All available evidence points to Putin’s complicity in the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Russia. Those who have tried to investigate have been killed off, one by one.
Russian human-rights defenders Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko also worked to shed light on the apartment bombings. But all of them were murdered between 2003 and 2006. By 2007, when I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the bombings, I was the only person publicly accusing the regime of responsibility who had not been killed.
The bombings terrorized Russia. The Russian authorities blamed Chechen rebels and thereby galvanized popular support for a new war in Chechnya. President Boris Yeltsin and his entourage were thoroughly hated for their role in the pillaging of the country.
Putin, the head of the FSB, had just been named Yeltsin’s prime minister and achieved overnight popularity by vowing revenge against those who had murdered innocent civilians. He assumed direction of the war and, on the strength of initial successes, was elected president easily.
Almost from the start, however, there were doubts about the provenance of the bombings, which could not have been better calculated to rescue the fortunes of Yeltsin and his entourage. Suspicions deepened when a fifth bomb was discovered in the basement of a building in Ryazan, a city southeast of Moscow, and those who had placed it turned out to be not Chechen terrorists but agents of the FSB.
After these agents were arrested by local police, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the FSB, said that the bomb had been a fake and that it had been planted in Ryazan as part of a training exercise.
The bomb, however, tested positive for hexogen, the explosive used in the four successful apartment bombings. An investigation of the Ryazan incident was published in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and the public’s misgivings grew so widespread that the FSB agreed to a televised meeting between its top officials and residents of the affected building.
The FSB in this way tried to demonstrate its openness, but the meeting was a disaster: It left the overwhelming impression that the incident in Ryazan was a failed political provocation.
Three days after the broadcast, Putin was elected. Attention to the Ryazan incident faded, and it began to appear that the bombings would become just the latest in the long list of Russia’s unsolved crimes.