18 December 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This is the first part of a three-part article. Part 2 will appear in "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch" on 8 January 2004.
By John B. Dunlop
On 6 November 2002, a meeting was held in Moscow of the Public Committee to Investigate the Circumstances Behind the Explosions of the Apartment Buildings in Moscow and the Ryazan Exercises (all of which occurred in September 1999). The meeting took place at the Andrei Sakharov Center, and among those present were the committee's chairman, Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev, its deputy chairman, Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (assassinated on 17 April 2003), lawyer Boris Zolotukhin, writer Aleksandr Tkachenko, journalist Otto Latsis, and human rights activist Valerii Borshchev. After the meeting had concluded, the members of the committee took a formal decision to "broaden its mandate" and to include the Moscow hostage-taking episode of 23-26 October 2002 -- and especially the actions of the Russian special services during that period -- as an additional subject of inquiry coming under the committee's purview.(1)
An Unusual Kind Of 'Joint Venture'?
The following is an attempt to make some sense out of the small torrent of information that exists concerning the October 2002 events at Dubrovka. In my opinion, the original plan for the terrorist action at and around Dubrovka bears a strong similarity to the campaign of terror bombings unleashed upon Moscow and other Russian urban centers (Buinaksk, Volgodonsk) in September of 1999. In both cases there is strong evidence of official involvement in, and manipulation of, key actions; so the question naturally arises as to whether Vladimir Putin in any way sanctioned them. Although there is additional evidence bearing on Putin's possible role, this paper will take an agnostic position on the issue, and will also not review it.
The October 2002 hostage-taking episode in a large theater containing close to 1,000 people was evidently, at least in its original conception, to have been preceded and accompanied by terror bombings claiming the lives of perhaps hundreds of Muscovites, a development that would have terrorized and enraged the populace of the entire country. However, in view of the suspicious connections and motivations of the perpetrators of this incident, as well as the contradictory nature of the actions of the authorities, it would seem appropriate to envisage this operation as representing a kind of "joint venture" (on, for example, the model of the August 1999 incursion into Daghestan) involving elements of the Russian special services and also radical Chechen leaders such as Shamil Basaev and Movladi Udugov.
Only a few individuals among the special services and the Chechen extremist leadership would likely have known of the existence of this implicit deal. Both "partners" had a strong motive to derail the movement occurring in Russia, and being backed by the West, to bring about a negotiated settlement to the Chechen conflict. Both also wanted to blacken the reputation of the leader of the Chechen separatist moderates, Aslan Maskhadov. In addition, the Chechen extremists clearly saw their action as a kind of ambitious fund-raiser aimed at attracting financial support from wealthy donors in the Gulf states and throughout the Muslim world (hence the signs displayed in Arabic, the non-traditional [for Chechens] garb of the female terrorists, and so on). The Russian authorities, for their part, had a propitious chance to depict the conflict in Chechnya as a war against an Al-Qaeda-type Chechen terrorism, a message that could be expected to play well abroad, and especially in the United States.
As in the case of the 1999 terror bombings, meticulous planning -- including the use of "cut-outs," false documents, and the secret transport of weapons and explosives to Moscow from the North Caucasus region -- underlay the preparation for this terrorist assault. In this instance, however, the perpetrators were to be seen as Chechens of a "Wahhabi" orientation whose modus operandi was to recall that of the notorious Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Once the operation had moved into its active stage, however, strange and still not fully explained developments began to occur. An explosion at a McDonald's restaurant in southwest Moscow on 19 October immediately riveted the attention of the Moscow Criminal Investigation (MUR) -- an elite unit of the regular police -- which then moved swiftly to halt the activity of the terrorists. The explosion at the McDonald's restaurant was, fortunately, a small one, and caused the death of only a single person. Two large bombs set to explode before the assault on Dubrovka was launched failed to detonate. Likewise a planned bombing incident at a large restaurant in Pushkin Square in the center of the capital failed to take place.
