Russian apartment bombings

The Russian apartment bombings were a series of explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999, killing more than 300, injuring more than 1000, and spreading a wave of fear across the country. The bombings, together with the Dagestan War, served as a casus belli for the Second Chechen War. Vladimir Putin’s handling of the crisis boosted his popularity and helped him attain the presidency within a few months.[2][3]

Russian apartment bombings
Part of the Second Chechen War
LocationBuynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk
Date4–16 September 1999
TargetApartment buildings
Attack type
Time bombings, terrorism
Injuredmore than 1000
PerpetratorsFederal Security Service and GRU according to historians Achemez Gochiyayev and Ibn Al-Khattab according to Federal Security Service

The blasts hit Buynaksk on 4 September and in Moscow on 9 and 13 September. On 13 September, Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov made an announcement in the Duma about receiving a report that another bombing had just happened in the city of Volgodonsk. A bombing did indeed happen in Volgodonsk, but only three days later, on 16 September. Chechen militants were blamed for the bombings, but denied responsibility, along with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov. A suspicious device resembling those used in these bombings was found and defused in an apartment block in the Russian city of Ryazan on 22 September.[4] The next day, Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the inhabitants of Ryazan and ordered the air bombing of Grozny, which marked the beginning of the Second Chechen War.[5] Three FSB agents who had planted the devices at Ryazan were arrested by the local police.[6] On September 24, 1999, head of FSB Nikolay Patrushev announced that the incident in Ryazan had been an anti-terror drill and the device found there contained only sugar.[7]

Parliament member Yuri Shchekochikhin filed two motions for a parliamentary investigation of the events, but the motions were rejected by the Russian Duma in March 2000. An independent[8] public commission to investigate the bombings was chaired by Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev. The commission was rendered ineffective because of government refusal to respond to its inquiries. Two key members of the Kovalev Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, have since died in apparent assassinations.[9][10] The Commission’s lawyer and investigator Mikhail Trepashkin was arrested and served four years in prison for revealing state secrets.[11] Former agent Alexander Litvinenko, who blamed FSB for the bombings in two books, was poisoned by FSB agents in London in 2006.

The official Russian investigation of the bombings was completed in 2002 and concluded that all the bombings were organised and led by Achemez Gochiyaev, who remains at large, and ordered by Islamist warlords Ibn Al-Khattab and Abu Omar al-Saif, who have been killed. Five other suspects have been killed and six have been convicted by Russian courts on terrorism-related charges.

According to historians, the bombings were coordinated by the Russian state security services to bring Putin into the presidency.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] This view was justified by a number of suspicious events, including bombs planted by FSB agents in the city of Ryazan, an announcement about bombing in the city of Volgodonsk three days before it had happened by Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov, weak evidence and denials by suspects none of whom was a Chechen, and poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko who wrote two books on the subject.



Five apartment bombings took place and at least three attempted bombings were prevented.[20] All bombings had the same "signature", judging from the nature and the volume of the destruction. In each case the explosive RDX was used, and the timers were set to go off at night and inflict the maximum number of civilian casualties.[21] The explosives were placed to destroy the weakest, most critical elements of the buildings and force the buildings to "collapse like a house of cards".[22] The individuals behind the bombings were able to obtain or manufacture several tons of powerful explosives and deliver them to numerous destinations across Russia.[22][23]

Moscow mall

On 31 August 1999, at 20:00 local time, an explosion took place in "Okhotny Ryad" shopping centre on Manezhnaya Square, Moscow.[24][25] One person was killed and 40 others injured.[22] According to the FSB, the explosion had been caused by a very small bomb of only about 300 gram of explosives.[24] On 2 September 1999, an unknown person called and claimed that the bombing was committed by the "Liberation Army of Dagestan" .[26]

Buynaksk, Dagestan

On 4 September 1999, at 22:00, a car bomb detonated outside a five-story apartment building in the city of Buynaksk in Dagestan, near the border of Chechnya. The building was housing Russian border guard soldiers and their families.[27] Sixty-four people were killed and 133 were injured in the explosion.[21][1] Another car bomb was found and defused in the same town.[27][28] The defused bomb was in a car containing 2,706 kilograms (5,966 lb) of explosives. It was discovered by local residents in a parking lot surrounded by an army hospital and residential buildings.[29]

Moscow, Pechatniki

On 9 September 1999, shortly after midnight local time, at 20:00 GMT,[30] 300 to 400 kilograms (660 to 880 lb) of explosives detonated on the ground floor of an apartment building in southeast Moscow (19 Guryanova Street). The nine-story building was destroyed, killing 106 people inside (with early reports giving 93 dead[31]) and injuring 249 others, and damaging 19 nearby buildings.[30] A total of 108 apartments were destroyed during the bombing. An FSB spokesman identified the explosive as RDX.[22] Residents said a few minutes before the blast four men were seen speeding away from the building in a car.[32]

Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered the search of 30,000 residential buildings in Moscow for explosives.[33] He took personal control of the investigation of the blast.[23] Putin declared 13 September a day of mourning for the victims of the attacks.[30]

