1999 Russian apartment bombings

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Russian apartment bombings
Apartment bombing.jpg
Location Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk
Date 4–16 September 1999
Target Apartment buildings
Attack type
Time bombings, terrorism
Weapons RDX
Deaths 293
Non-fatal injuries
Suspected perpetrators

The 1999 Russian apartment bombings were a series of attacks carried out on four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk in September 1999 that killed 293 people and injured more than 1,000. Together with the Dagestan War, the bombings led the country into the Second Chechen War.

On August 7, 1999 Dagestan was invaded by two thousand radicals headed by Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, a Saudi jihadi who competed on an equal footing with Osama bin Laden.[1] From 3 to 13 September Ibn al-Khattab made several threats against Russia which mentioned "reprisals" and "explosions".[2][3][4]

The blasts hit Buynaksk on 4 September, Moscow on 9 and 13 September, and Volgodonsk on 16 September.[5][6] An explosive device similar to those used in these bombings was found and defused in an apartment block in the Russian city of Ryazan on 22 September.[7] The next day, Prime Minister 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.[8] Thirty-six hours later, three FSB agents who had planted the devices[9] 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.[10]

The war in Chechnya boosted the popularity of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was previously the director of the FSB, and helped the pro-war Unity Party succeed in the elections to the State Duma and helped Putin attain the presidency within a few months.[11]

The Moscow City Court concluded in 2004 that the acts of terrorism were organized and financed by leaders of the illegal armed group Caucasus Islamic Institute Ibn al-Khattab and Abu Omar al-Saif.[12]

According to political scientist Ariel Cohen, "the terrorist attacks are believed to have been committed by separatists from North Caucasus as an act of revenge for Moscow's military operations in Chechnya and Dagestan. There are many, however, who challenge the veracity of this version of events."[13]

Yury Felshtinsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, David Satter and Vladimir Pribylovsky claim that the 1999 bombings were a false flag attack coordinated by the FSB in order to win public support for a new full-scale war in Chechnya (while Boris Kagarlitsky claims the bombings were coordinated by the GRU).[14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21] This theory has been criticised by Robert Bruce Ware, Henry Plater-Zyberk, and Simon Saradzhyan.[22] Sergei Kovalev expressed doubts over the conspiracy theory, citing an "incredible amount of fiction" in the book by Felshtinsky and Litvinenko.[23]

According to Strobe Talbott, "there was no evidence to support this conspiracy theory".[11] Similar points were raised by British journalist Thomas de Waal [24][25] and other analysts.[26][9][27][28]

The MP Yuri Shchekochikhin filed two motions for a parliamentary investigation of the events, but the motions were rejected by the Russian parliament, the Duma, in March 2000. An independent[29] public commission to investigate the bombings was chaired by the Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev. The commission was rendered ineffective by the government's refusal to respond to its inquiries.[30][31] Two key members of the Kovalev Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, have since died in apparent assassinations.[32][33] The commission's lawyer, Mikhail Trepashkin, was arrested in 2003, convicted in a closed military court, and released from prison in 2007.[29][34]



The First Chechen War between Russia and Chechen separatists ended in August 1996 with Chechen victory and the signing of the Khasav-Yurt Accord.[35] However, the peace that followed was uneasy. Russian aid promised to the Chechens never arrived and separatist groups began to set up terrorist training camps. A bomb detonated in a crowded market in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia–Alania on 19 March 1999, killing 62 and injuring many. In the same month, a group of separatists kidnapped and later killed a Russian Interior Ministry general Gennady Shpigun. According to Boris Yeltsin, that evidenced that Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov had lost control over the situation in Chechen Republic.[36] In response, the Interior Ministry escalated its contingency planning so that a blueprint for the invasion of Chechnya was drawn up.[37]

In June 1999, Chechen Muslim forces invaded neighbouring Dagestan with aim of provoking a rebellion against the Russians. There was less support for this than anticipated and the fighters retreated to Chechnya on August 22.

A Finnish journalist[who?] who in mid-August 1999, before the bombings, travelled to the village of Karamakhi in Dagestan, interviewed some villagers and their military Commander General Dzherollak. The journalist wrote:

"The Wahhabis' trucks go all over Russia. Even one wrong move in Moscow or Makhachkala, they warn, will lead to bombs and bloodshed everywhere."

According to the journalist, the Wahhabis had told him, "if they start bombing us, we know where our bombs will explode."[37] In the last days of August, the Russian military launched an aerial bombing of the villages.[37]

Allegations that Basaev was lured into Dagestan[edit]

Writing about the invasion, the editor of the Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Vitaly Tretyakov argued that the Russian intelligence services had deliberately encouraged the Chechens to enter Dagestan.[38] According to Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski:[39][37]

Robert Bruce Ware believes it's far from obvious the Kremlin would have wished to lure Basaev into Dagestan, because the Kremlin failed to understand Dagestan and couldn't have predicted the invasion wouldn't result in the creation of a hostile, sustainable Islamic state. According to Ware, a simple explanation of events in August and September 1999 is that[40]

Rumors about the impending terrorist attacks[edit]

In June 1999, Swedish journalist Jan Blomgren wrote in Svenska Dagbladet that one of options considered by the Kremlin leaders was "a series of terror bombings in Moscow that could be blamed on the Chechens."[41][42][43]

In the same month, Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa tried to alert the public that high-profile terrorist acts could actually be a part of the "strategy of tensions" pursued by secret services, which he believed had happened in Israel, Algeria and Italy. He argued that the March bombing in Vladikavkaz was most likely an example of state terrorism, and wrote:[44][45]

According to David Satter, Duma member Konstantin Borovoi said that he had been "warned by an agent of Russian military intelligence of a wave of terrorist bombings" prior to the blasts.[42]

In July 1999, the Russian journalist Aleksandr Zhilin, writing in the Moskovskaya pravda, warned that there would be a 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.[10][46] BBC journalist Thomas de Waal commented on Zhilin's article:[24]



Five apartment bombings took place and at least three attempted bombings were prevented.[47] All bombings had the same "signature", judging from the nature and the volume of the destruction. In each case the explosive RDX was used, and the timers were set to go off at night and inflict the maximum number of civilian casualties.[8] 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".[48] The terrorists were able to obtain or manufacture several tons of powerful explosives and deliver them to numerous destinations across Russia.[48][49]

Moscow mall[edit]

