Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 157

In their new book, former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko and historian Yury Felshtinsky also assert that the Russian security services were behind the apartment building bombings in Moscow and several other cities in 1999, which killed nearly 300 people and were the proximate cause for the second Chechen war. The authors include a detailed examination of the events in Ryzan in September 1999, when local residents and police discovered what they said was a bomb made of the explosive hexogen in a local apartment building. FSB officials, including its director, Nikolai Patrushev, subsequently claimed that the alleged hexogen was only sugar and that the incident was part of an FSB-organized “training exercise” designed to test readiness. The Ryzan incident occurred just weeks after the apartment building bombings in the cities of Buinaksk, Volgodonsk and Moscow. Some observers believe that the Russian special services were involved in those bombings and that in the Ryzan incident the special services were simply caught in the act of trying to plant a real bomb. Litvinenko and Felshtinsky share this view, and present a fairly compelling case. It, however, is circumstantial–relying mainly on investigations carried out earlier by Novaya Gazeta and NTV television–as is the evidence they present suggesting that the special services were involved in the Buinaksk, Volgodonsk and Moscow bombings. Another sensation buried in the excerpt is the allegation that two FSB employees carried out the bombing of a pedestrian walkway beneath Moscow’s Pushkin Square in August of last year. The authorities have thus far not found the perpetrators of that blast, which killed thirteen people (Novaya Gazeta, August 27; see also the Monitor, August 9-11; November 15, 2000).

The excerpts should, of course, be treated with caution, given that the authors’ proof for their claims is almost exclusively circumstantial and at times rather flimsy. It should also be noted that Litvinenko has close ties to the self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, going back to 1994, when he helped investigate an attempt to assassinate the tycoon. Berezovsky, after becoming Commonwealth of Independent States executive secretary, appointed Litvinenko as an adviser on CIS security questions. In late 1998, Litvinenko and several other FSB agents publicly charged that their superiors had ordered them to assassinate Berezovsky and that high-ranking FSB officials had engaged in criminal activities. Some media at the time, however, quoted unnamed FSB sources as suggesting that Litvinenko himself had headed a renegade group of FSB officers that had engaged in criminal activities (see the Monitor, November 18, 1998; March 29, 1999; May 5, November 2-3, 2000). Although there has been little reaction to the excerpts thus far, an assistant to Aleksandr Korzhakov, who is now a State Duma deputy, called the allegations groundless and said that Litvinenko had been too low in the FSB hierarchy to have access to such information (Moscow Times, August 28).