Vienna, September 9 – Ten years after the deadly 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk sparked the second post-Soviet Chechen war and propelled Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, most commentators either accept Putin’s claim that the Chechens were responsible or alternatively are convinced that Putin himself was to blame.
Given Moscow’s failure to provide convincing evidence for its claims and the inevitable suspiciousness of many about events that worked so clearly to Putin’s benefit, this debate is likely to continue because in the words of one Russian commentator, “doubts [about these cases] have no statute of limitations”(www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/099/17.html).
But on this anniversary of those bloody events, perhaps the most thoughtful discussion of who in fact was responsible for these murderous attacks is offered by Sergey Kovalev, the longtime rights activist who heads the Public Commission for Investigating the Explosions, in a comment to the Grani.ru portal (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.156868.html).
“I do not believe,” Kovalev says, “or at least I do not see any serious reasons to believe that these explosions were carried out by the [Russian] security services. For me,” he continued, it is terrible to think about this [possibility because] it is difficult for me to imagine how some general would give the order to some colonel to blow up an apartment building.”
All the more is this the case, the activist continues, because such an FSB colonel “grown wise through experience” and aware of the propensity of senior Soviet and Russian officials to blame their subordinates if anything goes wrong would have responded “‘I will obey, Vasily Vasilich, but just give me a written order.”
But having said that, Kovalev says that it is his “personal impression” that “the organization” of the bombings reflected “political goals,” including “raising the rating of the future president.” And for that reason if for none other, “the FSB could have been tangentially involved.”
FSB officers, he points out “have a large number of means to push something forward useful to themselves” – such as “Putin’s electoral triumph” – “by means of the hands of others” or alternatively not to investigate a case fully, “’not to notice’” or “interfere,” and thus make something that otherwise would not take place completely possible.
In such a world, everything is done by indirection, and no one needs to give a direct order for everyone to understand what is required and why it must never be discussed. That makes any investigation difficult, if not impossible, Kovalev adds, noting that “it seems to me this was approximately what happened” in 1999.
Acknowledging that he may be mistaken, the longtime investigator argues that “one thing is clear: [the Russian] powers that be do not want to open the eyes of society as to what happened” a decade ago. Instead of eliminating suspicions [by being forthcoming], the regime wants to muddy the situation as often happened in the Soviet Union and is being repeated now.”
“As far as the versions of the direct or indirect responsibility of the powers that be for the terror of 1999, the single means for the powers to free itself from such suspicions is to dispel them,” Kovalev continues. And the way to do that is an open investigation by the courts that will consider “all versions of the crime without exception,” something that has not yet happened.
“However,” he points out, “the powers that be for some reason have not made use of this means as required by law. Why that is,” Kovalev says, he “does not know.” But the events in Ryazan at the time of the three apartment bombings that killed so many Russians are not encouraging.
The commission Kovalev heads found that in that case that neither prosecutors nor the FSB was prepared to give full and accurate information. In fact, he reports, the commission had “the firm impression that in such an investigation of these tragic events, the powers that be had no interest.”
With regard to the Ryazan events, which various officials had the time gave conflicting explanations for, it is clear, Kovalev says that “the powers that be are openly lying.” Kovalev again stresses that he is not asserting that the special services planned to blow up the building in Ryazan but only that the explanations that they provided do not stand up to scrutiny.
And the human rights activist concludes that “civil society does not simply have the right to suspect the powers that be in such things: it is obligated to do that. This obligation reflects the fact that an out of control regime is beginning to permit itself to do many things and its hands are untied. Public suspicion is one of the most effective means of controlling it.”