On 31 August 1999, at 20:00 local time (8:00 p.m.), an explosion took place in "Okhotny Ryad" shopping centre on Manezhnaya Square, Moscow.[50][51] One person was killed and 40 others injured.[48] According to the FSB, the explosion had been caused by a bomb of about 300 kilograms (660 lb) of explosives.[50] On 2 September 1999 an organisation named "The Liberation Army of Dagestan" (Russian: Освободительная Армия Дагестана) claimed responsibility for the explosion and threatened to continue terrorist acts until Russian Army left Dagestan.[52] According to the FSB, the explosion was ordered by Chechen leader Shamil Basayev who had financial disagreements with the owner of "Okhotny Ryad" shopping centre, Chechen businessman Umar Dzhabrailov.[53]

Buynaksk, Dagestan[edit]

On 4 September 1999, at 22:00 (10:00 p.m.), a car bomb detonated outside a five-storey 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.[54] Sixty-four people were killed and 133 were injured in the explosion.[8][55] Another car bomb was found and defused in the same town.[54][56] 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.[57]

Moscow, Pechatniki[edit]

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

On 9 September 1999, shortly after midnight local time, at 20:00 GMT,[58] 300 to 400 kilograms (660 to 880 lb) of explosives detonated on the ground floor of an apartment building in southeast Moscow (19 Guryanova Street). The nine-storey building was destroyed, killing 94 people inside and injuring 249 others, and damaging 19 nearby buildings.[58] A total of 108 apartments were destroyed during the bombing. An FSB spokesman identified the explosive as RDX.[48] Residents said a few minutes before the blast four men were seen speeding away from the building in a car.[59]

Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered the search of 30,000 residential buildings in Moscow for explosives.[60] He took personal control of the investigation of the blast.[49] Putin declared 13 September a day of mourning for the victims of the attacks.[58]

Moscow, Kashirskoye highway[edit]

Rescuers digging for survivors after Kashira road bombing.

On 13 September 1999, at 5:00 a.m., 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. The eight-story building was flattened, littering the street with debris and throwing some concrete pieces hundreds of metres away.[8][61]

Moscow, attempted bombings[edit]

According to FSB public relations director Alexander Zdanovich and Oksana Yablokova of The Moscow Times, official investigators defused explosives on Borisovskiye Prudy street in Moscow 14 September 1999.[34][62] Yuri Felshtinsky and Alexander Litvinenko added a site in the Liublino district and another in Kapotnya to the list of caches.[63] Satter wrote that three attempted bombings were prevented.[64]

According to the messages received by Felshtinsky and by Prima News agency from someone claiming to be Achemez Gochiyaev, on 13 September 1999, a bomb was defused in a building in the Kapotnya area. A warehouse containing several tons of explosives and six timing devices was found at Borisovskiye Prudy. The author of the messages wrote that he called the police and warned about the bombing locations, which helped to prevent a large number of further casualties.[65] Gochiyaev or his impersonators 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.[66][67]


Volgodonsk bomb partially destroyed an apartment block.

A truck bomb exploded on 16 September 1999, outside a nine-storey apartment complex in the southern Russian city of Volgodonsk, killing 17 people and injuring 69.[48] The bombing took place at 5:57 am.[68] Surrounding buildings were also damaged. The blast also happened 9 miles (14 km) from a nuclear power plant.[68] 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.[68]

Ryazan incident[edit]

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.[57][69][70] 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.[8] 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.[48] 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.[48]

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.[71] 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.[71][72][73][74] 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.[72] 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[71][72][73][74][75][76]

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.[77] He said:[78]

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.[79] When arrested, the detainees produced FSB identification cards. They were soon released on orders from Moscow.[80][81]

On 24 September, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev announced that the exercise was carried out to test responses after the earlier blasts.[82] The Ryazan FSB "reacted with fury" and issued a statement saying:[78]

FSB issued a public apology about the incident.[82] The explanation continued to be disputed primarily due to its inconsistency. 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.[83]


Bombings by date and deaths
City Date Deaths
Buynaksk 4 September 64
Moscow 9 September 94
Moscow 13 September 118
Volgodonsk 16 September 17
Ryazan 22 September prevented

International reaction[edit]

In the aftermath of the attacks officials and leaders of various nations condemned the terrorist acts and offered their support to the Russian people and state.[84][85]


President of the United States Bill Clinton devoted two speeches to the bombings in which he offered condolences to the families and friends of the victims. On September 17, 1999 he said that "The American people share the world's outrage over these cowardly acts. These attacks were aimed not just at innocent people across Russia; they also targeted fundamental human rights and democratic values, which are cherished by Russia and other members of the international community" and pledged to intensify the U.S. cooperation with Russian authorities to help prevent terrorist acts. The next day, he compared the terrorist acts to bombings in Oklahoma, the World Trade Center and at the U.S. embassies in east Africa. Clinton said: "While we stand united with you in our grief, we also stand united with you in our resolve that terrorism will not go unpunished and will not undermine the work of democracy." [84]

In the aftermath of the September 13 bombing Secretary of Defense William Cohen called it "a cowardly and callous act of terrorism",[86] offered support to Russia[87] and compared the terrorist acts to the missile threat from the "rogue" states: "Just as we are witnessing acts of terrorism against Russia, we are concerned about acts of terrorism in the form of missiles being fired at the United States from rogue nations".[88]


Following the September 13 bombing Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered India's condolences in a letter to Boris Yeltsin.[85] External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh expressed concerns over the situation in Dagestan which he saw as "clearly a manifestation of international terrorism and extremism", and said that his country supported Moscow's steps to meet the threats it faced in the Republic of Dagestan.[85]

Related events[edit]

Ryazan incident controversy[edit]

Official explanation of the Ryazan incident[edit]

The position of Russian authorities on the Ryazan incident changed significantly over time. Initially, police, FSB and federal government officials treated the disarmed bomb as a real threat and praised citizen vigilance. After the people who planted the bomb were identified as FSB operatives, the official version changed to "security training", causing confusion and distrust especially among the Ryazan police and FSB officers involved in the initial phase of the investigation. Later, the official version settled on the "FSB training", although it continued to be questioned in Russia.[89]

Explosives in Ryazan[edit]

The Russian Deputy Prosecutor declared in 2002 that a comprehensive testing of the samples showed no traces of any explosives, and that sacks from Ryazan contained only sugar.[90] However 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.[48][91]

At a press conference on the occasion of the Federal Security Service Employee Day in December 2001, Tkachenko said that the gas analyser had not been used. He added that the detonator was a hunting cartridge and that it would not be able to detonate any known explosives.[92]

The type of explosives controversy[edit]

It was initially reported by the FSB that the explosives used by the terrorists was RDX (or "hexogen"). However, it was officially 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.[93][94] RDX is produced in only one factory in Russia, in the city of Perm.[48] According to 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.