Moscow, Kashirskoye highway

On 13 September 1999, at 05:00, a large bomb exploded in a basement of an apartment block on Kashirskoye Highway in southern Moscow, about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the place of the last attack. This was the deadliest blast in the chain of bombings (because the house was built with brick), with 119 people killed and 200 injured. The eight-story building was flattened, littering the street with debris and throwing some concrete pieces hundreds of meters away.[21][31]

Moscow, prevented bombings

On 13 September 1999, Achemez Gochiyaev called and reported about bombs planted in several locations. Gochiyaev claimed that he was framed by his old acquaintance, an FSB officer who asked him to rent basements "as storage facilities" at four locations where bombs were later found. After the second explosion on Kashirskoe highway Gochiyaev recognized he was set up, called the police and told them about the basements of two other buildings at Borisovskie Prudy and Kopotnya, where the explosives were actually found and explosions averted.[34][35][36]


A truck bomb exploded on 16 September 1999, outside a nine-story apartment complex in the southern Russian city of Volgodonsk, killing 17 people and injuring 69.[22] The bombing took place at 5:57 am.[37] Surrounding buildings were also damaged. The blast also happened 14 km (9 mi) from a nuclear power plant.[37] Prime Minister Putin signed a decree calling on law enforcement and other agencies to develop plans within three days to protect industry, transportation, communications, food processing centres and nuclear complexes.[37]

Ryazan incident

At 20:30 on 22 September 1999, a resident of an apartment building in the city of Ryazan noticed two suspicious men who carried sacks into the basement from a car with a Moscow number plate.[29][38][39] He alerted the police, but by the time they arrived the car and the men were gone. The policemen found three sacks of white powder in the basement, each weighing 50 kg (110 lb). A detonator and a timing device were attached and armed. The timer was set to 5:30 AM.[21] Yuri Tkachenko, the head of the local bomb squad, disconnected the detonator and the timer and tested the three sacks of white substance with a "MO-2" gas analyser. The device detected RDX, the military explosive used in all previous bombings.[22] Police and rescue vehicles converged from different parts of the city, and 30,000 residents were evacuated from the area. 1,200 local police officers armed with automatic weapons set up roadblocks on highways around the city and started patrolling railroad stations and airports to hunt the terrorists down.[22]

At 01:30 on 23 September 1999, the explosive engineers took a bit of substance from the suspicious-looking sacks to a firing ground located about 1.6 km (1 mi) away from Ryazan for testing.[40] During the substance tests at that area they tried to explode it by means of a detonator, but their efforts failed, the substance was not detonated, and the explosion did not occur.[40][41][42][43] At 05:00, Radio Rossiya reported about the attempted bombing, noting that the bomb was set up to go off at 05:30. In the morning, "Ryazan resembled a city under siege". Composite sketches of three suspected terrorists, two men and a woman, were posted everywhere in the city and shown on TV. At 08:00 Russian television reported the attempt to blow out the building in Ryazan and identified the explosive used in the bomb as RDX.[41] Vladimir Rushailo announced later that police prevented a terrorist act. A news report at 16:00 reported that the explosives failed to detonate during their testing outside the city.[40][41][42][43][44][45]

At 19:00, Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the inhabitants of Ryazan, and called for the air bombing of the Chechen capital Grozny in response to the terrorism acts.[46] He said:[47]

On September 23 Natalia Yukhnova, a telephone service employee in Ryazan, tapped into a suspicious phone call to Moscow and overheard the following instruction: "Leave one at a time, there are patrols everywhere".[48][49][50]

The called number was traced to a telephone exchange unit serving FSB offices.[51] When arrested, the detainees produced FSB identification cards. They were soon released on orders from Moscow.[52][53] [54][12][55]

On 24 September, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev announced that it was an exercise that was being carried out to test responses after the earlier blasts.[56] The Ryazan FSB "reacted with fury" and issued a statement saying:[47] "This announcement came as a surprise to us and appeared at the moment when the ...FSB had identified the places of residence in Ryazan of those involved in planting the explosive device and was prepared to detain them." FSB also issued a public apology about the incident.[56] In a live show on NTV Evgeniy Savostoyanov, former FSB director in Moscow, categorically denied that any such exercise could be performed on residential buildings with inhabitants inside and without notifying local authorities.[57]

Explosives in Ryazan controversy

The position of Russian authorities on the Ryazan incident changed significantly over time. Initially, it was declared by the FSB and federal government to be a real threat. However, after the people who planted the bomb were identified as FSB operatives, the official version changed to “security training”.[58] FSB also initially reported that the explosives used by the terrorists was RDX (or “hexogen”). However, it declared later that the explosive was not RDX, but a mixture of aluminium powder, nitre (saltpeter), sugar and TNT prepared by the perpetrators in a concrete mixer at a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan, Chechnya.[59][60] RDX is produced in only one factory in Russia, in the city of Perm.[22] According to David Satter, the FSB changed the story about the type of explosive, since it was difficult to explain how huge amounts of RDX disappeared from the closely guarded Perm facility.

