January 8, 2000
The Wisdom Fund

Chechens Pay for Putin's Rise, Yeltsin's Immunity

Russians may use vacuum bombs and chemical weapons

By Enver Masud

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Chechens are paying a high price for Mr. Vladimir Putin's rise from obscurity to Acting President of Russia, and for his grant of immunity to former president Boris Yeltsin who was being investigated on charges of corruption.

A series of bomb explosions in Moscow, and other Russian cities, last summer was the beginning of Putin's rise to power and popularity. Until his appointment as Prime Minister last August, according to the BBC (Stephen Mulvey, "Vladimir Putin: Spy Turned Politician," January 1, 2000), "he was a little known figure who had spent most of his career working for the Soviet security service, the KGB, including several years as a spy in Germany. In a matter of weeks he had become the most popular politician in the country, and by the end of the year, the acting president."

According to the Economist (Editorial, January 8, 2000), "No clear evidence has yet been found for who was responsible for those bombs, and no one has claimed responsibility." But, says the Economist, given the huge benefits that Putin, and the security forces in general, have gained from those tragedies it would be foolish to rule out Putin's role in the bombing.

Indeed, the Independent (Helen Womack, "Russian Agents 'Blew Up Moscow Flats'," January 6, 2000) has obtained a videotape in which a Russian officer, Lieutenant Galtin, captured at the border between Dagestan and Chechnya while on a mine-laying mission says, "I know who is responsible for the bombings in Moscow (and Dagestan). It is the FSB (Russian security service), in cooperation with the GRU, that is responsible for the explosions in Volgodonsk and Moscow."

This confirms what Dr. Aslambek Kadiev told BBC ("A Chechen View of Russia's War," December 26, 1999) a few days earlier. Said Dr. Alambek, "There are two main reasons for the two wars which Russia has launched against Chechnya. The first is economic: Russia wants to control the Caucasus oilfields and pipeline routes. The second is connected with the political situation in Russia, and particularly inside the Kremlin." Dr. Kadiev explains, "The political purpose of the first Chechen war was to increase Boris Yeltsin's popularity and get him re-elected president in 1996. The main aim of this second war is to ensure that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former spy and President Yeltsin's anointed heir, becomes president at the next elections. The apartment bombings in Russian cities early this year were used by Russia to justify its invasion."

Boris Yeltsin stunned Russians by announcing his resignation and saying elections will be held in 90 days for a new president. According to the Associated Press (Barry Renfrew, "Yeltsin Resigns, Turns Over Powers," January 31, 1999) "Yeltsin said he was stepping down immediately because he wanted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to succeed him. Putin then signed a decree offering Yeltsin immunity from prosecution, a lifetime pension, a government country home and bodyguards and medical care for him and his family."

According to the Washington Post (Sharon LaFraniere, "Yeltsin Is Linked to Bribe Scheme," September 8, 1999), a Swiss investigation uncovered evidence that "a construction company that received major Kremlin contracts paid tens of thousands of dollars of bills charged to credit cards in the names of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his two daughters," Yelena Okulova and Tatyana Dyachenko. And this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

About $100 billion to $150 billion has fled abroad since 1992, according to Russian and Western estimates (David Hoffman, "Russia's Cash Flow Flows Out," Washington Post, August 29,1999). "Russian general prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, had threatened to reveal the identities of what he described as high-level government, officials with Swiss bank accounts. They had been examining how the foreign currency earnings of the national airline, Aeroflot, were reportedly channeled into a Swiss company believed by the investigators to be controlled by tycoon Boris Berezovsky."

As long as he remained in office, Yeltsin was immune from prosecution. But with presidential elections scheduled for next May, Yeltsin had three choices -- flee the country, choose a sympathetic successor, or declare a state of emergency, canceling the elections. Vladimir Putin, his hand-picked successor (or self-appointed successor -- some say Yeltsin was ousted in a coup d'etat), granted immunity and more to Boris Yeltsin.

The Chechens, who are paying with their lives for the Yeltsin/Putin "Wag the Dog" war, have endured 250 years of brutal Russian occupation. About one-quarter of them perished during forced exile by Stalin in 1944. Since the recent Russian war on Chechnya, an estimated 200,000 Chechen refugees have fled to Ingushetia. About 3000 have been killed, and 10,000 wounded. And 40,000 remain trapped in basements in Chechnya in sub-freezing temperatures.