A military storage with RDX disguised as "sugar"[edit]

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.[95] 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.[92]

Incident in Russian Parliament[edit]

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."[96][97][98][99][100] However, the bombing in Volgodonsk took place three days later, on 16 September. When the Volgodonsk bombing happened, Vladimir Zhirinovsky demanded an explanation in the Duma, but Seleznev turned his microphone off.[96] Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in the Russian Duma: "Remember, Gennadiy Nikolaevich, how you told us that a house has been blown up in Volgodonsk, three days prior to the blast? How should we interpret this? The State Duma knows that the house was destroyed on Monday, and it has indeed been blown up on Thursday [same week]... How come... the state authorities of Rostov region were not warned in advance [about the future bombing], although it was reported to us? Everyone is sleeping, the house was destroyed three days later, and now we must take urgent measures..." [Seleznev turned his microphone off].[101]

Two years later, in March 2002, Seleznyov claimed in an interview that he had been referring to an unrelated hand grenade-based explosion, which did not kill anyone and did not destroy any buildings, and which indeed happened in Volgodonsk.[102][103] It remains unclear why Seleznyov reported such an insignificant incident to the Russian Parliament and why he did not explain the misunderstanding to Zhirinovsky and other Duma members.[102]

FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko described this as "the usual Kontora mess up": "Moscow-2 was on the 13th and Volgodonsk on 16th, but they got it to the speaker the other way around," he said. Investigator Mikhail Trepashkin confirmed that the man who gave Seleznyov the note was indeed an FSB officer.[104]

Sealing of all materials by Russian Duma[edit]

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident.[105][106] The Duma, on a pro-Kremlin party-line vote, voted to seal all materials related to the Ryazan incident for the next 75 years and forbade an investigation into what happened.[citation needed]

Claims and denials of responsibility for the blasts[edit]

After the first bombings, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov asserted that no warning had been given for the attacks.[50] A previously unknown group, protesting against growing consumerism in Russia, claimed responsibility for the blast. A note was found at the site of the explosion from the group, calling itself the Revolutionary Writers, according to the FSB.[107]

On 2 September, after the first bombing, Al-Khattab announced: "The mujahideen of Dagestan are going to carry out reprisals in various places across Russia.",[2] but Khattab would later on 14 September deny responsibility in the blasts, adding that he is fighting the Russian army, not women and children.[108]

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."[49][109] In an interview to the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny on 9 September, Shamil Basayev denied responsibility, saying: "The latest blast in Moscow is not our work, but the work of the Dagestanis. Russia has been openly terrorizing Dagestan, it encircled three villages in the centre of Dagestan, did not allow women and children to leave."[24] A few days later Basayev denied that Islamist fighters were responsible for the blasts, and instead were connected to "Russian domestic politics."[110] In a later interview, Basayev said he had no idea who was behind the bombings. "Dagestani's could have done it, or the Russian special services."[111]

From 9–13 September, Associated Press reporter Greg Myre conducted an interview with Ibn Al-Khattab, in which Al-Khattab as said, "From now on, we will not only fight against Russian fighter jets and tanks. From now on, they will get our bombs everywhere. Let Russia await our explosions blasting through their cities. I swear we will do it." The interview was published on 15 September.[112][3] In a subsequent interview with Interfax, al-Khattab denied involvement in the bombings, saying "We would not like to be akin to those who kill sleeping civilians with bombs and shells."[112][113]

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.[49] 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.[114] Russian officials from both the Interior Ministry and FSB, at the time, expressed scepticism over the claims.[110] Sergei Bogdanov, of the FSB press service in Moscow, said that the words of a previously unknown individual representing a semi-mythical organisation should not be considered as reliable. Mr. Bogdanov insisted that the organisation had nothing to do with the bombing.[115] On September 15, 1999 a Dagestani official also denied the existence of a "Dagestan Liberation Army".[116]

Investigations and theories[edit]

Criminal investigation and court ruling[edit]

The official investigation was concluded in 2002. According to the Russian State Prosecutor office,[94][117] all apartment bombings were executed under command of ethnic Karachay Achemez Gochiyayev. The operations were planned by Ibn al-Khattab and Abu Omar al-Saif, Arab militants fighting in Chechnya on the side of Chechen insurgents. Both Russia and USA accuse Al-Khattab of having direct links with Al-Qaeda,[118] though Khattab himself has always denied this.[119][120] Al-Khattab and al-Saif were later killed during the Second Chechen War. The planning was carried out in Khattab's guerilla camps in Chechnya, "Caucasus" in Shatoy and "Taliban" in Avtury, according to the prosecution.[117] Gochiyaev's group was trained at Chechen rebel bases in the towns of Serzhen-Yurt and Urus-Martan. The group's "technical instructors" were two Arab field commanders, Abu Umar and Abu Djafar, Al-Khattab was the bombings' brainchild.[121] The explosives were prepared at a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan Chechnya, by "mixing aluminium powder, nitre and sugar in a concrete mixer",[122] or by also putting their RDX and TNT.[94] 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.