In my opinion, the most likely explanation for these "technical" failures lies in acts of intentional sabotage committed by some of the terrorists. What remains unclear at this juncture is why certain individuals among the terrorists chose to render the explosive devices incapable of functioning. One key point, however, seems clear: The Chechen extremist leaders felt no pressing need to blow up or shoot hundreds of Russian citizens. They were aware that such actions might so enrage the Russian populace that it would then have supported any military actions whatever, including a possible full-scale extermination of the Chechen people. So what Shamil Basaev, Aslambek Khaskhanov, and their comrades in arms seem to have done is, in a sense, to outplay the special services in a game of chess. Most of the bombs, it turns out, were actually fakes, while the few women's terrorist belts that did actually contain explosives were of danger primarily to the women themselves. As Russian security affairs correspondent Pavel Felgenhauer has rightly suggested, the aim of the extremist leaders seems to have been to force the Russian special services to kill ethnic Russians on a large scale, and that is what happened.(2) Only an adroit cover-up by the Russian authorities prevented the full extent (conceivably more than 200 deaths) of the debacle from becoming known.
A central question to be resolved by future researchers is whether or not the Russian special forces planning an assault on the theater building at Dubrovka were aware that virtually all of the bombs located there -- including all of the powerful and deadly bombs -- were in fact incapable of detonating. If the special forces were aware of this, then there was clearly no need to employ a potentially lethal gas, which, it turned out, caused the deaths of a large number of the hostages. The special forces could have relatively easily and rapidly overwhelmed the lightly armed terrorists. Moreover, if they were in fact aware that the bombs were "dummies," then the special forces obviously had no need to kill all of the terrorists, especially those who were asleep from the effects of the gas. It would, one would think, have made more sense to take some of them alive.
Pressure Builds For A Negotiated Settlement With The Chechen Separatists
In the months preceding the terrorist act at the Dubrovka theater, which was putting on a popular musical, "Nord-Ost," the Kremlin leadership found itself coming under heavy political pressure both within Russia and in the West to enter into high-level negotiations with the moderate wing of the Chechen separatists headed by Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in 1997. Public-opinion polls in Russia showed that a continuation of the Chechen conflict was beginning to erode Putin's generally high approval ratings. With parliamentary elections scheduled for just over a year's time (in December 2003), this represented a worrisome problem for the Kremlin. In a poll taken by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), whose findings were reported on 8 October, respondents were asked "how the situation in Chechnya has changed since V. Putin was elected president."(3) Thirty percent of respondents believed that the situation had "gotten better," but 43 percent opined that it had "not changed," while 21 percent thought that it had "gotten worse." These results were significantly lower than Putin's ratings in other categories. In similar fashion, a September 2002 Russia-wide poll taken by VTsIOM found 56 percent of respondents favoring peace negotiations as a way to end the Chechen conflict while only 34 percent supported the continuing of military actions.(4)
On 16-19 August 2002, key discussions had occurred in the Duchy of Liechtenstein involving two former speakers of the Russian parliament, Ivan Rybkin and Ruslan Khasbulatov, as well as two deputies of the Russian State Duma: journalist and leading "democrat" Yurii Shchekochikhin (died, possibly from the effects of poison, on 3 July 2003) and Aslambek Aslakhanov, a retired Interior Ministry general who had been elected to represent Chechnya in the Duma. Representing separatist leader Maskhadov at the talks was Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev. The talks in Liechtenstein had been organized by the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (executive director, Glen Howard), one of whose leading figures was former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. The meetings in Liechtenstein were intended to restore the momentum that had been created by earlier talks held at Sheremetevo-2 Airport outside of Moscow between Zakaev and Putin's plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District, retired military General Viktor Kazantsev, on 18 November 2001.(5) Efforts to resuscitate the talks had failed to achieve any success because of the strong opposition of the Russian side.
Following the stillborn initiative of November 2001, the Kremlin had apparently jettisoned the idea of holding any negotiations whatsoever with moderate separatists in favor of empowering its handpicked candidate for Chechen leader, former mufti Akhmad Kadyrov. This tactic, said to be backed by Aleksandr Voloshin, the then presidential chief of staff, soon became known as "Chechenization." Other elements among the top leadership of the presidential administration, such as two deputy chiefs of staff, Viktor Ivanov -- a former deputy director of the FSB -- and Igor Sechin, as well as certain leaders in the so-called power ministries, for example, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, were reported to be adamantly opposed both to Chechenization and, even more so, to holding talks with moderate separatists; what they wanted was aggressively to pursue the war to a victorious conclusion.(6) If that effort took years more to achieve, then so be it.
