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Russia: New Book Alleges FSB Ordered Political Hits, Apartment Bombings

  • Francesca Mereu

"The problems of present-day Russia are not the result of Boris Yeltsin's radical reforms -- they are the result of Federal Security Service (FSB) sabotage." So begins a 22-page report published Monday (27 August) in a special issue of the Moscow weekly, "Novaya gazeta." The report comprises excerpts from a book alleging that Russian security forces have used organized crime gangs and war criminals to carry out contract killings in Russia and abroad. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Francesca Mereu reports.

Moscow, 29 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The weekly "Novaya gazeta" this week caused a sensation with the publication of 22 pages of excerpts from "The FSB Blows Up Russia," a new book alleging to expose government complicity in hired assassinations and other criminal dealings.

The book, which has yet to be published, is co-authored by Yurii Felshtinskii, a historian and writer who emigrated to the United States in 1978. His writing partner is former FSB Lieutenant Colonel Aleksander Litvinenko. Litvinenko, who joined the FSB in 1988, gained notoriety when he called a news conference in late 1998 to accuse his FSB superiors of ordering the assassination of oligarch and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky. Litvinenko was arrested, but was later released and managed to flee the country last year. He was granted political asylum in Britain this May.

Many of the excerpts focus on operations carried out by the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. Specifically, the authors allege that the FSB maintains a secret department specializing in locating and liquidating people considered dangerous to the state. They accuse the FSB of using organized crime gangs and war criminals to carry out contract killings in Russia and abroad.

The authors also examine the still-unsolved string of 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities that left more than 300 people dead. Authorities at the time blamed the blasts on Chechen terrorists, and used the incidents to justify Russian military re-engagement in Chechnya. But Litvinenko and Felshtinskii allege that it was actually the FSB, and not terrorists, who were responsible for the bombings.

In particular, the authors examine the puzzling case of a near-explosion in the town of Ryazan, where apartment-block tenants found bags filled with what appeared to be hexogen, a substance used in detonating devices that had been found at previous blast sites.

The tenants were evacuated and officials reported that an explosive mechanism found with the bags of hexogen had been neutralized. But two days later, the FSB announced that the incident had, in fact, been a training exercise meant to gauge the efficiency of Ryazan officials in reacting to an emergency. The bags, they said, contained not hexogen but sugar. Residents, however, said the sacks were filled with yellow crystals, not sugar. FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev confiscated the evidence and declared the local investigation into the matter closed.

Co-author Felshtinskii, speaking from the U.S., told RFE/RL that the Ryazan incident was what first made him think the FSB might be linked to the apartment bombings:

"I first had doubts -- like many people in Moscow -- after the facts came out about the Ryazan incident. After that, in Moscow, I spoke with former and current FSB officers. During the conversations I tried to deduce whether it was theoretically possible that the FSB was behind the Moscow blasts."

Felshtinskii says that after traveling to Moscow and speaking with a number of FSB officials, he concluded that his suspicions were correct:

"When it became clear to me that the FSB had organized the blasts, I lost my emotional block [telling me that such a thing could never happen]. The most difficult thing for us [Russians] is to believe that a branch of the state could blow up apartment houses in its own country. We all live with a sort of psychological block -- that such a thing is impossible."

Felshtinskii said once he began working with Litvinenko, the former FSB official was able to provide valuable insight into how federal security services work. He says that the information to be published in "The FSB Blows Up Russia" only scratches the surface.

"People who have such information about the FSB are in no hurry to talk about it. We don't know how much information is still hidden. I think [the information provided in the book] -- in particular, the chapters about murders, kidnappings, and special FSB departments -- is just the tip of an enormous iceberg. It's difficult to imagine how [much information] there is to be found."

Dmitry Muratov, the editor of "Novaya gazeta" -- which is known for its critical stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin -- says that Litvinenko and Felshtinskii's revelations offer little in the way of fresh information. Although the excerpts provide almost no substantiating evidence to back up the allegations and no sources are listed, Muratov says he has no doubt that the information provided in the book is true:

"['Novaya gazeta' has published many articles] about the secret service and the way it conducted its business independently of the state. [We also wrote about] the way secret service officers covered up their personal financial dealings as though they were part of FSB operations. When we read the [book] manuscript, we had not much doubt that [what was written was true]."

Vladimir Bukovsky is a writer and former Soviet dissident living in England. He told RFE/RL's Russian Service that he has read the book manuscript and found it to be detailed and accurate:

"You don't have many doubts [when you read the book]. It is written according to what Lieutenant Litvinenko and other [FSB officers] have said. The most important thing is that the book is very accurate [in terms of detail]. The blasts that took place two years ago in Moscow and in other Russian cities are not new stuff -- we knew about it. It was clear [at the time] that the FSB had a hand in the business."

A spokesman for the FSB press center refused to comment on the allegations, saying only that the "Novaya gazeta" special issue amounts to "gutter press." The paper's editors, meanwhile, have appealed to the State Duma to form an independent commission to look into the matter.