It should be stated that nearly all the information concerning the Moscow bombers was generated by the FSB and the Russian General Procuracy. Is this information credible? According to Dunlop:[123]

Court ruling on events in Moscow[edit]

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.[22][65] In early September 1999, Magayayev, Krymshamkhalov, Batchayev and Dekkushev reloaded the cargo into a Mercedes-Benz 2236[124] trailer and delivered it to Moscow. En route, they were protected from possible complications by an accomplice, Khakim Abayev,[124] 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.[124] 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.[22][125] Batchayev and Krymshakhalov admitted transporting a truckload of explosives to Moscow but said "they have never been in touch with Chechen warlords and did not know Gochiyaev".[8] They said that someone "who posed as a jihad leader had duped them into the operation" by hiring them to transport his explosives, and they later realised this man was working for the FSB.[8] They claimed that bombings were directed by German Ugryumov who supervised the FSB Alpha and Vympel special forces units at that time.[126]

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 in organisation and execution of the 1999 explosions in the Manezhnaya Square mall and in hotel Intourist and sentenced them correspndingly to 25 years and 15 years of imprisonment.[127]

There are doubts though as to Gochiyaev's guilt. In November 2003, an article appeared in the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti, authored by an investigative journalist, Igor Korolkov.[128] It described a meeting between Mikhail Trepashkin and Mark Blumenfeld, a former businessman who had rented the basement in the apartment house on Guryanov Street to Gochiyaev, in which Mr Blumenfeld stated that 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, Blumenfeld had been shown a photo of someone he was told was Gochiyaev but Blumenfeld replied that he had never seen the man but the investigators insisted that he identify Gochiyaev, at which point Blumenfeld ceased arguing and signed the document. The person who had met Blumenfeld was evidently not the same person depicted in the photograph but was, according to Blumenfeld, a man with a simple face whereas the person Blumenfeld had actually met looked externally like an intellectual. False-Laiponov had been seen by several persons. They all maintained that the original composite photo was very similar to the actual person who rented the storage facilities. The Russian Procuracy General unwittingly substantiated Trepashkin’s claim. Of the four storage premises named (two bombed and two not), the Delo (case) states that the witnesses for three, V.A. Avseev, Mark Blumenfeld and N.A. Gollubeva are not reported to have identified Gochiyaev as False-Laipanov. It should be noted that Blumenfeld’s account was different to the statement that he had signed for the FSB. One witness, Yu.E. Petrunkin, did identify a photograph of Gochiyaev as the man known by him as Laipanov. A driver, V.P.Sinitsyn, hired by False-Laipanov to deliver sacks of sugar, was not reported to have made an identification. Another hired driver, A.V.Prushinskii, stated that he was paid for his work by a man in glasses, about 1.8m tall, similar to the composite photo of Laipanov. It should be noted that Prushinskii was not shown an actual photo of Gochiyaev, even though one existed (it had been shown to Petrunkin).[123]

Just before his arrest in 2004, Trepashkin was under the impression that the FSB had no interest in apprehending Gochiyaev:[123]

To Francesca Mereu, Mikhail Trepashkin further confirmed his belief in Gochiyaev’s innocence:[129]

Court ruling on events in Buinaksk[edit]

The 14 September Buinaksk bombings were ordered by Al-Khattab, who promised the bombers $300,000 to drive their truck bombs into the centre of the compound, which would have destroyed four apartment buildings simultaneously. However, the bombers parked on an adjacent street instead and blew up only one building. At the trial they complained that Khattab had not given them all the money he owed them.[22] One of the bombers confessed working for Al-Khattab, but claimed he did not know the explosives were intended to blow up the military apartment buildings.[22]

Court ruling on events in Volgodonsk[edit]

According to Dekkushev's confession he, together with Krymshamkhalov and Batchayev, prepared the explosives, transported them to Volgodonsk, and randomly picked the apartment building on Octyabrskoye Shosse to blow up. Abu Omar had promised to pay him for the job, but Dekkushev never got a single kopeck. According to Dekkushev, it wasn't the FSB that ordered the bombing, as Boris Berezovsky later claimed, but the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[22]


Two members of Gochiyayev's group, which had carried out the attacks, Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Crymshamhalov, have both been sentenced to life terms in a special-regime colony.[130] 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.[131] Dekkushev was extradited to Russia on 14 April 2002 to stand trial. Crymshamhalov was apprehended and extradicted to Moscow.[22][130] In 2000, six bombers involved in the Buynaksk attack were arrested in Azerbaijan and convicted of the bombing.[22] 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.[130] In a statement released in January 2004, the FSB said, "until we arrest Gochiyayev, the investigation of the apartment bloc bombings of 1999 will not be finished."[132]

Suspects and accused[edit]

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.[133] All of them turned out to be innocent. According to the official investigation, the following people either delivered explosives, stored them, or harboured other suspects:

Moscow bombings[edit]
Volgodonsk bombing[edit]
  • Timur Batchayev (an ethnic Karachai),[144] killed in Georgia in the clash with police during which Krymshakhalov was arrested[94]
  • Zaur Batchayev (an ethnic Karachai)[145] killed in Chechnya in 1999–2000[94]
  • Adam Dekkushev (an ethnic Karachai),[146] 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[8][93]
Buinaksk bombing[edit]
  • Isa Zainutdinov (an ethnic Avar)[144] and native of Dagestan,[146] sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2001[147]
  • Alisultan Salikhov (an ethnic Avar)[144] and native of Dagestan,[146] sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2001[147]
  • Magomed Salikhov (an ethnic Avar)[144] and native of Dagestan,[148] 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,[149] 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.[150] 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.[151]
  • Ziyavudin Ziyavudinov (a native of Dagestan),[152] arrested in Kazakhstan, extradited to Russia, sentenced to 24 years in April 2002[153]
  • Abdulkadyr Abdulkadyrov (an ethnic Avar)[144] and native of Dagestan, sentenced to 9 years in March 2001[147]
  • Magomed Magomedov (Sentenced to 9 years in March 2001)[147]
  • Zainutdin Zainutdinov (an ethnic Avar)[144] and native of Dagestan, sentenced to 3 years in March 2001 and immediately released under amnesty[147]
  • Makhach Abdulsamedov (a native of Dagestan, sentenced to 3 years in March 2001 and immediately released under amnesty).[147]

Attempts at independent investigation[edit]

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident.[105][106]

An independent public commission to investigate the bombings, which was chaired by Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov, was rendered ineffective because of government refusal to respond to its inquiries.[154][155]

In a 2002 interview to Echo of Moscow radio, Kovalyov commented on the Ryazan incident:[23]

Years later Kovalyov remarked,[156] "What can I tell? We can prove only one thing: there was no training exercise in the city of Ryazan. Authorities do not want to answer any questions..."