In a path-breaking report on the meetings in Liechtenstein, a leading journalist who frequently publishes in the weekly "Moskovskie novosti," Sanobar Shermatova, wrote that the participants had discussed two peace plans: the so-called "Khasbulatov plan" and the so-called "Brzezinski plan."(7) Eventually, she went on, the participants decided to merge the two plans into a "Liechtenstein plan," which included elements of both. Khasbulatov's plan was based on the idea of granting to Chechnya "special status," with international guarantees being provided by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and by the Council of Europe. Under Khasbulatov's plan, Chechnya would be free to conduct its own internal and foreign policies, with the exception of those functions that it voluntarily delegated to the Russian Federation. The republic was to remain within Russian borders and was to preserve Russian citizenship and currency.
Under the "Brzezinski plan," Chechens would "acknowledge their respect for the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation," while Russia, for its part, would "acknowledge the right of the Chechens to political, though not national, self-determination." A referendum would be held under which "Chechens would be given the opportunity to approve the constitutional basis for extensive self-government" modeled on what the Republic of Tatarstan currently enjoys. Russian troops would remain stationed on Chechnya's southern borders. "International support," the plan stressed, "must be committed to a substantial program of economic reconstruction, with a direct international presence on the ground in order to promote the rebuilding and stabilization of Chechen society." The authors of this plan underlined that "Maskhadov's endorsement of such an approach would be essential because of the extensive support he enjoys within Chechen society."
On 17 October 2002 -- just six days before the terrorist incident at Dubrovka -- the website grani.ru, citing information that had previously appeared in the newspaper "Kommersant," reported that new meetings of the Liechtenstein group were scheduled to be held in two weeks' time.(8) Duma Deputy Aslakhanov and separatist Deputy Premier Zakaev were planning to meet one-on-one in Switzerland in order "seriously to discuss the conditions which could lead to negotiations." Former speakers Rybkin and Khasbulatov, the website added, would also be taking part in the negotiations. In mid-October, Aslakhanov emphasized in a public statement: "President Putin has not once expressed himself against negotiations with Maskhadov. To the contrary, in a conversation with me, he expressed doubt whether there was a real force behind Maskhadov. Would the people follow after him?" This question put by Putin to Aslakhanov, "Kommersant vlast" reporter Olga Allenova observed, "was perceived in the ranks of the separatists as a veiled agreement [by Putin] to negotiations."(9)
On 10 September 2002, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov had published an essay entitled "Six Points On Chechnya" on the pages of the official Russian government newspaper "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" in which he stressed the urgent need to conduct "negotiations with [separatist] field commanders or at least some of them."(10) "This struggle," Primakov insisted, "can be stopped only through negotiations. Consequently elections in Chechnya cannot be seen as an alternative to negotiations." Primakov also underlined his conviction that "the [Russian] military must not play the dominant role in the settlement." In an interview which appeared in the 4 October 2002 issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Salambek Maigov, co-chairman of the Antiwar Committee of Chechnya, warmly praised Primakov's "Six Points," noting, "Putin and Maskhadov can find compromise decisions. But the problem is that there are groups in the Kremlin which hinder this process."
During September 2002, grani.ru reported that both Maigov and former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin were supporting a recent suggestion by Primakov that "the status of Finland in the [tsarist] Russian Empire can suit the Chechen Republic."(11) Another possibility, Rybkin pointed out, would be for Chechnya to be accorded "the status of a disputed territory, such as was held by the Aland Islands [of Finland], to which both Sweden and Finland had earlier made claims." A broad spectrum of Russian political leaders -- from "democrats" like Grigorii Yavlinskii, Boris Nemtsov, and Sergei Kovalev to Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation -- had, Rybkin said, expressed an interest in such models.
