Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 7

Acting President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that he is certain that those responsible for blowing up apartment buildings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk last fall had received instruction at a terrorist training camp in Urus-Martan, Chechnya. Putin’s comments were clearly a reaction to a report last week in the British newspaper The Independent that it had obtained a video, taken in December by a Turkish journalist, in which a Russian military intelligence officer who was captured by the Chechen rebels “confesses” that the bombings in Volgodonsk and Moscow were carried out by Russia’s Federal Security Service in cooperation with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. Some 300 people died in four apartment buildings in Russia this past fall, and the attacks, coming on the heels of an invasion by Chechnya-based Islamic militants on neighboring Dagestan, sparked the latest Chechen war. On January 6, Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government’s representative in Chechnya, said that a training base for “saboteurs” had recently been found in Urus-Martan, along with explosives identical to those used in the apartment building explosions. Koshman added that Chechen field commander Khattab had “admitted that the explosions in Moscow were his work.” It is not clear when Khattab is alleged to have made this admission. Koshman also said it was “impossible” that the Russian authorities were behind the blast (Russian agencies, January 6).

Some observers, including State Duma Deputy Konstantin Borovoi, have suggested that Russia’s special services engineered the apartment bombing blasts as a pretext for the war and, presumably, to boost the prospects of a Putin presidency. Last fall, Borovoi said that a GRU officer had warned him that such terrorist attacks would take place. Borovoi, who maintained close contacts with Djohar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president, prior to Dudaev’s death in 1996, also said that Russia’s special services may have used Chechens to carry out the bombings. The Chechen rebels themselves have charged that the Russian authorities were behind the explosions, and the newspaper Moskovsky komsomolets suggested last year that the tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky had given money to Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev shortly before he led the raid against Dagestan. In a recent interview with a London-based Arabic newspaper, Chechen Mufti Akhmed-Khadzhi Kadyrov, who is seen as supporting the Russian side in the current war, said that he had heard Basaev admit that Berezovsky had given him US$1 million. Kadyrov accused the Russian authorities of looking the other way while money and mercenaries, largely from the Middle East, entered Chechnya. Kadyrov also charged that former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin had sent arms to Islamic militants in Dagestan during his tenure as head of government (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 7).

The Russian government’s charges that the Chechen fighters were receiving aid from international terrorist groups were bolstered over the weekend by a Western newspaper report that Chechen guerrillas had been trained in Chechnya by instructors from the militant Shia Islamic group Hezbollah (Sunday Telegraph, January 9).

Meanwhile Putin met yesterday with Vladimir Ustinov, Russia’s acting prosecutor general, to discuss his investigation into alleged genocide against ethnic Russians living in Chechnya (Russian agencies, January 10).