Yuri Tkachenko, the police explosives expert who defused the Ryazan bomb, insisted that it was real. Tkachenko said that the explosives, including a timer, a power source, and a detonator were genuine military equipment and obviously prepared by a professional. He also said that the gas analyser that tested the vapours coming from the sacks unmistakably indicated the presence of RDX. Tkachenko said that it was out of the question that the analyser could have malfunctioned, as the gas analyser was of world-class quality, cost $20,000, and was maintained by a specialist who worked according to a strict schedule, checking the analyser after each use and making frequent prophylactic checks. Tkachenko pointed out that meticulous care in the handling of the gas analyser was a necessity because the lives of the bomb squad experts depended on the reliability of their equipment. The police officers who answered the original call and discovered the bomb also insisted that it was obvious from its appearance that the substance in the bomb was not sugar.[22][52] However, later at a press conference on the occasion of the Federal Security Service Employee Day in December 2001, Tkachenko denounced his previous conclusions and said the detonator was a hunting cartridge that it would not be able to detonate any known explosives.[61]

In March 2000, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the account of Private Alexei Pinyayev of the 137th Regiment, who guarded a military facility near the city of Ryazan. He was surprised to see that “a storehouse with weapons and ammunition” contained sacks with the word “sugar” on them. The two paratroopers cut a hole in one of the bags and made tea with the sugar taken from the bag. But the taste of the tea was terrible. They became suspicious since people were talking about the explosions. The substance turned out to be hexogen. After the newspaper report, FSB officers “descended on Pinyayev’s unit”, accused them of “divulging a state secret” and told them, “You guys can't even imagine what serious business you’ve got yourselves tangled up in.” The regiment later sued publishers of Novaya Gazeta for insulting the honour of the Russian Army, since there was no Private Alexei Pinyayev in the regiment, according to their statement.[62] At an FSB press conference, Private Pinyayev stated that there was no hexogen in the 137th Airborne Regiment and that he was hospitalised in December 1999 and no longer visited the range.[61]

According to Satter, all four bombings that occurred had a similar “signature” which indicated that the explosives had been carefully prepared, a mark of skilled specialists. There is also no explanation as to how the terrorists were able to obtain tons of hexogen explosive and transport it to various locations in Russia; hexogen is produced in one plant in Perm Oblast for which the central FSB is responsible for the security. The culprits would also have needed to organise nine explosions (the four that occurred and the five attempted bombings reported by the authorities) in different cities in a two-week period. Satter's estimate for the time required for target plan development, site visits, explosives preparation, renting space at the sites and transporting explosives to the sites was four to four and a half months.[22]

War of Dagestan

On 7 August 1999, an Islamist group, led by Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, invaded the Russian republic of Dagestan.

Advanced warnings about the impending bombings

In July 1999, Russian journalist Aleksandr Zhilin, writing in the Moskovskaya pravda, warned that there would be terrorist attacks in Moscow organised by the government. Using a leaked Kremlin document as evidence, he added that the motive would be to undermine the opponents of the Russian President Boris Yeltsin. These included Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. However, this warning was ignored.[6][63]

According to Amy Knight, "even more significant is the fact that a respected and influential Duma deputy, Konstantin Borovoi, was told on September 9, the day of the first Moscow apartment bombing, that there was to be a terrorist attack in the city. His source was an officer of the Russian military intelligence (GRU). Borovoy transmitted this information to FSB officials serving on Yeltsin's Security Council, but he was ignored."[6][64]

Announcement of impending Volgodonsk bombings in the Russian Duma

On 13 September, just hours after the second explosion in Moscow, Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov of the Communist Party made an announcement, "I have just received a report. According to information from Rostov-on-Don, an apartment building in the city of Volgodonsk was blown up last night.".[65][66][67][68][69] When the Volgodonsk bombing happened on 16 September, Vladimir Zhirinovsky demanded the following day an explanation in the Duma, but Seleznev turned his microphone off.[65] Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in the Russian Duma: "Remember, Gennadiy Nikolaevich, how you told us that an apartment block has been blown up in Volgodonsk, three days prior to the blast? How should we interpret this? The State Duma knows that the apartment block was destroyed on Monday, and it has indeed been blown up on Thursday [same week]...".[70][71]

Alexander Litvinenko described this as "the usual Kontora mess up": "Moscow-2 was on the 13th and Volgodonsk on 16th, but they got it to the speaker the other way around," he said. Investigator Mikhail Trepashkin confirmed that the man who gave Seleznyov the note was indeed an FSB officer.[72]

In an August 2017 interview with Yuri Dud, Vladimir Zhirinovsky had confirmed that the FSB had an information about the future terrorist act in Volgodonsk and relayed that information to Seleznyov (the number four person in the presidential line of succession and a member of the Security Council), however someone had misinformed Seleznyov that the terrorist act in Volgodonsk had already occurred.[73]

Sealing of all materials by the Russian Duma

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident.[74][75] In the Duma a pro-Kremlin party Unity, voted to seal all materials related to the Ryazan incident for the next 75 years and forbade an investigation into what happened.[47]

Claims and denials of responsibility for the blasts

On 9 September, an anonymous person, speaking with a Caucasian accent, phoned the Interfax news agency, saying that the blasts in Moscow and Buynaksk were "our response to the bombings of civilians in the villages in Chechnya and Dagestan."[23][76]