Two key members of the Kovalyov Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, both Duma members, have since died in apparent assassinations in April 2003 and July 2003, respectively.[157][158] Another member of the commission, Otto Lacis, was assaulted in November 2003[159] and two years later, on 3 November 2005, he died in a hospital after a car accident.[160]

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 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.[161] He was sentenced by a Moscow military closed court to four years imprisonment on a charge of revealing state secrets.[162] 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".[163]

In 2009 Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported evidence that Romanovich died more than a year before the apartment bombings took place:[164]

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 videocassette with evidence against the RDX dealers. Mr Trepashkin did not publicise the meeting fearing for lives of the witnesses and their families.[166][167]

Trepashkin 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.[168]

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".[169]

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.[170] Seven months later, NTV general manager Igor Malashenko 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.[171] 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.(Goldfarb & Litvinenko 2007, p. 198)

Artyom Borovik told Grigory Yavlinsky that Borovik investigated the Moscow apartment bombings and prepared a series of publications about them.[172] Mr. Borovik received numerous death threats, and he died in an aeroplane crash in March 2000.[173]

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security service member Alexander Litvinenko, who investigated the bombings, were killed in 2006.[174]

Surviving victims of the Guryanova street bombing asked President Dmitry Medvedev to resume the investigation in 2008.[156]

Theory of Russian government conspiracy[edit]

Yuri Felshtinsky, Litvinenko, David Satter and Vladimir Pribylovsky claimed that the 1999 bombings were a false flag attack coordinated by the FSB to win public support for a new full-scale war in Chechnya (while Boris Kagarlitsky claimed the bombings were coordinated by the GRU).[14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21] 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.[11]

According to the theory, the bombings were a successful coup d'état organised by the FSB to bring Putin to power. Some of them described the bombings as typical "active measures" practised by the KGB in the past. David Satter stated, during his testimony in the United States House of Representatives,

"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."[175]

In September 1999 Boris Berezovsky said he believed that the blasts had been organized by Chechen militants.[68] According to Felshtinsky, Berezovsky didn’t come to the conclusion that Putin and the FSB were responsible for the bombings until about a year after they had occurred. The turning point for Berezovsky was a conversation with Felshtinsky: Berezovsky became aware of the FSB responsibility for the bombings when he realised that Putin had the support of the FSB as a presidential candidate. Until then Berezovsky had believed that only the “Family” had backed Putin. Berezovsky even offered to show Felshtinsky’s manuscript of Blowing Up Russia to Putin on what was possibly the former’s last visit to Moscow. Felshtinsky dissuaded him from doing so but Berezovsky still met with Putin. Putin asked Berezovsky why his ORT channel had attacked Putin over the sinking of the submarine Kursk. Berezovsky replied that if he really wanted to attack Putin he would ask him who blew up the apartment blocks. Tellingly perhaps, Putin fell silent.[176] Berezovsky died in 2013 in the United Kingdom; he was found hanged but the coroner did not rule it suicide but requested an open verdict.[177]

In a 2002 interview to Echo Moskvy, Sergei Kovalyov referred to the theory of Felshtinsky and Pribylovsky as a "pure conspiracy", albeit stating that every theory should be checked. He expressed his doubts over the conspiracy theory, citing "an incredible amount of fiction" in the book by Felshtinsky and Litvinenko.[23]

Other investigations[edit]

Maura Reynolds from the Los Angeles Times investigated Ryazan events by interviewing and quoting Alexei Kartofelnikov, one of the two residents who persisted in calling militia, Tatiana Borycheva, Tatiana Lukichyova, also residents, Lt. Col. Sergei Kabashov, Yuri Bludov, the spokesman for the regional FSB.[69]

Helen Womack from The Independent quoted Alexei Kartofelnikov's daughter Yulia, police officer Major Vladimir Golev, Lt. Col. of the Ryazan police Sergei Kabashov.[70]

John Sweeney a journalist at The Observer, later for BBC, quoted Vladimir Vasiliev, one of the two Ryazan apartment residents who tipped off the militsiya, an inspector from the local police Andrei Chernyshev, grandmother Klara Stepanovna, Tkachenko, head of the regional FSB Alexander Sergeyev and others.

Statements in support[edit]

U.S. senator John McCain said that there remained "credible allegations that Russia's FSB had a hand in carrying out these [Moscow apartment bombing] attacks".[21]

Former 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.[178][179][180]

Andrei Illarionov, until 2005 a key economic adviser to the Russian president, has no doubts as to who was responsible for the bombings:[181]

A PBS Frontline documentary on Vladimir Putin, called "Putin's Way", also mentioned the false flag 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.[182][183]



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.[184] An FSB spokesman said that "Litvinenko's evidence cannot be taken seriously by those who are investigating the bombings".[185]

Sergei Markov, an advisor to the Russian government, criticised the film Assassination of Russia, which supported the FSB involvement theory. Markov said that the film was "a well-made professional example of the propagandist and psychological war that Boris Berezovsky is notoriously good at." Markov found parallels between the film and the conspiracy theory that the United States and/or Israel organised the 9/11 attacks to justify military actions.[186]


According to researcher Gordon Bennett, the conspiracy theory that the FSB was behind the bombings was kept alive by the Russian oligarch and Kremlin-critic Boris Berezovsky. Bennett points out that neither Berezovsky nor his team (which includes Alexander Litvinenko) provided any evidence to support their claims. In the BBC World Hard Talk interview on 8 May 2002, Berezovsky was also unable to present any evidence for his claims, and he did not suggest he was in possession of such evidence which he would be ready to present in a court.[187] Bennett also points out that Putin's critics often forget that the decision to send troops to Chechnya was taken by Boris Yeltsin — not Vladimir Putin — with the wholehearted support of all power structures.[187]

American journalist Paul Klebnikov said it's hard to believe that Putin was behind the bombings, saying there was "nothing in the man's past to indicate that he would commit such a monstrous crime to gain power". According to Klebnikov,[188]

Mike Bowker, from the University of East Anglia, has said that the inference that the bombings were carried out by the Russian authorities is uncorroborated by evidence. According to Bowker, the theory also ignores the history of Chechen terrorism and public threats by various Chechen rebels following their defeat in Dagestan – which included Khattab telling a Czech and a German newspaper, a few days before the bombings in Moscow, that "Russian women and children will pay for the crimes of Russian generals." and that "this will not happen tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow"[9][189]

Vlad Sobell has pointed out that the proponents of the theory that the second invasion of Chechnya was a plot by Putin to get elected regularly ignore the key fact that Putin's attack on Chechnya in 1999 was preceded by a Chechen insurrection in Dagestan, whose objective was to turn it into another unstable Chechnya.[190]

