- LONDON -- Boris Berezovsky
announced Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin "definitely knew"
that the Federal Security Service was involved in four bombings that killed
more than 300 people in Moscow and two other cities in the fall of 1999,
as well as a foiled bombing attempt in Ryazan.
"At a minimum Vladimir Putin knew that the FSB was involved in the
bombings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Ryazan," Berezovsky told reporters,
adding that Putin's failure to order a full investigation of the attacks
constituted a coverup.
Berezovsky said that Liberal Russia, a political movement he bankrolls
and co-chairs, would file formal appeals with the European Parliament and
other international organizations in a bid to force a full investigation
of the bombings. Putin would be specifically named in those appeals, he
Berezovsky noted, however, that he had no evidence suggesting that Putin
had ordered the bombings.
In Moscow, an FSB spokesman said Berezovsky's allegations were "untenable
and devoid of common sense," Interfax reported.
"Berezovsky's behavior is predictable. In anticipation of charges
against him, he is trying, well in advance, to present himself to the world
as a victim and a fighter for political freedoms in Russia," the spokesman
was quoted as saying.
Putin resigned as FSB chief to become prime minister shortly before the
spate of bombings began in Buinaksk, Dagestan, on Sept. 4, 1999. That blast
leveled an apartment building, claiming 62 lives. Two apartment buildings
were subsequently destroyed by explosions in Moscow, killing 215. A fourth
bomb was detonated outside an apartment building in Volgodonsk on Sept.
16, leaving 18 dead and 288 injured.
The government has blamed Chechen rebels for the attacks, though it has
never produced evidence to back up this claim. The FSB announced last month
that all of the bombers were known, and that some had been detained, though
no details have since emerged. The only convictions to date concern the
first bombing at Buinaksk. Two men were sentenced to life in prison by
a Dagestani court last year and four others were given lighter sentences.
Berezovsky called Tuesday's press conference in order to release what he
billed as new evidence of the FSB's involvement in the 1999 bombings, but
no new information relevant to the bombings was in fact made public. Asked
if the press conference was primarily a political stunt, the former Kremlin
insider refused to comment.
Reporters were shown a 10-minute clip from "Assassination of Russia,"
a 52-minute documentary soon to be released by a French company, Transparences
Productions, using footage originally shot by NTV. The film focuses on
the foiled bombing in Ryazan on Sept. 22, 1999.
A bomb was discovered in the basement of a 12-story apartment building
in Ryazan by local police. The device consisted of several bags of a white
powder connected to a timer and a shotgun shell detonator. Investigators
in Ryazan initially identified the powder as hexogen, a powerful explosive.
But FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev quickly dismissed this finding, claiming
that the whole incident was merely a training exercise with a dummy bomb,
and that the bags contained sugar.
According to Berezovsky, four explosives experts from Britain and France
had examined the available evidence from the Ryazan incident -- including
photographs of the explosive device made by investigators -- and concluded
that the bomb was authentic. All physical evidence from the Ryazan crime
scene has been classified and sealed for 75 years, he said.
Berezovsky said he had initially planned to air the documentary in Russia
on TV6, which he controlled until recently. The film would nonetheless
be offered to the Russian networks, he said, and could serve as an acid
test of the government's determination to find those responsible for the
1999 attacks. If the networks refuse to air the film, he said, this will
indicate that the government fears a transparent inquiry.
The closest thing to a "smoking gun" presented Tuesday was a
statement by Nikita Chekulin, who was presented as the former acting director
of Roskonversvzryvtsentr, a research institute affiliated with the Education
Ministry that deals with explosives.
Chekulin claimed to have documentary evidence showing that the institute
had purchased tons of the explosive hexogen from military installations
in 2000. That hexogen was then falsely labeled and transferred to "various
cover agencies in the regions," he said. An internal Education Ministry
investigation led Minister Vladimir Filippov to ask for the FSB to get
involved. Among those Chekulin said knew of this "possible terrorist
activity" were Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, then-Deputy
Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, Patrushev, then-Interior Minister Vladimir
Rushailo and then-Security Council Chairman Sergei Ivanov.
"Mr. Patrushev forbade the investigation, and his deputy Yury Zaostrovtsev
informed the Education Ministry of this decision," Chekulin said.
Chekulin produced no documents Tuesday, however, and added after the press
conference that the information in his possession -- copies of official
documents -- has no direct bearing on the 1999 bombings.