On 15 September, an unidentified man, again speaking with a Caucasian accent, called the ITAR-TASS news agency, claiming to represent a group called the Liberation Army of Dagestan. He said that the explosions in Buynaksk and Moscow were carried out by his organisation.[23] According to him, the attacks were a retaliation to the deaths of Muslim women and children during Russian air raids in Dagestan. "We will answer death with death," the caller said.[77] Russian officials from both the Interior Ministry and FSB, at the time, expressed scepticism over the claims and said there is no such organization [78][79] On 15 September 1999, a Dagestani official also denied the existence of a "Dagestan Liberation Army".[80]

In an interview published in Lidove Noviny on September 9, Shamil Basayev denied responsibility for the bombings and said that it had been the work of Dagestanis. According to Basayev, the bombings were a retribution for the military operation of the Russian Army against "three small villages" in Dagestan.[81][82][78] In subsequent interviews, Basayev said he didn't know who perpetrated the bombings.[83][78]

In the interview with Associated Press held between September 9 and September 13, and published on September 14, Ibn al-Khattab said that "From now on they will get our bombs everywhere. Let Russia await our explosions blasting through their cities. I swear we will do it."[84] However, in a subsequent interview on September 14 to the Interfax agency in Grozny, Khattab denied responsibility for the bombings.[84][85]

Chechen Foreign Ministry issued an official statement on September 14 condemning Moscow blasts, and affirming that "Ichkeria stands firmly against terrorism in any manifestation".[85]

Russia's Internal Investigations

Criminal investigation and court ruling

Russia's investigation was concluded in 2002. According to the Russian State Prosecutor office,[60][86] all apartment bombings were executed under command of ethnic Karachay Achemez Gochiyayev and planned by Ibn al-Khattab and Abu Omar al-Saif, Arab militants fighting in Chechnya on the side of Chechen insurgents.[87][88] Al-Khattab and al-Saif were killed during the Second Chechen War. According to investigators, the explosives were prepared at a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan Chechnya, by "mixing aluminium powder, nitre and sugar in a concrete mixer",[89] or by also putting their RDX and TNT.[60] From there they were sent to a food storage facility in Kislovodsk, which was managed by an uncle of one of the terrorists, Yusuf Krymshakhalov. Another conspirator, Ruslan Magayayev, leased a KamAZ truck in which the sacks were stored for two months. After everything was planned, the participants were organised into several groups which then transported the explosives to different cities.

According to investigators, the explosion in Moscow mall on 31 August was committed by another man, Magomed-Zagir Garzhikaev on the orders from Shamil Basayev, according to the FSB.[90]

Court rulings

According to the court ruling, Al-Khattab paid Gochiyayev $500,000 to carry out the attacks at Guryanova Street, Kashirskoye Highway, and Borisovskiye Prudy, and then helped to hide Gochiyayev and his accomplices in Chechnya.[91][36] In early September 1999, Magayayev, Krymshamkhalov, Batchayev and Dekkushev reloaded the cargo into a Mercedes-Benz 2236[92] trailer and delivered it to Moscow. En route, they were protected from possible complications by an accomplice, Khakim Abayev,[92] who accompanied the trailer in another car. In Moscow they were met by Achemez Gochiyayev, who registered in Hotel Altai under the fake name "Laipanov", and Denis Saitakov. The explosives were left in a warehouse in Ulitsa Krasnodonskaya, which was leased by pseudo-Laipanov (Gochiyayev.) The next day, the explosives were delivered in "ZIL-5301" vans to three addresses – Ulitsa Guryanova, Kashirskoye Shosse and Ulitsa Borisovskiye Prudy, where pseudo-Laipanov leased cellars.[92] Gochiyayev supervised the placement of the bombs in the rented cellars. Next followed the explosions at the former two addresses. The explosion at 16 Borisovskiye Prudy was prevented.[91]

According to the court, 14 September Buinaksk bombings were ordered by Al-Khattab, who promised the bombers $300,000 to drive their truck bombs into the centre of the compound, which would have destroyed four apartment buildings simultaneously. However, the bombers parked on an adjacent street instead and blew up only one building. At the trial they complained that Khattab had not given them all the money he owed them.[91] One of the bombers confessed working for Al-Khattab, but claimed he did not know the explosives were intended to blow up the military apartment buildings.[91]

The explosion in the mall on Manezhnaya Square was the subject of a separate court process held in Moscow in 2009. The court accused Khalid Khuguyev Russian: Халид Хугуев and Magumadzir Gadzhikayev Russian: Магумадзаир Гаджиакаев in organisation and execution of the 1999 explosions in the Manezhnaya Square mall and in hotel Intourist and sentenced them correspondingly to 25 years and 15 years of imprisonment.[93]


Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshakhalov have both been sentenced to life terms in a special-regime colony.[94] Both defendants have pleaded guilty only to some of the charges. For instance, Dekkushev acknowledged that he knew the explosives he transported were to be used for an act of terror. Dekkushev also confirmed Gochiyaev's role in the attacks.[95] Dekkushev was extradited to Russia on 14 April 2002 to stand trial. Krymshakhalov was apprehended and extradicted to Moscow.[91][94] In 2000, six people allegedly involved in the Buynaksk attack were arrested in Azerbaijan and convicted of the bombing.[91] Achemez Gochiyaev, the head of the group that carried out the attacks and allegedly the main organiser, remains a fugitive, and is under an international search warrant.[94] In a statement released in January 2004, the FSB said, "until we arrest Gochiyayev, the investigation of the apartment block bombings of 1999 will not be finished."[96]