According to Henry E. Hale of Harvard University, one thing that remains unclear about the "FSB did it" theory: If the motive was to get an FSB-friendly man installed as president, why would the FSB have preferred Putin, a little-known "upstart" who had leapt to the post of FSB director through outside political channels, to Primakov, who was certainly senior in stature and pedigree and who was also widely reputed to have a KGB past?[191]

According to Robert Bruce Ware of Southern Illinois University, "The assertions that Russian security services are responsible for the bombings is at least partially incorrect, and appears to have given rise to an obscurantist mythology of Russian culpability. At the very least, it is clear that these assertions are incomplete in so far as they have not taken full account of the evidence suggesting the responsibility of Wahhabis under the leadership of Khattab, who may have been seeking retribution for the federal assault upon Dagestan's Islamic Djamaat."[112]

Kirill Pankratov, in a 2003 letter to the Johnson's Russia List, spoke against Satter's and Putley's theory. He noted that 1) there was no need for "another pretext for military operation in Chechnya at the time of the 'Ryazan incident'", but there were already a "plenty of reasons for decisive military response", 2) the FSB or other security service was institutionally incapable of such a conspiracy after years of decline in the 1990s, 3) the conspirators were not actually trying to blow a building up in Ryazan; however, their sloppy actions are "consistent with the 'training exercise' version of events", 4) the FSB did not have to declare the incident a "training exercise", but "it was much easier to show great relief... and continue trying to find the 'perpetrators' of the bombing attempt."[192]

Security and policy analysts Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev noted that Litvinenko and Felshtinsky did not provide any direct evidence to back up their claims about FSB involvement in the bombings.[193]

Beinfield Professor of History Gregory Freeze cites some of Yeltsin's critics who believe that an additional reason for choosing Putin as a successor was "kompromat (compromising materials), including allegations that his government, not terrorists, perpetrated the bombings used to justify the invasion of Chechnya. This kompromat, they argue, guaranteed that as president Putin would not dare to turn against Yeltsin and the 'Family'." However, "such accusations do not seem credible".[194]


Novaya Gazeta journalist Vyacheslav Izmailov claimed in a 2002 interview to Gazeta.ru: "What Berezovsky sais about FSB participation in Moscow and Volgodonsk explosions is a lie. I don't have the proof for all explosions, but I have for some. I know that the explosions were perpetrated by bandits."[195]

Andrey Soldatov is sceptical about Trepashkin's awareness of the details of the Russian apartment bombings. According to Soldatov, the Russian government's suppression of the discussion of the FSB involvement theory reflects paranoia rather than guilt on its part. He points out that, ironically, the paranoia produced the conspiracy theories that the government was keen to stamp out.[196]

In 2009, Russian journalist and radio host Yulia Latynina, commenting on Scott Anderson's article "Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power" noted that deaths of Sergey Yushenkov and Yury Schekochikhin "in any case, had no relation to bombings in Moscow". Sergey Yushenkov, the head of the unofficial inquiry into the bombings, was assassinated 13 days before the announcement of the completion of the official investigation of the bombings and Yury Schekochikhin's medical records are still classified. Yushenkov had occasionally suggested to reporters off the record his personal belief that the security services were behind the murder of his colleague Vladimir Golovlyov, as well as the Moscow bombings.[197] Latynina opined that the version that FSB did the bombings was not only absurd, but purposefully invented by Berezovsky after he was deprived of the power. Her major argument was, that since Berezovsky was one of the key figures to push Putin into the power, he knew for certain the theory was wrong. If Berezovsky felt that "there are some people else beyond Putin, some fearsome siloviks who can explode houses, they [the Family] would throw Putin away, as a hot potato".[198]

In a March 2010 article, Yulia Latynina wrote:[199]

Six months earlier Latynina had expressed a somewhat different view:[200]

Theory of Ibn Al Khattab's involvement[edit]

Statements in support[edit]

Paul J. Murphy, a former U.S. counterterrorism expert stated that "the evidence that Al-Khattab was responsible for the apartment building bombings in Moscow is clear".[22] Murphy also states "the findings by the Russian government prove that the Liberation Army of Dagestan, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, is the same as Al-Khattab's Islamic Army of Dagestan, which launched the invasion of Dagestan from Chechnya in August, 1999".[22]

Professor Peter Reddaway and researcher Dmitri Glinski described the involvement of the Liberation Army of Dagestan as the best explanation for the bombings.[191]

In Paul Klebnikov's view, the most likely explanation is that the bombings were carried out by Chechen militants or by Islamic extremists. According to Klebnikov, Chechen warlords have carried out terrorist attacks against civilian population in the past, the Wahhabi commander Ibn Khattab was linked to the international terrorist Osama bin Laden, and field commanders publicly executed prisoners of war and civilian hostages. So, there were plenty of candidates in Chechnya's underworld capable of carrying out the apartment bombings.[188]

According to Robert Bruce Ware, an associate professor of Southern Illinois University, the best explanation for the apartment block blasts is that they were perpetrated by Wahhabis under the leadership of Khattab, as retribution for the federal attacks on Karamachi, Chabanmakhi, and Kadar. "If the blasts were organized by Khattab and other Wahhabis as retribution for the federal attacks on Dagestan's Islamic Djamaat, then this would explain the timing of the attacks, and why there were no attacks after the date on which fighting in Dagestan was concluded. It would explain why no Chechen claimed responsibility. It would account for Basayev's reference to Dagestani responsibility, and it would be consistent with Khattab's vow to set off bombs everywhere... blasting through [Russian] cities."[112]

U.S. Army Major Mark E. Johnson wrote that "by mid-September [of 1999] the Islamic extremists had conducted more attacks in Dagestan, Moscow and in the southern Russian town of Volgodonsk."[201]


According to David Satter, there are some difficulties with the Khattab/Chechen theory. 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. If Satter is correct, the preparations for these acts of revenge would have needed to be initiated long before the act for which they were revenge for, had occurred![202]

Robert Bruce Ware and Enver Kisriev addressed the point by David Satter and Rajan Menon about hexogen being a highly controlled substance in Russia. As Ware and Kisriev wrote in 2009, sizable amounts of hexogen had been and still were readily available in Dagestan. From October 1, 2003, to December 1, 2003 law enforcement officials of Dagestan sponsored a program for voluntary surrender of arms. Among the surrendered weapons were 1 ton, 877 kg, 992g of explosives that included large amounts of hexogen and ammonite. According to Dagestani officials, "the surrender program recovered only a small fraction of the weapons, ammunition and explosives circulating in Dagestan, since most of those wishing to dispose of these items would be better compensated on the black market". Which means that Dagestani insurgents had easy access to explosives.[203]

