Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 124

According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta, the Russian authorities’ investigation into the apartment building explosions in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk in the fall of 1999 has concluded that the blasts were organized by terrorists who had passed through terrorist training centers set up by the rebel field commander Khattab on the territory of Chechnya. The paper said investigators had concluded that the technology involved in preparing and setting of the explosions was identical in each of the bombings: The homemade explosive was a mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, with plastic serving as an intermediate explosive, and a Casio watch and a Krona battery making up the detonator. During investigations carried out in the Chechen towns of Urus-Martan and Serzhen-Yurt, where Khattab’s bases were until recently operating, specialists from Russia’s special services found large stockpiles of aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate, plants for mixing the components into explosive substances and entire factories for making fuses and other elements of homemade explosive devices completely analogous to those used in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk. In the Chechen town of Shali, investigators discovered abstracts written by the rebels which describe in detail ways to carry out explosions in heavily populated areas and apartment buildings. These abstracts included drawings of electronic circuits which include Casio watches and other elements analogous to those used in the terrorist attacks carried out in the Russian cities. There were also detailed descriptions on ways to blow up apartment buildings of various types–including, according to the investigators, the method used by the terrorists in Moscow, Volgodonsk, Buinaksk and Vladikavkaz. The investigators have also determined the identity of a majority of those who were involved in the crimes (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 25).

Last September and October, 305 people died and 500 were wounded as a result of explosions in four apartment buildings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk. The law enforcement agencies also discovered and defused 13 large bombs in Moscow, Pyatigorsk, Buinaksk and Vladikavkaz. Immediately after the bombings, the Russian authorities accused Chechen terrorists of being behind the blasts. These terrorist acts, along with the raid by fighters led by Khattab and fellow field commander Shamil Basaev into Dagestan in August 1999, sharply increased the anti-Chechen mood within Russian society and created the optimal pre-conditions for a new introduction of troops into Chechnya. At the same time, no real proof was presented that Chechens carried out the explosions, and not one of the Chechen field commanders claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks. The lack of evidence for the “Chechen trail” allowed skeptics to put forward the theory that personnel from the Russian special services had themselves organized the explosions. According to this theory, the explosions allowed then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to launch a “small, victorious war” in Chechnya, which in turn allowed him to win the presidential elections in March 2000 with flying colors.

It is wise to view the Nezavisimaya gazeta article with caution. The paper nowadays openly supports the new Russian president–a fact that its editor, Vitaly Tretyakov, makes no attempt to hide. At the same time, the military campaign in Chechnya has bogged down, which has led to a drop in Putin’s popularity among Russians, as a poll carried out by NTV television’s “Itogi” program showed over the weekend. Thus it cannot be ruled out that the article in Nezavisimaya gazeta was “inspired” by presidential structures, with the goal of proving to Russians that it is necessary to continue the military campaign in Chechnya (NTV, June 25).