Suspects and accused

In September 1999, hundreds of Chechen nationals (out of the more than 100,000 permanently living in Moscow) were briefly detained and interrogated in Moscow, as a wave of anti-Chechen sentiments swept the city.[97] All of them turned out to be innocent. According to the official investigation, the following people either delivered explosives, stored them, or harboured other suspects:

Moscow bombings
Volgodonsk bombing
  • Timur Batchayev (an ethnic Karachai),[108] killed in Georgia in the clash with police during which Krymshakhalov was arrested[60]
  • Zaur Batchayev (an ethnic Karachai)[109] killed in Chechnya in 1999–2000[60]
  • Adam Dekkushev (an ethnic Karachai),[110] arrested in Georgia, threw a grenade at police during the arrest, extradited to Russia and sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2004, after a two-month secret trial held without a jury[21][59]
Buinaksk bombing
  • Isa Zainutdinov (an ethnic Avar)[108] and native of Dagestan,[110] sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2001[111]
  • Alisultan Salikhov (an ethnic Avar)[108] and native of Dagestan,[110] sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2001[111]
  • Magomed Salikhov (an ethnic Avar)[108] and native of Dagestan,[112] arrested in Azerbaijan in November 2004, extradited to Russia, found not guilty on the charge of terrorism by the jury on 24 January 2006; found guilty of participating in an armed force and illegal crossing of the national border,[113] he was retried again on the same charges on 13 November 2006 and again found not guilty, this time on all charges, including the ones he was found guilty of in the first trial.[114] According to Kommersant Salikhov admitted that he made a delivery of paint to Dagestan for Ibn al-Khattab, although he was not sure what was really delivered.[115]
  • Ziyavudin Ziyavudinov (a native of Dagestan),[116] arrested in Kazakhstan, extradited to Russia, sentenced to 24 years in April 2002[117]
  • Abdulkadyr Abdulkadyrov (an ethnic Avar)[108] and native of Dagestan, sentenced to 9 years in March 2001[111]
  • Magomed Magomedov (Sentenced to 9 years in March 2001)[111]
  • Zainutdin Zainutdinov (an ethnic Avar)[108] and native of Dagestan, sentenced to 3 years in March 2001 and immediately released under amnesty[111]
  • Makhach Abdulsamedov (a native of Dagestan, sentenced to 3 years in March 2001 and immediately released under amnesty).[111]

Attempts at an independent investigation

The Russian Duma rejected two motions for a parliamentary investigation of the Ryazan incident.[74][75]

An independent public commission to investigate the bombings was chaired by Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov.[118] The commission started its work in February 2002. On 5 March Sergei Yushenkov and Duma member Yuli Rybakov flew to London where they met Alexander Litvinenko and Mikhail Trepashkin. After this meeting, Trepashkin began working with the commission.[13]

However, the public commission was rendered ineffective because of government refusal to respond to its inquiries.[119][120][121] Two key members of the Commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, both Duma members, have died in apparent assassinations in April 2003 and July 2003, respectively.[122][123] Another member of the commission, Otto Lacis, was assaulted in November 2003[124] and two years later, on 3 November 2005, he died in a hospital after a car accident.[125]

The commission asked lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin to investigate the case. Trepashkin claimed to have found that the basement of one of the bombed buildings was rented by FSB officer Vladimir Romanovich and that the latter was witnessed by several people. Trepashkin also investigated a letter attributed to Achemez Gochiyayev and found that the alleged assistant of Gochiyayev who arranged the delivery of sacks might have been Kapstroi-2000 vice president Alexander Karmishin, a resident of Vyazma.[126]

Trepashkin was unable to bring the alleged evidence to the court because he was arrested in October 2003 (on charges of illegal arms possession) and imprisoned in Nizhny Tagil, just a few days before he was to make his findings public.[127] He was sentenced by a Moscow military closed court to four years imprisonment on a charge of revealing state secrets.[128] Amnesty International issued a statement that "there are serious grounds to believe that Mikhail Trepashkin was arrested and convicted under falsified criminal charges which may be politically motivated, in order to prevent him continuing his investigative and legal work related to the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities".[129]

In a letter to Olga Konskaya, Trepashkin wrote that some time before the bombings, Moscow's Regional Directorate against Organized Crimes (RUOP GUVD) arrested several people for selling the explosive RDX. Following that, Nikolai Patrushev's Directorate of FSB officers came to the GUVD headquarters, captured evidence and ordered the investigators fired. Trepashkin wrote that he learned about the story at a meeting with several RUOP officers in the year 2000. They claimed that their colleagues could present eyewitness accounts in a court. They offered a videocassette with evidence against the RDX dealers. Mr Trepashkin did not publicise the meeting fearing for lives of the witnesses and their families.[130][131]

According to Trepashkin, his supervisors and the people from the FSB promised not to arrest him if he left the Kovalev commission and started working together with the FSB "against Alexander Litvinenko".[132]