The problem with the official explanation, including the Wahhabi theory and the Ryazan incident, according to the late Dmitry Furman is that:[204]


Allegations that Chechen extremists were funded by Russians[edit]

Former MVD chair and deputy prime minister Anatoliy Kulikov found evidence that Berezovsky was channeling funds to Chechen extremists through the Russian Security Council. Berezovsky’s envoy, Badri Patarkatishvili was witnessed giving Shamil Basayev $10m, in the presence of Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and Vice President Boris Agapov.[123] The Russian government sponsored RT reports that Berezovsky was paying the ransoms of hostages captured by the Chechens, while he was deputy secretary of the security council.[205] Vyacheslav Izmailov, a retired army major who spent years brokering hostage deals in Caucasus, claims that military and intelligence officials were a party to this activity. Izmailov also stated that during 1997 and 1998, senior officials from the Interior and Defence ministries and from the FSB had maintained regular contact with Chechen leaders, such as Shamil Basayev.[206] Why were the Russians engaged in funding Chechen extremists? The late Paul Klebnikov wrote:[123]

According to Ilyas Akhmadov, who served as the foreign minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria since 1999, hostage trade in 1990s emerged as a means to exchange prisoners of war and grew at a catastrophic rate after the First Chechen war.[207] The Chechen Government lacked resources to fight the hostage trade due to the local traditions of blood feud.[208] Akhmadov justifies Berezovsky's involvement as a semi-official solution to the problem of hostages. According to Akhmadov, the primary reason for Russian officials to pay ransoms was to gain domestic influence:[209]

Overall, Akhmadov believes that hostage trade had a particularly negative effect on the Chechen society:[210]

Allegations that Wahhabis were funded by Russians[edit]

Akhmed Zakayev is under the impression that the Wahhabis were sponsored by the Russians, specifically the FSB. In July 1998, during a crackdown on the militants, the Maskhadov government captured some of them and expelled them to Jordan. Zakayev recalled:[8]

Zakayev pointed out that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, had tried to enter Chechnya in 1997 as had four other 9/11 terrorists, including Mohammed Ata. They had failed because Chechnya was tightly sealed to outsiders.[8]

Zakayev continued:[8]

Zakayev’s view is supported by that of a military intelligence agent who had taken part in undercover missions in Chechnya, quoted anonymously by Francesca Mereu:[129] He described how Chechnya had always been full of agents of the Russian special services. After Chechnya declared independence, President Dudayev ordered his men to destroy the KGB archives because he wanted to cover up evidence of who had worked for the KGB. When Aslan Maskhadov was elected president, he was backed by well known field commanders like Zakayev and Khambiyev but one group opposed Maskhadov, the Wahhabi Basayev, Khattab and Arbi Barayev who were linked to the special services. This was the group that invaded Dagestan in August 1999 under the misapprehension that they could keep Dagestan as an Islamic emirate. Arbi Barayev and the Akhmadov brothers were responsible for most of the kidnappings under Maskhadov’s rule. During the second Chechen war, Barayev should have been enemy number one for the Russians but he moved freely all over Chechnya and through checkpoints with an FSB agent’s pass. When in Moscow, he stayed in FSB apartments. According to the agent, the group responsible for the bombings was made up of Chechen KGB agents headed by an FSB informant. In exchange for protection, the group carried out killings, robberies and terrorist attacks for the FSB.

Ilyas Akhmadov criticizes the notion that the hostage trade represented a conspiracy by the FSB. In Akhmadov's view, "it’s wrong to assume that the leadership of the Interior Ministry (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del, MVD) or the FSB hatched a devious scheme to instill the hostage trade into Chechnya."[211]

Akhmadov also makes a point that the media picture of 1998-1999, according to which there were three or four "barons" of the slave trade (Arbi Barayev, Sulim Yamadayev, the Akhmadov brothers, and Baudi Bakuyev), does not represent reality:[212]

According to Akhmadov, allegations that Shamil Basaev was working for Russians should be viewed as an element of the political strife among Chechen leaders:[213]

Allegations that Russians negotiated the incursion into Dagestan with Chechens[edit]

During September 1999, transcripts of a number of alleged phone conversations conducted by Berezovsky with Udugov, Makhashev and other radical Chechens in Spring 1999 were published by a Moscow tabloid. The conversations were reportedly in a primitive code but it seemed to press commentators (such as Aleksandr Khinshtein) that Berezovsky was negotiating a price for an incursion by the rebels into Dagestan. It coincided with the leaking of tapes containing eavesdropping on confidential conversations made by FAPSI.[123]

Someone termed “a Kremlin insider responsible for relations with the special services” by Francesca Mereu, told her that only after the bombing did he understand the odd activity he had noticed in the spring, when Putin was the head of the FSB. These activities had taken place at the same time Skuratov was under fire.[129]

Alex Goldfarb, an ally of Berezovsky, claimed that a secret agreement had been reached in the spring of 1999 between Chechens Basayev and Udugov, and the Kremlin leadership for a short victorious war in the Caucasus. Russia would begin limited military action in Chechnya in response to the Wahhabis in Dagestan. The Upper Terek district of Chechnya would be returned to Russia, resulting in the fall of the Maskhodov regime, Maskhodov’s place being taken by Basayev and Udugov.[123]

In early August 1999, the investigative journal Versiya published a report that the head of the Russian presidential administration, Alexander Voloshin, had met secretly with Shamil Basayev, a meeting arranged by a retired officer of the GRU Anton Surikov that took place at a villa owned by the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi between Nice and Monaco. Many of the participants of the meeting had fought on the same side during the Abkhazia-Georgia conflict during the early 1990s. According to Boris Kagarlitsky, those who arranged the meeting made one mistake; the security system blocked monitoring from the outside but provided perfect conditions for monitoring from the inside. French intelligence was able to listen in on everything that transpired.[45]

According to Kagarlitsky, Voloshin was concerned about the succession of power, the Luzhkov/Primakov alliance in particular. They had to be stopped and a conflict with an external enemy was required to achieve this. Basayev, on the other hand, was interested in power in Chechnya. With the influence of the legal president of Chechnya, Maskhadov growing, a small war was needed to change that. A larger conflict would have left Maskhadov in charge.[45]

