The conventional wisdom in the media is that Putin is a thug. When he is not having people murdered, he is suppressing human rights. That is rich when applying the concept of “human rights” to a country that had no such concept under centuries of Czarist and decades of Communist rule. Sometimes you have to go beyond the “conventional wisdom” to get a clearer picture. That is the purpose of this next series of articles- to lay out the evidence pro and con and let the reader be the jury.
In September 1999, Russia was rocked by a series of bombings of apartment buildings that killed more than 300 people and injured thousands more. A suspicious device was found in Ryazan and “defused” by police. These acts were blamed by the FSB on Chechen rebels operating in Russia. The bomb being planted in Ryazan was discovered by the police after a local inhabitant of the apartment complex noticed two men placing large bags in the basement of the building. The police defused the bomb and later attempted to detonate it, but failed. A chance overheard telephone conversation sounded suspicious and the call was traced to an exchange that serviced the offices of the FSB. Acting on the tip, police arrested three individuals, all of whom produced FSB identification cards. Ryazan police released the suspects after receiving orders from Moscow.
The following day, Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB, announced that the sacks contained sugar and that it was an FSB exercise to test responses after the previous blasts that terrorized the country. He then apologized to the local authorities while prime minister Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the people of Ryazan. The incident, however, opened a can of worms. The bombings and the siege of the Moscow movie theater by terrorists are considered the excuse for the restart of the Chechen War.
Not everyone was satisfied with another war in Chechnya, including many former members of the Russian Duma. Several had called for parliamentary investigations of the incidents in the wake of the Ryansk FSB “exercise.” Some suspected that even the bombings that were successful were actually the work of the FSB to spark a second war through the creation of a false flag operation.
One such person was Sergei Yushenkov who had been a member of the Duma from 1989 to 2003. Opposed to the war and to Putin, he resigned from parliament and formed the Liberal Russia Party in October 2002 along with Viktor Pokhmelkin and Boris Berekovsky. Sergei Kovalev was another former member of the Duma and opponent of Putin and the Chechen War. While the parliament consistently refused to investigate the bombings, Kovalev formed a citizen’s commission and recruited Yushenkov’s help. Yushenkov described Putin’s rise to power as a coup born on the bodies of dead Russians killed by the FSB. A film, Assassination of Russia, describing the role of the FSB in the bombings was premiered in London which Yushenkov attended. He later announced that copies of the film were going to be distributed throughout Russia to show citizens of the treachery of the FSB. Although Russian customs agents seized many copies, it is estimated thousands made it into the country.
Making the apartment building bombings the centerpiece of the Liberal Russia Party’s entry into the December 2003 parliamentary elections, the last major hurdle was registering the party. Hours later, Yushenkov was shot dead outside his house. According to later journalistic investigations, it was learned that FSB general Alexander Mikhailov had threatened him. Four people were later arrested including Mikhail Kodanev, the co-chair of the Liberal Russia Party, where it was alleged the assassination was the result of a power struggle in the party. However, Kodanev was relatively obscure in Russian politics. Needless to say, the Liberal Russia Party failed to make any political waves now that their leaders were either dead, in jail, or on the run.
By the time Putin assumed office, journalists were exposing the rampant corruption in the country. One such journalist was Paul Klebnikov, an American-born reporter of Russian immigrants to New York. In 1989, he joined Forbes as a Russian correspondent and soon took up reporting on corruption and post-Soviet businesses. In 1996 he wrote a cover story likening Boris Berezkovsky to the Sicilian mafia. Soon thereafter, he received death threats prompting him to take a break from reporting in Russia and he moved his family to Paris. Berezkovsky later sued him for libel and won a limited retraction of the story, but this did not deter Klebnikov since he went on to write a book about him. He later wrote a book on Chechen rebels based on a lengthy interview with rebel leader Khozh-Ahmed Noukhayev.
In 2003, Klebnikov became the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes. His family did not wish to relocate from Paris to Moscow, so he agreed to the arrangement for only one year during which the magazine put out four issues in which one, written by Klebnikov, detailed Russia’s 100 wealthiest businessmen.
On July 9, 2004 as he was leaving his apartment, four men in a car opened fire on him. Although he survived the attack, he died in the hospital in what could be a comedy of medical errors- the ambulance had no oxygen and the elevator in the hospital broke down on the way to the operating room. Immediately, rumors circulated that his death was obviously a contract killing with some suggesting an oligarch mentioned in his article and others pointing the finger at Berezkovsky. In 2006, Russian authorities named Noukhayev as being the mastermind of the hit. Three Chechens were later arrested and tried, but acquitted of murder. An appeals court overturned the acquittals, although one remained in prison on unrelated charges. In 2007, the Bush State Department put pressure on Russia to retry the alleged killers, but they had disappeared. It is believed that Noukhayev was killed by Russian forces somewhere in either Dagestan or Chechnya.
Next: The Anna Politkovskaya incident- it is not exactly what the media says