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Russia's terrorist bombings

Last September there were terrorist bombings in Russia. Bombs
knocked down two apartment buildings in which hundreds of innocent
residents were killed. Apartment complexes were also hit in Buinaksk
and Volgodonsk. These bombings all had a similar profile. They took
place in the early morning hours, before sunrise, when residents of the
apartment buildings were asleep. Russian authorities blamed Chechen
terrorists. In fact, Russian security officials offered up pictures of
the suspects, who looked like Chechens.

The bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk served to justify
Russian war hysteria, secret troop mobilizations and military operations
in the North Caucasus. By mid-November Chechnya was a war zone and the
Russian General Staff was making curious public pronouncements. Among
these pronouncements was the statement, offered by Russia’s top generals
and the defense minister, that America was behind the Chechen
terrorists. The sinister goal of America, they said, was to steal
Russia’s Caspian basin oil reserves.

A wide range of general war preparations — missile tests, suspicious

underground explosions, war exercises and the psychological manipulation
of the Russian people — were covered by the Chechen operation. Most of
these preparations were overkill for a Russian confrontation with a few
thousand “bandits.” Kremlin economic measures, consistent with
preparations for global war, had been adopted since late 1998. These
measures suddenly came into sharp focus. Those of us who followed
Russia’s previous moves became nervous, even alarmed, during the final
two months of 1999.

Yesterday, the London Independent carried a story that offered
further details about the terrorists who supposedly bombed the Russian
apartment buildings. According to Gen. Aleksandr Zdanovich, a
spokesman for the Russian secret police, the 14 suspected terrorists
were not Chechens, but were trained in Chechen camps.

This, of course, is one of many suspicious pronouncements by one of
Russia’s most untrustworthy organizations — the organization formerly
known as the KGB, now known as the FSB. Official Russian statements
about the bombers have always been vague. A few courageous voices
within the Russian media have expressed doubts about the bombings. Some
analysts, like chess champion Garry Kasparov, suggested that Russia’s
own security services, together with the Kremlin, had the most to gain
from the bombings. Kasparov, in a Sept. 30 article entitled, “The
Chechnya Syndrome,” noted that the Communist style of ruling Russia
survived the era of reform. The secret police were up to old tricks.

Even more curiously, the entire crisis in the North Caucasus was
predicted in advance by a famous Russian insider — Gen. Aleksandr
Lebed, governor of Krasnoyarsk. On the occasion of Airborne Trooper Day
in Moscow, before the triggering events in Dagestan occurred, Lebed
predicted that a far-reaching crisis would begin in the North Caucasus.

After the Islamic incursion into Dagestan, and after the bombings had
rattled Moscow, Lebed made further pronouncements. He gave an interview
with the French newspaper, Le Figaro, in which he alleged that the
Moscow terror bombings were due to a secret agreement between the
Islamic insurgents and the Kremlin.

Lebed apparently got into trouble for the interview. He held a press
conference on Oct. 12 and disavowed his Le Figaro statements. Lebed
claimed that the French newspaper had taken liberties, drawing
conclusions that were inappropriate. He further distanced himself from
the French report by claiming that the “distortions” of the piece were
done “at someone’s order.”

What should we believe about the bombings in Moscow? Were they part
of a secret Kremlin conspiracy? Were they accomplished to mobilize the
Russian people for war?

Some analysts thought the bombings were an attempt to manipulate the
outcome of the Duma elections. Others thought they were an attempt by
Yeltsin to guarantee the electability of his chosen successor.

Those who would dismiss the idea of the Kremlin blowing up Russian
apartments full of sleeping residents need to check out two fascinating
newspaper stories. On Jan. 14 the Baltimore Sun published an article by
Will Englund offering evidence that the Russian secret police were
behind the bombings. On Feb. 15 the Los Angeles Times not only ran a
piece on the bombings entitled, “Fears of Bombing Turn to Doubts in
Russia,” but offered a list of inconsistencies in official explanations
of a near-bombing incident that took place in Ryazan on Sept. 22.

What happened in Ryazan?

On Sept. 22 at approximately 8:45 p.m., one week after the second
bombing in Moscow, Aleksei Kartofelnikov noticed a suspicious car near
his apartment building at 16/14 Novosyolov St. The car’s license plate
was covered with paper. Not only was the vehicle unfamiliar to him, but
he spotted a suspicious woman near the car — someone he’d never seen
before.

Aleksei decided to call the police. When a squad car showed up,
Yulia Kartofelnikov insisted that the police officers check the
basement. There they found four 100-pound sacks and an apparent
detonator set to blow at 5:30 a.m. The bomb squad arrived to disarm the
detonator and remove the presumed bomb. They later tested the
sugar-like material found in the sacks, and detected the presence of
hexogen, a special type of explosive.

The police investigation quickly found the car the suspects had
used. The license plates had been removed. Then came a devastating
piece of information from an operator at the Ryazan telephone exchange.
While placing a long distance call to Moscow, the operator overheard a
caller say it was impossible to get out of town undetected, especially
since the train stations were under constant surveillance and the police
were on full alert. The voice from Moscow said, “Split up. Each of you
make your own way out.”

The Ryazan police determined that the Moscow phone number in question
belonged to the FSB — the Russian secret police. Word of this evidence
quickly reached Moscow.

On Sept. 24, the very next day, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev told a
reporter in Moscow that a “fake bomb” had been planted in Ryazan by his
organization as part of a security test. The whole incident was a
“training exercise,” he said. The sacks were filled with sugar — not
hexogen. The vigilance of Russia’s apartment-dwellers and police had
been tested. The FSB was happy with the results.

After Patrushev’s statement, the Ryazan police investigation was
immediately canceled. The FSB approached the angry residents of 16/14
Novosyolov St. to calm them down. “What can we do for you?” the FSB
asked. The residents had been frightened and inconvenienced. Many of
them believed that the FSB had tried to kill them. Aleksei
Kartofelnikov began to connect the dots: “The government started bombing
Chechnya the next day.” The FSB hoped to keep him quiet by offering him
a television set.

The residents of 16/14 Novosyolov St. were not happy. Aleksei had
looked into the sacks, and the stuff inside was not sugar. Will Englund
of the Baltimore Sun summarizes the case in the following terms:
“Either the authorities tried to kill a couple of hundred Russian
residents, or they simply tried to scare the daylights out of them and
spread panic through a city for two days to see what would happen.”

The list of inconsistencies set out by the Los Angeles Times is
equally striking. Why did the authorities wait nearly 24 hours before
saying the incident was an “exercise”? Why weren’t there tests in other
cities? Why were the remains of bombed apartment buildings cleared with
such guilty haste? And why didn’t the Chechen terrorists take credit
for the bombings?

In America we need to be very clear about the realities in Russia.
We must never take events there at face value. That is what both
experts and non-experts have continuously done, and that is a
potentially fatal approach.

Time and time again the Kremlin deceives us, as they deceive their
own people. They smile and they lie. And we always admit: Yes, they
lied before — but this time it’s different.

The lesson we have to learn is right in front of us. The Kremlin is
run by people whose tactics may change, but whose game is always the
same. You might deny that Russia’s rulers ordered bombings against
their own people — against innocent Russians — to advance a strategy
of deception and manipulation. Probably you’d like to avoid the
implications of this idea.

But it’s not always wise to avoid implications, especially when such
avoidance might be fatal.

We have to face the truth about Russia before the Kremlin’s lies
overtake us.