Dunlop confirmed:[45]

Former foreign minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Ilyas Akhmadov believes the story about Basayev and Voloshin meeting in Nice wasn't based on fact, and Basayev hasn't actually been in Nice. According to Akhmadov, Basayev was portrayed in shorts while Chechen men, especially fighters, do not wear shorts. Additional reasons not to take the story seriously are that Basayev was a participant of a rally in Grozny a day before the alleged meeting, and that Akhmadov doesn't know an instance when Shamil Basayev left the North Caucasus in the years after the First Chechen War.[214]

Robert Bruce Ware argues that if the Kremlin were interested in bribing Basaev to commit a raid on Russian territory in order to generate public support for a war in Chechnya, it would have been preferable for the Kremlin to instigate a raid into republics with ethnic Russian population, such as Stavropol or Kalmykia. He cites anti-caucasian prejudices and expectations that Dagestan would follow Chechnya as a reason why Russians would be less likely to support Dagestanis than their own ethnic group.[40]

According to Ware, it's also difficult to understand why Basaev would have accepted a Kremlin bribe to invade Dagestan in order to justify the Second Chechen war, because Basaev would die at the hands of his own compatriots if the plan were revealed. Ware writes that any deal which might justify the Russian conquest of Chechnya seems to be "completely out of character for Basaev".[40]

Allegations that Russians planned the Second Chechen war[edit]

After being replaced as prime minister in August and before the presidential elections in March 2000, Sergei Stepashin, in separate discussions with three different journalists, made a number of references to the planning of the invasion of Chechnya by the Kremlin which started in March 1999. According to Stepashin, the aim in March 1999 was to place a sanitary cordon around Chechnya but in July this was broadened to seize territory north of the Terek. In John Dunlop's view, Russian forces would have entered Chechnya even if there had been no invasion of Dagestan and no acts of terrorism in Moscow.[123]

As Patrick Cockburn pointed out:[215]

Andrew Jack, former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times, quoted a "very senior official from the period" who dismissed as bravado Stepashin's claims that the military operations were long planned:[216]

According to Robert Bruce Ware, Stepashin's claim appears to be trivial on the surface. Given the situation in Chechnya in 1999, the Kremlin would have been remiss "had it not had contingency plans for an invasion". There were more than 1000 Russians kidnapped and held under brutal conditions in Chechnya. The populations of the surrounding regions lived in a "prolonged state of heightened terror". Ware wrote that kidnappings "occurred on a scale so great that every Dagestani that I know had a relative, friend, or neighbor who was kidnapped, that is, if they were not kidnapped themselves". People from Dagestan were held in Chechnya for "exorbitant ransoms that exhausted the resources of entire clans, when relatives saw their loved ones being tortured on Chechen-produced video tape".[40]

According to Ware, the question is not whether there was a plan for invasion, but whether there was a decision to implement it, which would presumably require presidential authorization.[40]

As mentioned above, while Yeltsin may have made the decision to invade Chechnya, it was Putin who gave the order to invade. According to John Dunlop, on the same day that Yeltsin appointed Putin as acting premier, Putin chaired a meeting of the Security Council.[123] In his memoirs, Yeltsin wrote that the attack on Dagestan threatened a "powerful explosion of separatism", which might have resulted in dissolving the country into several parts and creating a humanitarian disaster "on a far larger scale than that of Yugoslavia":[217]

In his autobiography, Putin conceded that he had "to a large degree" taken responsibility for the entire war effort.[123]

According to Andrew Jack, by September 1999 the ultimate outcome of the war in Chechnya was far from clear:[218]

As Yeltsin wrote in his memoir, the war was unexpected and Putin risked his future career by taking control of the war effort:[217]

Furthermore, Ware argues that the performance of the Russian military during the first half of August 1999 doesn't support claims of troop preparations:[40]

Allegations that the bombings were intended to justify the Second Chechen War[edit]

As to a reason that such justification was needed, President Yeltsin had been told by his advisers in 1994 that a "short victorious war" was needed in order to reverse his faltering chances of being re-elected in the 1996 presidential elections. However, the December 1994 invasion of Chechnya only contributed to a worse political situation. In March 1996, Yeltsin considered banning the communist party, dissolving the Duma and postponing the elections.[123] Nonetheless, Yeltsin managed to win the 1996 election with the help of four U.S. political consultants (paid $250,000 plus all expenses) who brought with them the experience and techniques of American campaigning.[219]

In the spring of 1999, Yeltsin found himself in a similar situation to that in 1994. It seemed that the Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov would be able to make major gains in the parliamentary elections in December 1999 and then win the presidential elections in June 2000. War in Chechnya was intended to bring about a postponement of the 2000 Presidential Elections, but the Russian government needed a reason to justify it. But events took an unexpected turn. On 24 September, 11 days after the second Moscow bombing had occurred, Prime Minister Putin vowed publicly to the Russian public,[123]

The use of crude language by Putin aroused the Russian public, already eager for revenge. A poll by VTsIOM on 27 September 1999 revealed a considerable hardening of public opinion. Approval of Putin as Prime Minister also began to soar, from 53 percent in September to 78 percent in November. This upsurge in Putin’s ratings had hardly been expected.[123]

The Russian political analyst and cousin of Boris Berezovsky, Stanislav Belkovsky, recalled in 2006:[220]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b Ethnic War, Holy War, War O' War: Does the Adjective Matter in Explaining Collective Political Violence?, Edward W. Walker, University of California, Berkeley, 1 February 2006 (from "Chechen Guerrilla Khattab, Veteran of Anti- Struggle," Agence France Press, 14 September 1999, distributed on the Chechnya listserv 14 September 1999)
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  11. ^ a b c Talbott, Strobe (2002), The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy, pp. 356–357 
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  • Evangelista, Matthew (2004), The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union?, Brookings Institution Press, ISBN 9780815724971 
  • Murphy, Paul (2004), The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror, Potomac Books Inc., ISBN 978-1574888300 
  • Jack, Andrew (2005), Inside Putin's Russia: Can There Be Reform Without Democracy?, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-518909-4 
  • Dunlop, John (2012), The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin's Rule, Stuttgart: Ibidem, ISBN 978-3-8382-0388-1