On 24 March 2000, two days before the presidential elections, NTV Russia featured the Ryazan events of Fall 1999 in the talk show Independent Investigation. The talk with the residents of the Ryazan apartment building along with FSB public relations director Alexander Zdanovich and Ryazan branch head Alexander Sergeyev was filmed few days earlier. On 26 March, Boris Nemtsov voiced his concern over the possible shut-down of NTV for airing the talk.[133] Seven months later, NTV general manager Igor Malashenko said at the JFK School of Government that Information Minister Mikhail Lesin warned him on several occasions. Malashenko's recollection of Lesin's warning was that by airing the talk show NTV "crossed the line" and that the NTV managers were "outlaws" in the eyes of the Kremlin.[134] According to Alexander Goldfarb, Mr. Malashenko told him that Valentin Yumashev brought a warning from the Kremlin, one day before airing the show, promising in no uncertain terms that the NTV managers "should consider themselves finished" if they went ahead with the broadcast.[135]

Artyom Borovik was among the people who investigated the bombings.[136] He received numerous death threats and died in a suspicious plane crash in March 2000[137] that was regarded by Felshtinsky and Pribylovsky as a probable assassination [29]

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security service member Alexander Litvinenko, who investigated the bombings, were killed in 2006.[138]

Surviving victims of the Guryanova street bombing asked President Dmitry Medvedev to resume the official investigation in 2008,[139] but it was not resumed.

In a 2017 discussion at the RFE/RL Sergei Kovalyov said: "I think that the Chechen trace was skilfully fabricated. No one from the people who organized the bombings was found, and no one actually was looking for them".[140] He then was asked by Vladimir Kara-Murza if he believes that several key members of his commission, and even Boris Berezovskiy and Boris Nemtsov who "knew quite a few things about the bombings" were killed to prevent the independent investigation. Kovalev responded: "I cannot state with full confidence that the explosions were organized by the authorities. Although it's clear that the explosions were useful for them, useful for future President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, because he had just promised to "waste in the outhouse" (as he said) everyone who had any relation to terrorism. It was politically beneficial for him to scare people with terrorism. That is not proven. But what can be stated with full confidence is this: the investigation of both the Moscow explosions and the so-called "exercises" in Ryazan is trumped up. There can be various possibilities. It seems to me, that Ryazan should have been the next explosion, but I cannot prove that."

Russian government involvement theory

According to David Satter, Yuri Felshtinsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Vladimir Pribylovsky and Boris Kagarlitsky, the bombings were a successful coup d'état coordinated by the Russian state security services to win public support for a new full-scale war in Chechnya and to bring Putin to power.[141][14][15][16][17][142][18][143][144] Some of them described the bombings as typical "active measures" practised by the KGB in the past. The war in Chechnya boosted Prime Minister and former FSB Director Vladimir Putin's popularity, and brought the pro-war Unity Party to the State Duma and Putin to the presidency within a few months.

David Satter stated, during his testimony in the United States House of Representatives, that "With Yeltsin and his family facing possible criminal prosecution, however, a plan was put into motion to put in place a successor who would guarantee that Yeltsin and his family would be safe from prosecution and the criminal division of property in the country would not be subject to reexamination. For "Operation Successor" to succeed, however, it was necessary to have a massive provocation. In my view, this provocation was the bombing in September 1999 of the apartment building bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. In the aftermath of these attacks, which claimed 300 lives, a new war was launched against Chechnya. Putin, the newly appointed prime minister who was put in charge of that war, achieved overnight popularity. Yeltsin resigned early. Putin was elected president and his first act was to guarantee Yeltsin immunity from prosecution."[145]

According to reconstruction of the events by Felshtinsky and Pribylovsky,[146]

  • The bombings in Buynaksk were carried out by a team of twelve GRU officers who were sent to Dagestan and supervised by the head of GRU's 14th Directorate General Kostechenko. That version was partly based on a testimony by Aleksey Galkin. The bombing in Buynaksk was conducted by the GRU to avoid an "interagency conflict between the FSB and the Ministry of Defense"
  • In Moscow, Volgodonsk and Ryazan, the attacks were organized by the FSB through a chain of command that included director of the counter-terrorism department General German Ugryumov, FSB operatives Maxim Lazovsky, Vladimir Romanovich, Ramazan Dyshekov and others.  Achemez Gochiyayev, Tatyana Korolyeva, and Alexander Karmishin rented warehouses that received shipments of hexogen disguised as sugar and possibly did not know that the explosives were delivered.
  • Adam Dekkushev, Krymshamkhalov, and Timur Batchayev were recruited by FSB agents who presented themselves as "Chechen separatists" to deliver explosives to Volgodonsk and Moscow.
  • Names and the fate of FSB agents who planted the bomb in the city of Ryazan remain unknown.


In 2003, U.S. senator John McCain said that "It was during Mr. Putin's tenure as Prime Minister in 1999 that he launched the Second Chechen War following the Moscow apartment bombings. There remain credible allegations that Russia's FSB had a hand in carrying out these attacks. Mr. Putin ascended to the presidency in 2000 by pointing a finger at the Chechens for committing these crimes, launching a new military campaign in Chechnya, and riding a frenzy of public anger into office.".[143]

Former Russian State Security Council chief Alexandr Lebed in his 29 September 1999 interview with Le Figaro said he was almost convinced that the government organised the terrorist acts.[147][148][149]

Andrei Illarionov, a former key economic adviser to the Russian president, said:[150] "[FSB involvement] is not a theory, it is a fact. There is no other element that could have organized the bombings except for the FSB."

