Moscow bombers jailed as doubts rise
By Julius Strauss in Moscow
Two men were sentenced to life in prison yesterday for bombing Russian apartment blocks in a terrorist campaign that Kremlin critics claim was mounted by the KGB's successors to justify invading Chechnya.
Yusuf Krymshamkhalov and Adam Dekkushev, both from Russian areas close to Chechnya, were convicted of taking part in the blowing up of blocks of flats in Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 that left 246 people dead.
The case is one of the murkiest in post-Communist Russia and politically explosive as Vladimir Putin was head of both the FSB - the renamed KGB - and the influential Security Council at the time.
Were the charges of FSB complicity ever proven the president could face disgrace and, possibly, criminal charges.
The bombing campaign came out of the blue in 1999, just as Boris Yeltsin's tenure was coming to an end. It caused panic and led to calls for vengeance from ordinary Russians.
Mr Putin responded by invading Chechnya later that year and rode a resulting wave of popularity to electoral victory the following spring.
According to critics, who include the exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, then a Kremlin insider, the FSB organised the explosions as part of a campaign to create support for their boss.
Senior military and intelligence officers have claimed that a parallel invasion of Dagestan, a southern Russian republic, by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, was also tacitly encouraged by the FSB.
"I myself heard tapes of officials from Moscow speaking with Basayev to discuss arrangements for the attack," an FSB officer told The Telegraph. At the time Russians hawks were itching for an excuse to rekindle the war in Chechnya.
When the explosions began, the Kremlin pointed the finger at Chechen rebels who had used terrorist tactics before in their fight to gain independence. But on September 22, 1999, locals in the regional town of Ryazan saw three men emerging from the cellars of a block of flats who later turned out to be FSB officers. When local police checked the cellars they found sacks of high explosive wired up to a detonator.
The FSB later attempted to explain away the incident by claiming that the entire operation had merely been a drill and the explosive was in fact sugar, despite a test that proved the contrary.
In true Soviet style they rewarded the three locals who notified the authorities with colour television sets.