Russian war against Chechnya. Moscow’s failure to investigate fully what happened means that suspicions about the authorship of these terrorist acts remains open.

Oleg Orlov of Memorial says the explanations Moscow has offered for these events – that Chechen terrorists were responsible – both “initially and to this day generate doubts. No serious investigation was carried out,” and consequently, there remains “the terrible suspicion” that the Russian state itself stood “directly or indirectly behind these explosions.”

These suspicions continue, even if there is “no evidence” that they are true, because the government has “no evidence” that they are not. As a result, “the series of explosions in Moscow and the preparation for an explosion in Ryazan” continues to provoke questions about whether this was all a provocation “intended to unleash a major war in the Caucasus.”

In addition, Orlov tells Kavkazskaya Politika, “suspicion” and “uncertainty” about that and about the possibility that “the group which was strengthening itself in power needed a major war in the Caucasus” to achieve that end “remains to this day” because Moscow has failed to follow up all possible leads.

Rustam Dzhalilov of that agency also spoke with Valery Khatazhukov, head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights Center, who suggests that another reason people still are focusing on the 1999 bombings is that they opened “a qualitatively new stage in the social-political situation in Russia as a whole and in the Caucasus in particular.”

“This qualitatively new stage,” he says, has involved “the illegal method of extra-judicial judgments against people who, regardless of whether there was a basis for it, are suspected of terrorism.” Indeed, Khatazhukov says, that illegal tactic has “become one of the main methods of resolving this problem.”

After the apartment bombings, this tactic began to be employed “in many parts of the North Caucasus,” and its application “with various levels of intensity continues to our days,” the continuing shadow of “the tragic events of 15 years ago.”

The most comprehensive discussion of the explosions and their consequences, including evidence giving rise to these continuing suspicions about Putin’s role, is to be found in John Dunlop’s book, “The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin’s Rule” (Stuttgart: Ibidem, 2014).