A PBS Frontline documentary on Vladimir Putin also mentioned the theory and FSB involvement, citing the quick removal of rubble and bodies from the bombing scenes before any investigation could take place, the discovery of the Ryazan bomb, the deaths of several people who had attempted to investigate the bombings, as well as the defused Ryazan bomb being made of Russian military explosives and detonators.[151][152]

According to former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky, "Litvinenko's accusations are not unfounded. Chechen rebels were incapable of organising a series of bombings without help from high-ranking Moscow officials."[153]

In 2008, British journalist Edward Lucas concluded in his book The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West that "The weight of evidence so far supports the grimmest interpretation: that the attacks were a ruthlessly planned stunt to create a climate of panic and fear in which Putin would quickly become the country's indisputable leader, as indeed he did."[47]

In the September 2009 issue of GQ, veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson wrote about on Putin's role in the Russian apartment bombings, based in part on his interviews with Mikhail Trepashkin[154] The journal owner, Condé Nast, then took extreme measures to prevent an article by Anderson from appearing in the Russian media, both physically and in translation.[155]

Historian Amy Knight wrote that it was "abundantly clear" that the FSB was responsible for carrying out the attacks and that Vladimir Putin's "guilt seems clear," since it was inconceivable that the FSB would have done so without the sanction of Putin,[12] the agency's former director and by then Prime Minister of Russia.[156][157] Timothy Snyder supports her claim, saying that it is "possible" the FSB was involved.[19]

In her book Putin's Kleptocracy, historian Karen Dawisha summarized evidence related to the bombings and concluded that "to blow up your own innocent and sleeping people in your capital city is an action almost unthinkable. Yet the evidence that the FSB was at least involved in planting a bomb in Ryazan is incontrovertible."[158]


In March 2000, Putin dismissed the allegations of FSB involvement in the bombings as "delirious nonsense." "There are no people in the Russian secret services who would be capable of such crime against their own people. The very allegation is immoral," he said.[159] An FSB spokesman said that "Litvinenko's evidence cannot be taken seriously by those who are investigating the bombings".[153]

According to Russian journalist Andrei Soldatov, "From the start, it seemed that the Kremlin was determined to suppress all discussion ... When Alexander Podrabinek, a Russian human rights activist, tried to import copies of Litvinenko's and Felshtinsky's Blowing up Russia in 2003, they were confiscated by the FSB. Trepashkin himself, acting as a lawyer for two relatives of the victims of the blast, was unable to obtain information he requested and was entitled to see by law". However, he believed the obstruction may reflect "“paranoia” rather than guilt on the part of the authorities".[160]

Russian investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in their 2010 book The New Nobility have expressed their conviction that the Ryazan incident had actually been a training exercise.[161] According to the authors, such exercises are typical for Vympel, an unit of the FSB whose mission is to verify the efficacy of counterterrorism measures at sites such as nuclear plants.[162]

According to Strobe Talbott who was a United States Deputy Secretary of State during the events, "there was no evidence to support" the "conspiracy theory, although Russian public opinion did indeed solidify behind Putin in his determination to carry out a swift, decisive counteroffensive."[3]

According to Robert Bruce Ware, the simplest explanation for the apartment block blasts is that they were perpetrated by Islamist extremists from North Caucasus who sought retribution for the attacks of the Federal forces against the Islamist enclave in the central Dagestan, known as the Islamic Djamaat.[163] Ware points out that that would explain the timing of the attacks, and why there were no attacks after the date on which the insurgents were driven from Dagestan. It would also explain why no Chechen claimed responsibility. Also it would explain Basayev's reference to responsibility of Dagestanis and it would be consisted with the initial vow of Khattab to set off the bombs blasting through Russian cities.[163]

Ware also criticizes an argument that David Satter and Rajan Menon use to support the view of Russian security services responsibility for the bombings — that the apartment block explosions involved hexogen, which is a highly controlled substance in Russia and is extraordinarily difficult to obtain. According to Ware, that's not the case, as sizable amounts of hexogen (as well as other weaponry) were readily available in Dagestan. As a proof, Ware cites the police reports of the program for voluntary surrender of arms in Dagestan which ran for a couple of months in 2003 and revealed large quantities of hexogen and ammonite.[163]


Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer noted that "The FSB accused Khattab and Gochiyaev, but oddly they did not point the finger at Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov's regime, which is what the war was launched against."[153]

Sealing information by the US government

On 8 February 2000, the secretary of state Madeleine Albright was asked by senator Jesse Helms about any evidence linking the bombings to Chechen rebels during her testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. She responded that, no, “we have not seen evidence that ties the bombings to Chechnya.” [164]

On 14 July 2016, David Satter filed a request to obtain official assessment of who was responsible for the bombings from the State Department, the CIA and the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. He received response that all documents were classified by US government because "that information had the potential ... to cause serious damage to the relationship with the Russian government". CIA refused even to acknowledge the existence of any relevant records because doing so would reveal "very specific aspects of the Agency's intelligence interest, or lack thereof, in the Russian bombings."[164]

