Putin Charged With Knowing
Of FSB Role In Apartment Bombings

By Patrick Henry
Moscow Times Staff Writer

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 said.

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.

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