During the course of a lengthy interview -- whose English translation appeared on the separatist website chechenpress.com on 23 October (the day of the seizure of the hostages in Moscow) -- President Maskhadov warmly welcomed the intensive efforts being made to bring about a negotiated settlement to the Chechen conflict: "In Dr. Brzezinski's plan," Maskhadov commented, "we see the concern of influential forces in the United States.... We have a positive experience of collaboration with Ivan Petrovich Rybkin [the reference is to the year 1997, when Rybkin was secretary of the Russian Security Council].... If Yevgenii Primakov speaks of the possibility of a peace resolution, it is a good sign.... The Chechen party would willingly collaborate with the academician [Primakov]. And, finally, with respect to Ruslan Khasbulatov's plan,... we welcome the actions of Khasbulatov.... This plan can be the subject for negotiations."
It appears that Maskhadov was at this time also engaging in secret talks with a high-ranking representative of President Putin. "Into contact with the president of [the Chechen Republic of] Ichkeria, who was on the wanted list," journalist Sanobar Shermatova reported in February of 2003, "there entered such a high-ranking [Russian] official that he was threatened by no unpleasantness whatsoever by the law-enforcement organs for communicating with the Chechen leader."(12)
The FSB Suppresses A Promising Peacemaking Effort
It emerged at this time that Putin had also permitted his special representative for human rights in Chechnya, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, an ethnic Chechen, to meet with Chechen deputies who had been elected to the separatist parliament in 1997. On 13 October, 10 days before the hostage-taking incident at Dubrovka, Sultygov met in Znamenskoe, the district center of Nadterechnyi District in northern Chechnya, with 14 such deputies. Observers from the OSCE's mission in Znamenskoe were said to have been involved in preparing the meeting. At the meeting, Sultygov and the Chechen deputies discussed ways of bringing about a political regulation of the crisis and also the need to observe human rights in Chechnya.
According to a website associated with the leading Russian human rights organization Memorial (http://www.hro.org), the FSB of Chechnya headed by General Sergei Babkin (an organization in strict subordination to the FSB of Russia) moved aggressively to quash this nascent peacemaking effort.(13) A mere 100 meters away from Sultygov's office in Znamenskoe, hro.org reported, the separatist parliamentarians were taken into custody by armed masked men, who then escorted them to the central FSB office in Nadterechnoe. Each separatist deputy was then interrogated by the FSB department head, Mairbek Khusuev, who subjected them, inter alia, to "insulting remarks." Sultygov, Memorial concluded, came to understand "the decisiveness of his [FSB] opponents who were not deterred by the presence of international observers [from the OSCE]. The breaking off of negotiations...is evidently profitable for the adherents of the force variant."
As this incident demonstrates, key elements among the "siloviki," or power ministries, were adamantly opposed to conducting peace negotiations with separatists and, moreover, to bringing an end to a war that was serving as a source of promotions in rank and of lucrative "financial flows." It seems likely that President Putin's intention was to project the appearance of a willingness to acquiesce to the peacemaking activities of Aslakhanov, Sultygov and others, as a largely symbolic sop to the Europeans. On 21 October, two days before the Dubrovka incident, the president's official spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, announced that there could be no negotiations on the conditions set by the rebels and that "only the official representative of Russia, Viktor Kazantsev, is to conduct negotiations with the separatists, while the remaining initiatives [such as those of Aslakhanov and Sultygov] are deemed to be personal ones."(14)
The involvement of the OSCE in the events in Znamenskoe was an indication that some Western European governments (as well as the United States) were becoming involved in the quest for a solution to a seemingly intractable conflict. At the time of the Dubrovka episode, Denmark was serving as host for a two-day conference on Chechnya attended by some 100 separatists, human rights activists, and parliamentarians. Maskhadov's spokesman, Zakaev, was one of the event's featured speakers.(15)
At this time, other pressures, too, were being brought to bear on the Kremlin to enter into peace negotiations. To cite one example, on 18 October, five days before the Dubrovka incident, a conference entitled "Chechen Dead End: Where To Seek The Peace?" was held at the centrally located Hotel Rossiya in Moscow.(16) The conference had been organized by the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia. Among those who addressed the congress were Duma faction leader Nemtsov, former Duma Speaker Rybkin, Maigov, and Akhmed-Khadzhi Shamaev, the (pro-Moscow) mufti of the Chechen Republic.
