Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 24

As noted in last week’s issue, a “Television-Bridge” was held on July 25 at the Balchug-Kempinski Hotel in central Moscow during which serious questions were raised before an unofficial commission chaired by State Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev concerning the September 1999 terrorist bombings of Moscow and Volgodonsk, events which provided a rationale for the second Russian invasion of Chechnya. On July 27, a leading journalist, Yulia Kalinina, addressed the issue of competing theories concerning the commission of the bombings. “Almost three years have past,” she wrote, “since the apartment houses were blown up in Moscow and Volgodonsk. Can it really be that over three years’ time they have not been able to find the criminals?” The Americans, Kalinina noted, “already several months after September 11 knew everything–who the terrorists were, where they had come from, where they had studied aviation and how they had received their money…. But, in our country, apartment houses could once again be turned to dust because until now we know nothing about those terrorist acts three years ago. We don’t know where the hexogen [explosive] came from, or who sold it to the terrorists (60 tons of it!), and we don’t know who planned and who carried out the terrorist acts, or who set up the explosive devices and how they were placed and to whom and why it was necessary in the final analysis. In general, we know nothing.”

Kalinina went on to note that “there are two versions–a Chechen trail and an FSB trail. Neither of them has been proven…. Two weeks ago the Georgians handed over to the FSB a suspect, but what he has been telling the interrogators we don’t know. Officials give us to understand that he confirms that Arab mercenaries ordered the explosions or, to be precise, that Khattab did it. But where is the evidence?” Turning to the second, competing version, Kalinina then wrote: “At the same time, the fallen-into-disgrace Berezovsky from the emigration pushes his version concerning ‘the hand of the Kremlin,’ but here, too, there is no more proof than in the official version…. To sum up, there is complete murk on both sides: demagogy, theater, mystification and the manipulation of public opinion. But as for the truth about the explosions-we don’t have it…”

What, then, is this debate, Kalinina asked, really about? “The question,” she answered her own question, “concerns Putin. If Berezovsky succeeds in proving that ‘the FSB blew up Moscow,’ then it will mean that Putin came to power in a completely unthinkable and inhuman manner. To put it simply, that would be the end of everything… So, therefore, until Berezovsky proves it, we will of course not believe in ‘the hand of the Kremlin.'” But, she then continued her reflections, if the Kremlin did not do it, “why do the authorities react so pathologically to the activity of the ‘Public Commission to Investigate the Explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk’ [chaired by Sergei Kovalev]? …It’s strange, isn’t it? If this is all the raving of a madman, then just don’t pay attention to it… But no, the authorities throw themselves on any expression of suspicion like a bull going after a red flag.”

However, Berezovsky’s motives, Kalinina observed, seem equally unfathomable. “From his own words, we know that it was his idea to make precisely Putin the heir…. And if the explosions were an important component of the campaign to get Putin elected president (as was the incursion of the rebels into Dagestan [in August 1999], and if they were planned, then Berezovsky must have known about them. And, if he knew, then he was a co-participant.” And she concluded her essay: “The ends don’t come together. It is an extraordinarily murky story no matter how you approach it.”

In an article entitled “History Selects the Guilty,” journalist and academic Dmitry Furman wrote in the July 31 issue of Moskovskie Novosti that the “Television-Bridge” testimony of July 25 had “once again awakened interest in the tragic events of 1999. Who blew up the apartment houses in Moscow and for what goal?” There were, he noted, two versions being sharply contested: the “Wahhabi” version of the Russian authorities and the “FSB version” of Berezovsky and of writer Aleksandr Prokhanov. “It can scarcely be doubted,” Furman continued, “that neither the authorities nor their adversaries will be able to produce ‘100 percent’ proof. But which version,” he asked, signaling the main point of his essay, “will become generally accepted in the future, in the historic consciousness of the masses?”

The Berezovsky-Prokhanov version, Furman noted, “proceeds from a belief that the explosions were organized by intelligent people. They had a clear goal–to achieve a rallying of the populace around the then prime minister [Putin] which would give him the possibility to triumph in the presidential elections. Here everything is logical…. In addition, [the bombings] would strongly bind the future president to the organizers of the blasts.” But what about the strange Ryazan incident of September 1999? “Even intelligent people,” Furman remarked, “can commit errors. But it did not result in any catastrophic consequences.”

The problem with the “official” version being promoted by the Russian authorities, Furman went on, is that “it proceeds from a model not of rational conduct by intelligent evil-doers but from the conduct of idiots, whose motives are impossible to understand…. The first idiocy is that of the terrorists…. For what reason did the ‘Wahhabis’ need to blow up houses in Moscow? Did they think that by doing so they would halt the war in Chechnya? Or, on the contrary, did they want to provoke it? But for what reason? To be sure, terrorists are evildoers and fanatics, but any evil deed must have some goal. Analogies with the events of 11 September or Palestinian terror do not help. In both of these cases the goal is clear…. But no rational goal is visible behind the organization of the Moscow explosions by ‘Wahhabis.'”

The second “idiocy” contained in the official version is “the idiocy of the FSB.” “The Ryazan maneuvers (if they were that and not a failed terrorist act) are so ungainly that all attempts to explain them fail, since they presuppose almost unimaginable stupidity. Why then has no-one not been sentenced to prison or even removed from his post for such a stupidity?”

The Berezovsky-Prokhanov version, Furman concluded his analysis, presupposes rational conduct while the official version pushed by the Russian authorities presupposes idiocy. “The ugliness of the official version which presupposes both dumb terrorists and a dumb FSB does not mean that it is not true, but it does mean that, as a version to be accepted by the mass historical consciousness, it is doomed.” It has, he noted, not been proved that Stalin ordered Sergei Kirov killed in the event which precipitated the Great Purges, but the popular historical consciousness has accepted Stalin’s responsibility for the crime. “There are so many sins on Stalin’s conscience that the version of the murder by him of Kirov seems so natural that no one’s tongue will move to say that he has been slandered.”

These two stimulating essays by Kalinina and Furman represent useful first fruits generated by the work of the Kovalev Commission.