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  Special report: Russia  




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Former ally links Putin to Moscow blasts

Jonathan Steele and Ian Traynor in Moscow
Wednesday March 6, 2002
The Guardian


The Russian former media mogul Boris Berezovsky launched his strongest attack yesterday on his one-time friend and now president, Vladimir Putin, accusing him of being linked to the terrorist bombings of apartment buildings that killed about 300 Russians in September 1999.

Mr Berezovsky, now living in London, called a press conference to produce a British explosives expert, a French documentary-maker, a former Russian agent of the FSB (successor to the KGB), and a woman who lost her mother in the blasts, to accuse the security service and demand an official inquiry.

"I am sure the bombings were organised by the FSB. It's not just speculation. It's a clear conclusion", Mr Berezovsky said yesterday. "I'm not saying Mr Putin gave an order to blow up those buildings. I'm saying that at the least he knew the FSB was involved."

Mr Putin, who was named prime minister shortly before the bombings after heading the FSB, blamed the attacks on Chechens and used public outrage to justify sending Russian forces into the rebel republic. Presenting himself as a tough war leader, he won the presidential election in 2000.

Mr Berezovsky, who has lost his share in several Russian TV companies since 2000, based his case on the professional nature of the bombings and the large amount of explosives used. He also cited official discrepancies after a foiled blast at a block of flats in Ryazan.

A resident alerted the police after seeing three suspicious people unloading bags into a basement a few days after the first explosion in Moscow. The next day the interior minister said the police had defused a timing device after finding explosives in the bags. But when the new FSB chief said the bags contained sugar and had been planted as a drill to test police vigilance, the hunt for suspects was called off.

Mr Berezovsky was close to Boris Yeltsin, who was president at the time, and used his TV stations to run a campaign in favour of Mr Putin. Opponents claim his attack on Mr Putin is a personal vendetta after he lost influence.

"I didn't raise the matter until recently," he admitted yesterday. "I didn't expect the security services could take part in such a crime."

In a bid to pre-empt the allegations, a Moscow official said yesterday that Mr Berezovsky was being investigated for links to Chechen rebels and could be implicated in the murder of a senior Russian police officer in Chechnya.

Moscow may demand he be extradited from Britain or request an international arrest warrant for him, Pavel Barkovsky of the prosecutor-general's office told the Interfax news agency. "Berezovsky is trying to present himself as a political fighter and to seek attention by staging acts of political provocation," he added.

New evidence indicated that Mr Berezovsky had supplied around $1m (700,000) to Chechen rebel warlords to buy weaponry, he claimed.

Officials say they know who carried out the bombings and maintain they were "Chechen terrorists", but the only two suspects to come to court are non-Chechens. They were acquitted last year.

The Russians have already issued a national arrest warrant for Mr Berezovsky in connection with allegations of embezzlement from Aeroflot.

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