It should be underscored that there also existed a significant group of Chechens who complemented the influential and retrograde elements of the FSB and other power structures on the Russian side adamantly opposed to a peace settlement with Maskhadov. These elements consisted of extremist or "Wahhabi" elements among the separatists. The central figure of this group within Chechnya was, of course, the legendary field commander Shamil Basaev, and, abroad, said to be living in the Gulf states, Basaev's partners, the former Chechen First Deputy Premier and Minister of Information Movladi Udugov and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. On 4 October, a website affiliated with this group, Kavkaz Center (http://www.kavkaz.org), lambasted the involvement of Ruslan Khasbulatov and Aslambek Aslakhanov in the peace process. Khasbulatov, the website remarked scathingly, "wants to be the Kremlin's only 'man' in Chechnya and to have a full mandate for talks with rebel president Aslan Maskhadov," while Aslakhanov, in the website's view, was serving as Khasbulatov's "power-wielding" assistant seeking to gain control of all the Russian forces in Chechnya.(17)
Setting The Stage
One of the key questions confronting any examination of the Dubrovka events remains how it was possible that such a collection of suspicious individuals could gather and furtive activities occur in and around Moscow over a period of months. Moreover, the provenance of some of the players -- coupled with reports that several of the participants among the hostage takers had already been in the custody of the Russian authorities -- only serves to sharpen this issue.
The Terrorist Action Takes Shape
The activities that culminated in the hostage seizure took place over a period of more than half a year. In February of 2002, eight months before the hostage-taking incident, two Chechen terrorists, "Zaurbek" (real name: Aslambek Khaskhanov) and "Abubakar," also known as "Yasir" (real name: Ruslan Elmurzaev), set the future terrorist act at Dubrovka in motion when they approached a third Chechen, Akhyad Mezhiev, in Ingushetia, where Mezhiev was wont to make regular visits to a cousin living in that republic.(18) Mezhiev had been born in the village of Makhkety, in the Vedeno District of Chechnya, but had managed to acquire legal residency in Moscow even before the first Chechen war. "In terms of an ultimatum, they demanded that Mezhiev assist them, threatening otherwise to take revenge against his relatives living in Chechnya." Mezhiev was provided with a false internal passport, and his brother, Alikhan, was also drawn into the plot. Later Khaskhanov was to provide Alikhan with $2,500 with which to buy two vehicles intended to be used as car bombs. (These vehicles were said to have been purchased during the period August-September 2002.)
According to a June 2003 statement made by the then chief procurator of the city of Moscow, Mikhail Avdyukov, Aslambek Khaskhanov had been closely acquainted with terrorist leader Shamil Basaev. "Still in 2001, in the village of Starye Atagi," Avdyukov related, "he [Khaskhanov] received an assignment from Basaev, through a certain Edaev, to commit a series of terrorist acts in Moscow. Later when Edaev had been killed... Shamil Basaev himself directly confirmed the assignment to Khaskhanov. The terrorist acts were to consist of a series of 'actions of intimidation.'"(19) Avdyukov's statement continued: "He [Khaskhanov] was commanded to head a group and carry out in Moscow four large terrorist acts with the use of explosives in crowded places. In addition to himself, the group also consisted of Aslan Murdalov, the brothers Alikhan and Akhyad Mezhiev, Khampasha Sobraliev, and Arman Menkeev. All of them are now under arrest."