According to a cable on the Ryazan incident from the U.S. embassy in Moscow, on 24 March 2000, "a former Russian intelligence officer, apparently one of the embassy's principal informants, said that the real story about the Ryazan incident could never be known because it "would destroy the country." The informant said the FSB had "a specially trained team of men" whose mission was "to carry out this type of urban warfare"[165] and Viktor Cherkesov, the FSB's first deputy director and an interrogator of Soviet dissidents was "exactly the right person to order and carry out such actions.".[166]

On 11 January 2017, senator Marco Rubio raised the issue of the 1999 bombings during the confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson.[164] According to senator Rubio, "there's [an] incredible body of reporting, open source and other, that this was all—all those bombings were part of a black flag operation on the part of the FSB."[165]

On 10 January 2018, Senator Ben Cardin of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee released, "Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security."[165] According to the report, "no credible evidence has been presented by the Russian authorities linking Chechen terrorists, or anyone else, to the Moscow bombings."

Books and films

The theory of Russian government involvement appears in books and movies on the subject.


David Satter, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, authored two books Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State and The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin (published by Yale University Press in 2003 and 2016) where he scrutinized the events and came to the conclusion that the bombings were organized by Russian state security services.(Satter 2003)[52]

In 2002, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko and historian Yuri Felshtinsky published a book Blowing up Russia: Terror from within.(Felshtinsky & Litvinenko 2007) According to authors the bombings and other terrorist acts have been committed by Russian security services to justify the Second Chechen War and to bring Vladimir Putin to power.[167]

In another book, Lubyanka Criminal Group, Litvinenko and Alexander Goldfarb described the transformation of the FSB into a criminal and terrorist organization, including conducting the bombings. (Litvinenko 2002) Former GRU analyst and historian Viktor Suvorov said that the book describes "a leading criminal group that provides "protection" for all other organized crime in the country and which continues the criminal war against their own people", like their predecessors NKVD and KGB. He added: "The book proves: Lubyanka [the KGB headquarters] was taken over by enemies of the people... If Putin's team can not disprove the facts provided by Litvinenko, Putin must shoot himself. Patrushev and all other leadership of Lubyanka Criminal Group must follow his example."[168]

Alexander Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko published a book Death of a Dissident.(Goldfarb & Litvinenko 2007) They asserted that the murder of Mr. Litvinenko was "the most compelling proof" of the FSB involvement theory. According to the book, the murder of Litvinenko "gave credence to all his previous theories, delivering justice for the tenants of the bombed apartment blocks, the Moscow theater-goers, Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Anna Politkovskaya, and the half-exterminated nation of Chechnya, exposing their killers for the whole world to see."[169]

A documentary film Assassination of Russia was made in 2000 by two French producers who had previously worked on NTV's Sugar of Ryazan program.[170][171] Sergei Markov, an advisor to the Russian government, criticised the film as "propaganda"[172]

A documentary Nedoverie ("Disbelief") about the bombing controversy made by Russian director Andrei Nekrasov was premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles the story of Tatyana and Alyona Morozova, the two Russian-American sisters, who had lost their mother in the attack, and decided to find out who did it.[173][174][175] His next film on the subject was Rebellion: the Litvinenko Case.


Writer Alexander Prokhanov authored a political thriller Mr. Hexogen which describes the bombings as a "chekist electoral technique".,[176][177] by Dr. Alexandr Nemets and Dr. Thomas Torda.[178]

Yuli Dubov, author of The Big Slice, wrote a novel The Lesser Evil, based on the bombings. The main characters of the story are Platon (Boris Berezovsky) and Larry (Badri Patarkatsishvili). They struggle against an evil KGB officer, Old man (apparently inspired by the legendary Philipp Bobkov), who brings another KGB officer, Fedor Fedorovich (Vladimir Putin) to power by staging a series of apartment bombings.[179]

Chronology of events

  • 5 August 1999: Shamil Basayev entered western Dagestan from Chechnya starting Dagestan war
  • 9 August 1999: Stepashin was dismissed and Putin became prime minister
  • 22 August 1999: The forces of Shamil Basayev withdrew back into Chechnya
  • 25 August 1999: Russian jets made bombing runs against 16 sites in Chechnya[180]
  • 4 September 1999: Bombing in Buynaksk, 64 people killed, 133 are injured.
  • 9 September 1999: Bombing in Moscow, Pechatniki, 94 people are killed, 249 are injured.
  • 13 September 1999: Bombing in Moscow, Kashirskoye highway, 118 are killed.
  • 13 September 1999: A bomb was defused and a warehouse containing several tons of explosives and six timing devices have been found in Moscow.
  • 13 September 1999: Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov made an announcement about bombing of an apartment building in the city of Volgodonsk that took place only three days later, on 16 September.
  • 16 September 1999: Bombing in Volgodonsk, 18 are killed, 288 injured.
  • 23 September 1999: An apartment bomb was found in the city of Ryazan. Vladimir Rushailo announced that police prevented a terrorist act. Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the citizens and called for the air bombing of Grozny.
  • 23-24 September 1999: According to David Satter, FSB agent who planted the bomb in Ryazan were arrested by local police.[52]
  • 24 September 1999: Nikolai Patrushev declared that the incident was a training exercise.
  • 24 September 1999: Second Chechen War begins.

See also


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