Friday, January 21, 2005

Did the KGB blow up those Russian apartment buildings?

This story has been all but forgotten ...
In September 1999, four apartment buildings, two in Moscow and two in other Russian cities, were blown up, killing over 300 people, wounding hundreds more.

Russians suspected Chechen terrorists. Putin, newly in power, solidified his position and launched the invasion of Chechnya. Horror followed.
I remember when this happened. At the time some Chechens claimed the Russian secret services (heirs to the KGB) had staged the attack. This claim didn't get much traction. I didn't believe it. In those days the Soviet era seemed to be ancient history -- Russia was going to rejoin the world. A few tin hat types continued the story; I linked to a representative web site above.

I've not thought much about that 1999 attack, though it was later recalled in the context of several terrorist attacks in Russia (Opera house, school, etc). I was quite surprised, then, to read this in a book review from The Economist (emphases mine): | Russia | Arts |Bleak house

Three books by journalists cast a gloomy light on the question. “Inside Putin's Russia”, by Andrew Jack, latterly the Financial Times correspondent there, is a fluent, detailed and balanced account of Russian power politics, with a lively emphasis on the Kremlin's onslaught against independent media and stroppy tycoons.

Mr Jack also addresses the most sensational charge made against Mr Putin—that the tower-block bombings which killed hundreds of people in 1999 were committed not by the ostensible culprits, Chechen terrorists, but by security services wanting to smooth Mr Putin's rise to power. The charge is not completely absurd, and was well outlined in "Darkness at Dawn" (2003), by David Satter, who set up the Financial Times's bureau in Moscow in 1976.

Mr Jack agrees that the official version of events is full of holes. In particular, the Russian security services have never explained an episode in which they were caught apparently planting explosives in a block of flats in the provincial city of Ryazan. But he steers clear of an all-embracing conspiracy theory—too risky for its backers, he reckons. Instead, he suggests that the Ryazan affair may have been an attempt by spooks to stage a terrorist attack in order to gain credit for foiling it.
So the bottom line seems to be that (foreign) journalists don't know, but they find it conceivable that Putin's men (KGB) staged the bombing. This does make it easier to understand why many in the middle east at one time believed the CIA/Mossad blew up the WTC. After all, if Russia/Putin could do it, why not Bush? Didn't it allow him to do to Iraq what Putin did to Chechnya?

For the record, much as I dislike GWB (I think he's now morphing into a disciple of both Yahweh and Any Rand), I am certain that he didn't stage the WTC attack. He did, however, use it to attack Iraq in much the same way Putin used the apartment explosions to attack Chechnya. The level of evidence used to justify the twin invasions was also, in retrospect, rather similar.

Why does the US media persist in comparing the Iraq invasion to Vietnam? It's really more like the Russian invasion of Chechnya.

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