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 293 people and injuring more than 1,000, spreading a wave of fear across the country. The bombings, together with the Dagestan War, led the country into the Second Chechen War. Then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin‘s handling of the crisis boosted his popularity and helped him attain the presidency within a few months.
The blasts hit Buynaksk on 4 September, and 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 — three days later, on 16 September. Chechen militants were blamed for the bombings, but they, along with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, denied responsibility. On 22 September, an explosive device similar to those used in the bombings was found and defused in an apartment block in the Russian city of Ryazan. The next day, Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the inhabitants of Ryazan and ordered the air bombing of Grozny, marking the beginning of the Second Chechen War. Thirty-six hours later, three FSB agents who had planted the devices at Ryazan were arrested by the local police.
The incident was declared to have been a training exercise and the agents were released on Moscow’s orders.
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, but the commission was rendered ineffective due to the Russian government’s refusal to respond to its inquiries. Two key members of the Kovalev Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, have since died in apparent assassinations.The Commission’s lawyer and investigator Mikhail Trepashkin was arrested and served four years in prison for revealing state secrets. Alexander Litvinenko, who blamed the FSB for the bombings in two books, was poisoned by FSB agents in London.
The official Russian investigation of the bombings was completed in 2002 and concluded that all the bombings were organised and led by Achemez Gochiyaev, who remains at large, and 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.
According to some historians, the bombings were coordinated by Russian state security services to bring Putin into the presidency.
This view was justified by a number of suspicious events, including bombs planted by FSB agents in the city of Ryazan; an announcement about a bombing in the city of Volgodonsk three days before it had happened by Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov; weak evidence and denials by suspects, none of whom were Chechen; and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, who wrote two books on the subject!!
Litvineko dying in a London Hospital
At 20:30 (8:30 p.m.) on 22 September 1999, a resident of an apartment building in the city of Ryazan noticed two suspicious men who carried sacks into the basement from a car with a Moscow number plate. He 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 kilograms (110 lb). A detonator and a timing device were attached and armed. The timer was set to 5:30 AM. Yuri Tkachenko, the head of the local bomb squad, disconnected the detonator and the timer and tested the three sacks of white substance with a “MO-2” gas analyser. The device detected traces of RDX, the military explosive used in all previous bombings. Police and rescue vehicles converged from different parts of the city, and 30,000 residents were evacuated from the area. 1,200 local police officers armed with automatic weapons set up roadblocks on highways around the city and started patrolling railroad stations and airports to hunt the terrorists down.
At 1:30 a.m. on 23 September 1999, the explosive engineers took a bit of substance from the suspicious-looking sacks to a firing ground located about 1 mile (1.6 km) away from Ryazan for testing.During the substance tests at that area they tried to explode it by means of a detonator, but their efforts failed, the substance was not detonated, and the explosion did not occur. At 5 a.m., Radio Rossiya reported about the attempted bombing, noting that the bomb was set up to go off at 5:30 a.m. 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 8:00 a.m. Russian television reported the attempt to blow out the building in Ryazan and identified the explosive used in the bomb as RDX. Vladimir Rushailo announced later that police prevented a terrorist act. A news report at 4 p.m. reported that the explosives failed to detonate during their testing outside the city.
At 19:00 (7 p.m.), 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.
|“||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.||”|
Later, the same evening, a telephone service employee in Ryazan tapped into long distance phone conversations and managed to detect a talk in which an out-of-town person suggested to others that they “split up” and “make your own way out”.
That person’s number was traced to a telephone exchange unit serving FSB offices. When arrested, the detainees produced FSB identification cards. They were soon released on orders from Moscow??
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. The Ryazan FSB “reacted with fury” and issued a statement saying: “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. In a live show on NTV Evgeniy Savostoyanov, former FSB director in Moscow, categorically denied that any such exercise could be performed on residential buildings with inhabitants inside and without notifying local authorities.
Explosives in Ryazan controversy
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 as FSB operatives, the official version changed to “security training”. FSB also initially reported that the explosives used by the terrorists was RDX (or “hexogen”). However, it declared later that the explosive was not RDX, but a mixture of aluminium powder, nitre (saltpeter), sugar and TNT prepared by the perpetrators in a concrete mixer at a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan, Chechnya. RDX is produced in only one factory in Russia, in the city of Perm. 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. However, Robert Bruce Ware believes that RDX could be obtained from the black market.
Yuri Tkachenko, the police explosives expert who defused the Ryazan bomb, insisted that it was real. Tkachenko said that the explosives, including a timer, a power source, and a detonator were genuine military equipment and obviously prepared by a professional. He also said that the gas analyser that tested the vapours coming from the sacks unmistakably indicated the presence of RDX. Tkachenko said that it was out of the question that the analyser could have malfunctioned, as the gas analyser was of world-class quality, cost $20,000, and was maintained by a specialist who worked according to a strict schedule, checking the analyser after each use and making frequent prophylactic checks. Tkachenko pointed out that 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. The police officers who answered the original call and discovered the bomb also insisted that it was obvious from its appearance that the substance in the bomb was not sugar. However, later at a press conference on the occasion of the Federal Security Service Employee Day in December 2001, Tkachenko denounced his previous conclusions and said the detonator was a hunting cartridge that it would not be able to detonate any known explosives.
In March 2000, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the account of Private Alexei Pinyayev of the 137th Regiment, who guarded a military facility near the city of Ryazan. He was surprised to see that “a storehouse with weapons and ammunition” contained sacks with the word “sugar” on them. The two paratroopers cut a hole in one of the bags and made tea with the sugar taken from the bag. But the taste of the tea was terrible. They became suspicious since people were talking about the explosions. The substance turned out to be hexogen. 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. At an FSB press conference, 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 range.
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.
Being British myself this incident certainly makes one think more questioningly about the things that surface from Russia