Now, according to the London Times (Alice Lagnado, January 8, 2000) "Russia may resort to more powerful weapons to end a war that is going badly. Vacuum bombs could bring the fighting to a speedy end. Russian forces may also be considering the use of chemical weapons."

The U.S. attitude toward the Chechens was summed up in statements made by Madeleine Albright, and Lawrence Eagleburger.

Said the Canadian columnist, Eric Margolis ("U.S. Aids Russia's Crimes in the Caucasus," Toronto Sun, October 12, 1999), "In Moscow, standing next to her beaming Russians hosts, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed 'we are opposed to terrorism' - meaning Islamic rebels in the Caucasus fighting Russian rule. She said nothing about Russia's blatant violation of its 1996 treaty that granted Chechnya de facto independence. She made no protest over Moscow's egregious violation of the 1990 CFE [Conventional Forces in Europe] Treaty, the most important east-west arms reduction pact, by moving large new forces into the Caucasus."

And on a recent PBS "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger rationalized Russia's genocidal war on Chechnya, saying, "They're not very nice people."

Jonathan Steele, "Putin sweeps the Chechen war under his red carpet: Russia's neo-liberal reforms have left most citizens worse off," Guardian, June 18, 2003

[Yet many Russians remain uncertain that the pair were the true perpetrators of the massive blasts . . .

The greatest controversy in connection with the explosions has been raised by a former FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, . . .

Suspicion that the FSB was involved in the incident has been publicised with the help of the former Kremlin kingmaker and tycoon Boris Berezovsky.--Nick Paton Walsh, "Moscow flat bombers get life for killing 246," Guardian, January 13, 2004]

[In practice, the oligarchs ruled Russia. One of them, Boris Berezovsky, appointed himself Prime Minister. . . .

Berezovsky boasts that he caused the war in Chechnya, in which tens of thousands have been killed and a whole country devastated. He was interested in the mineral resources and a prospective pipeline there.--Uri Avnery, The Oligarchs," CounterPunch, August 3, 2004]

[The landmark judgments, which require damages to be paid to the families of 11 civilians killed by federal troops five years ago, will pave the way for dozens of similar lawsuits from aggrieved Chechens.--Nick Paton Walsh, "Russia ordered to pay for Chechen deaths," Guardian, February 25, 2005]

[In a book, Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within, Mr Litvinenko alleged that agents of the KGB's successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB), co-ordinated the 1999 apartment block bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people.--"Kremlin denies poisoned spy claim," BBC News, November 20, 2006]

[Bob Simon says, "Litvinenko publicly accused Putin and his intelligence agency of several acts of terrorism; most recently the assassination of a prominent investigative reporter in Moscow, this just weeks before he was poisoned." The narrative is inconsistent with the video showing destroyed buildings. Litvinenko alleged that the Federal Security Service co-ordinated the 1999 apartment block bombings in Russia.--Bob Simon, "Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?," CBS 60 Minutes, January 7, 2007]

[Indeed, along with a series of suspicious apartment block explosions in 1999 that preceded the second Chechen war and Vladimir Putin's rise to power, the events surrounding Nord Ost have always been something of a no-go area. The government investigation was cursory, and independent journalists who tried to get to the bottom of the story had a habit of meeting sticky ends.--"Passion, deadly secrets and betrayal in Putin's Russia," Independent, April 21, 2009]

[Chechen suicide terrorism is strongly motivated by both direct military occupation by Russia and by indirect military occupation by pro-Russia Chechen security forces.--Robert A. Pape et al, "What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?," New York Times, March 30, 2010]

John B Dunlop, "The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin's Rule," ibidem-Verlag (January 5, 2012)

[The evidence provided in The Moscow Bombings makes it abundantly clear that the FSB of the Russian Republic, headed by Patrushev, was responsible for carrying out the attacks. But who ordered them from on high? Dunlop concludes that it was most likely the three members of Yeltsin's "inner circle": Aleksandr Voloshin, Valentin Yumashev, and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana, who were the closest to Yeltsin.--Amy Knight, "Finally, We Know About the Moscow Bombings,", November 22, 2012]

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