A series of bomb attacks across Russia in September 1999 destroyed several residential apartment buildings and killed hundreds of civilians. Suspicion still surrounds the 1999 Russian apartment bombings, which the government blamed on Chechen rebels. Some historians and critics - including former Russian security agents - have alleged that the attacks were a government conspiracy. They say the government orchestrated the bombings to justify the Second Chechen War; cement the authority of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who shortly after the bombings became president, replacing Boris Yeltsin); and focus the attention of the Russian people away from poverty and government corruption.
Although the attacks catapulted Putin to popularity because he vowed revenge against those who had killed innocent civilians, the connection between Putin and the apartment bombings has never been officially verified. Other individuals were implicated and charged in the bombings over the years, but questions still remain. Here are some details about the still controversial yet mostly forgotten 1999 Russian apartment bombings.
Initially, Russian people and the West perceived the emergence of Boris Yeltsin as head of the Russian government with optimism. By the mid-1990s, however, Russia struggled with corruption, financial scandals and industrial wealth concentrated in the hands of a few well-connected oligarchs, which led to poverty for most Russians. On Dec. 31, 1999, President Yeltsin resigned and appointed Vladimir Putin as his successor. One of Putin's first acts was to grant Yeltsin immunity from prosecution.
The first apartment bombing associated with the 1999 attacks occurred on September 4 in Buinaksk, in the Dagestan region of Russia, an area that borders Chechnya. A truck bomb exploded near a five-story apartment, and it killed 68 and injured 150. Then, a bomb exploded in Moscow on September 9 in a nine-story apartment complex that killed 94 and injured 249, destroying the building. Four days later, on September 13, another Moscow apartment bombing attack occurred, killing 119 and wounding 200. The final successful bombing attack occurred on September 16 in the southern Russian city of Volgodonsk, killing 17 and injuring 69.
On September 22 in the Russian city of Ryazan, an apartment resident became suspicious when he saw two men carrying sacks into the basement of his building. The car had a suspicious-looking, handwritten license plate, but by the time local police were notified and arrived, the car and the men were gone. However, three 50-pound sacks were seized as well as an armed, timed detonator that was dismantled by the local police bomb squad.
Local police and security placed Ryazan under virtual lockdown. Eventually, employees of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the national security agency that officially replaced the KGB, were apprehended and identified as the individuals who had placed the sacks in the apartment building. The FSB ordered the immediate release of the employees, explaining that the incident was merely a training exercise to test local responses to potential sabotage threats. When this claim was met with outrage and skepticism, official explanations became inconsistent, and the head of the FSB denied that any such exercise took place.
In addition to the highly suspicious nature of the attempted bombing of Ryazan, other suspicions led many Russians to believe that the bombings were actually the work of the government. Even before the bombings began, rumors had swirled through the media about a government bombing attack that would be used as a provocation to start a second war with Chechnya. With Boris Yeltsin's popularity rating at 2%, and support nonexistent for his hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin, Russia's political leaders feared that the upcoming 2000 election required a drastic turnabout in public sentiment. Many believed that the 1999 bombings were deliberately planned to begin the process of manipulating public opinion.