A Film Clip, and Charges of a Kremlin Plot

by Michael Wines – New York Times

LONDON, March 5, 2002 As he had promised for weeks, Boris A. Berezovsky, the Russian tycoon-in-exile, released part of a film today claiming to document the role of the Kremlin's intelligence service in the 1999 string of apartment-house bombings in which more than 300 Russians perished.

Russian authorities have blamed Islamic extremists from Chechnya for the bombings. But Mr. Berezovsky, in part of a long-running struggle with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, escalated his accusations today, saying that Mr. Putin knew "at a minimum" that intelligence services were tied to the bombings yet still failed to stop them.

The nine-minute film excerpt shown during Mr. Berezovsky's news conference here raised troubling questions about the responsibility for the bombings, but those questions were not new. The most compelling aspect of Mr. Berezovsky's carefully staged attack today was not any new evidence tying the Kremlin to the blasts, but the Russian government's continuing unwillingness or inability to refute his charges.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet K.G.B. and the target of the accusations, dismissed the charges today as polemics. Mr. Putin has previously likened the accusations to blasphemy.

Mr. Berezovsky, vastly rich and powerful during Boris N. Yeltsin's presidency in the 1990's, used his influence to help propel Mr. Putin into power in 2000. But the two have since fallen out, with Mr. Berezovsky becoming a virulent political opponent who says he has been forced into exile in Britain by threats from the Kremlin of corruption charges if he returns to Russia.

Both Mr. Berezovsky and the leader of Liberal Russia, a new Russian political faction that he supports, called today for a Russian and international inquiry into the bombings.

The video clip is part of a longer film that Mr. Berezovsky said he wants broadcast on Russian television. He contends that the 1999 bombings were a plot by the Federal Security Service to propel Mr. Putin, the agency's former director, into the presidency.

Mr. Putin was President Yeltsin's prime minister when the bombings took place in September 1999. The attacks galvanized support behind his later decision to begin a full-scale invasion of Chechnya, the breakaway province that is home to a rebellion against rule from Moscow and to foreign Muslim militants. Mr. Putin's war fed a wave of Russian patriotism that sealed his election to the presidency in March 2000.

The blasts destroyed two apartment blocks in southern Moscow, a military barracks in Dagestan and a third apartment house in the southwest city of Volgodonsk. But Mr. Berezovsky's charges against the intelligence agency are rooted in the city of Ryazan, where local police officers found and defused a fifth bomb, which had been placed, like most of the others, in the basement of an apartment building, in that case one 12 stories high.

The Kremlin initially praised the police for averting a disaster. But the director of the Federal Security Service soon said the device first identified by police as several sacks of explosives linked to a shotgun- shell detonator and timer was a fake. He said it consisted of sacks of sugar and a fake detonator planted by his agency as part of an ill-considered exercise.

All evidence in the incident was ordered kept secret for 75 years, and the intelligence officials responsible for the Ryazan incident have never been identified. Nor have those who detonated bombs in the other cases been arrested, although the security service claims to know their identities.

The Russian Parliament, staunchly loyal to the Kremlin, has repeatedly failed to muster the votes for an independent inquiry into the bombings or the Ryazan incident.

Mr. Berezovsky contended today, as others have before, that the Federal Security Service talked of a supposed antiterrorism exercise in Ryazan because the police there were on the trail of its officers and threatened to make the true story public.

Mr. Berezovsky suggested that Mr. Putin could not evade responsibility for the blasts because he had run the intelligence service until becoming prime minister only months before the bombings occurred.

"Either he could have prevented a terrorist attack and he didn't do it, or, alternatively, he was passive," Mr. Berezovsky said.

Mr. Berezovsky's avowed new role as a crusader for openness and democracy is at odds with the view of many Russians that he was essentially Mr. Yeltsin's shadow president and that he is driven by a desire for revenge.

Since Mr. Putin became president, Mr. Berezovsky has lost his stakes in Russian television networks ORT and TV-6 and has been charged by Russian prosecutors with money laundering and conspiracy to embezzle millions from Aeroflot, the Russian airline over which he won control in the 1990's.

Today he said his motive "is to urge the world's community to pay particular attention to these events," and he promised that a future release of documents related to the case will make the ties between the bombings and the Russian government clearer.

"We plan to appeal to all international organizations which are able to apply certain measures to help an investigation in Russia to take place," he said. "And President Putin's name almost definitely will be mentioned."

 

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