London -- A Russian tycoon charged yesterday
that Russian President Vladimir Putin knew the country's special
services were involved in the bombing of apartment houses in Moscow
and other cities in September 1999 in which nearly 300 people died.
Boris Berezovsky, who has been feuding with Putin since the
autumn of 2000, leveled the charge at a news conference in which he
offered what appeared to be extremely sketchy and circumstantial
evidence suggesting the authorities were behind the bombings to help
get Putin elected. Earlier, the Kremlin had blamed Chechen rebels
for the attacks.
Putin has previously rejected the charge as "delirious nonsense."
Russian prosecutors responded that Berezovsky was raising the
allegation to deflect attention from investigations into his
The horrific blasts in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk between
Sept. 4 and Sept. 19, 1999, stunned Russia and proved a turning
point in war and politics. Russian officials have said their
investigation pointed to Chechnya, though they never found proof or
arrested the perpetrators.
The explosions galvanized support for a military offensive
against Chechnya in late 1999 and played a key role in boosting the
popularity of Putin, who was then the newly appointed prime
minister. By pledging to rub out the Chechens, Putin became
enormously popular and outdistanced all other contenders to succeed
then-President Boris Yeltsin. On New Year's Eve 1999, Yeltsin
resigned and named Putin acting president; Putin was elected in
Berezovsky, who was originally a supporter of Putin and was close
to Yeltsin's inner circle, previously has floated the allegation
that Russia's security services were involved in the bombing.
Yesterday, he said he believes that Putin did not order the blasts,
but "at a minimum, he knew, he was aware of the FSB's
participation." The FSB is the Russian acronym for the Federal
Security Service, the domestic successor to the KGB, which Putin
headed for a year before being named prime minister.
Berezovsky, who left Russia and has been living and working in
London in self-imposed exile, is co-chairman of a new party, Liberal
Russia, which sponsored the news conference. Berezovsky said his
goal is to call attention to the unanswered questions about the
bombings. He brushed aside queries about his motives, saying he did
not want to discuss them, but the high-profile news conference
seemed to be a deliberate challenge to Putin.
Berezovsky also made public a film about the bombings and
provided new hints about the mysterious blasts, but no conclusive
One piece of the material was a statement from Nikita Chekulin, a
former acting director of a Russian scientific institute, who said
he was recruited by the FSB to be part of an undercover
anti-terrorist operation. He said he learned of a secret scheme to
transfer tons of high explosives from military bases to unnamed
organizations, and that the hexogen was shipped under false labels,
suggesting the explosive material in the blasts came from the state,
not the Chechens.
Chekulin alleged that an attempt to investigate the transfers was
stymied later by the director of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, who had
succeeded Putin in the post.
Previously, officials have said hexogen was used in the bombings.
However, Chekulin's brief statement did not prove the connection.
Likewise, the film, "Assassination of Russia," by two Frenchmen,
Charles Gazelle and Jean-Charles Deniau, focused on the many
mysteries about the bombings, but did not resolve them.