The current war in Chechnya began after the September 1999 bombings that killed over 300 in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk (Dagestan). Those crimes have never been solved, although two men were convicted last year in the Buinaksk bombing. Boris Berezovsky, the fugitive ex-oligarch, has lately told the Western press that he will soon release “documentary evidence” that the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian descendant of the Soviet KGB, organized the attack. Retrospective deduction, the detective’s best friend, supplies the motive: a pretext for a violent attack on Chechnya that would establish the then unknown prime minister, ex-FSB chief Vladimir Putin, as the putative successor to Boris Yeltsin.
Berezovsky is a financial plunderer whom Putin has pushed into exile and may yet push into prison. As a witness he is utterly untrustworthy, a corkscrew conspiratorialist with half a dozen motives for every action and the resources to construct an elaborate fraud. But that does not make him wrong.
Suspicions of FSB involvement are widespread and fed by the FSB’s own actions. In Moscow the FSB razed one of the ruined buildings and cleared the crime scene thirteen days after the explosion, leading to speculation that the service was more eager to destroy evidence than to sift it. Two weeks after the Moscow blasts, citizens in the city of Ryazan found what appeared to be a bomb in an apartment house and evacuated the neighborhood. The FSB later said the “bomb” was a dummy planted by its agents as a “test” that Ryazan’s citizens and police had passed with flying colors.
Even at the time of the bombings, Berezovsky’s newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta speculated that Putin and the Kremlin were behind the attacks. Other newspapers hinted the opposite–that Berezovsky may have paid Chechens to carry out the attacks. When the prosecutor general charged Berezovsky two weeks ago with supporting “illegal armed formations,” he may have had these rumored transactions in mind.