In April 2002, another member of the Chechen terrorist group, the already-mentioned Khampash Sobraliev, purchased a substantial property at House No. 100 on Nosovikhinskii Highway in the village of Chernoe, Balashikhinskii District, Moscow Oblast. The asking price for the property was said to have been $20,000. A family of Chechens then moved in: "Pavel [i.e., Khampash]...and two young women." The two women appear to have been Sobraliev's wife and sister. The family then erected a high fence around the property and began to receive visitors driving expensive foreign cars and large jeeps. Sobraliev's home soon became a hub of activity with the arrival of a former military-intelligence (GRU) operative. Arman Menkeev, a retired (December 1999) major in the GRU and a specialist, inter alia, in the making of explosives, moved in as a guest in the summerhouse on the property. (Khampash and the women were living in the main house.) The neighbors knew Menkeev as "Roma" and SobrAliyev as "Pasha."(20)
Menkeev's background and questions concerning his ultimate loyalties serve to highlight many of the problems connected with analyzing the Dubrovka events. According to an article posted in June of 2003 on the website agentura.ru, Arman Menkeev is "a Russian officer, a major, and a former deputy commander of a [GRU] special-forces detachment." Menkeev, who had been born in 1963 to a Kazakh father and Chechen mother, had previously served as a member of "the famous Chuchkovskaya Brigade of the GRU special forces." During the 18 years in which he was in the GRU, Menkeev had served abroad and was said to speak Farsi. He had also fought with the Russian military during the first Chechen war (1994-96), during which he had received a military decoration for valor, had been wounded, and had "received the classification of an invalid." Menkeev is also reported by agentura.ru to have prepared the "women martyrs' belts," the homemade grenades, and other explosive devices used by the Dubrovka hostage takers in October of 2002.(21) The weapons and explosives employed during October had been "transported to this house [in the village of Chernoe] straight from Chechnya in trucks containing boxes of apples."(22) (Other sources assert that they had been transported by vehicle from Ingushetia, not Chechnya.)
The article in agentura.ru directly raised the question of whether Menkeev was a traitor to Russia who was heeding the "voice of the blood" (of his Chechen mother) or whether he represented, instead, a loyal servant of Russia. The author noted that after Menkeev had been arrested in Chernoe by Russian police on 22 November 2002, FSB officers interrogating him at the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow had come to a decision to classify him as "loyal to the [Russian] government," adding mysteriously, "He knows how to keep a military and state secret."
By the summer of 2002, the terrorist conspiracy had begun to move into high gear. "For a certain time, the rebels tested [Akhyad] Mezhiev. Then, in the summer of 2002, they introduced him to his contact, Aslambek [Khaskhanov], and to the demolition specialist, Yasir,... who arrived specially in Ingushetia from Chechnya to become acquainted with him. Yasir was introduced to the neophyte under the pseudonym of Abubakar." (Both names, we now know, were pseudonyms used by Ruslan Elmurzaev, who was at that time a resident of Moscow and not of Chechnya.) In August 2002, both Khaskhanov and Elmurzaev paid a visit to Mezhiev in Moscow. Responding to adds that he had read in a newspaper, "Mezhiev then purchased two unremarkable vehicles and passed the keys to them -- as well as cell phones he had been instructed to purchase -- to Aslambek, who arrived specially from Nazran [Ingushetia]" to receive them.(23)
The activities of these Chechen terrorists in Moscow had not, it turned out, passed unnoticed. In fact, according to attorney Mikhail Trepashkin, not only were certain of these activities observed but the authorities were informed about them. However, the authorities then chose to take no action. Trepashkin, a former lieutenant colonel in the FSB turned dissident lawyer, was a controversial individual in his own right. In 1998, he had sued then FSB Director Nikolai Kovalev over his dismissal from the service and had participated in a November 1998 press conference together with another former FSB officer, Aleksandr Litvinenko, devoted to the subject of criminal activities occurring within the FSB. In 1999, Trepashkin had begun assisting the Sergei Kovalev commission in its investigation of the 1999 Moscow and Volgodonsk terror bombings.
According to Trepashkin's testimony, Elmurzaev ("Abubakar") and his associates operated in a gray zone where criminal activity routinely intersected with elements of Russian officialdom. In his "Statement" (Spravka), dated 23 March 2003, Trepashkin recalled: "Beginning in May of 2002, from people in the 'criminal world' there came information about a concentration of Chechens in the city of Moscow...such as had not been observed over the past two years."(24) From a retired secret-police officer who was working as a lawyer for several Chechen firms, Trepashkin learned that "Abdul" (a former field commander of Chechen terrorist leader Salman Raduev and of late separatist President Djokhar Dudaev) had appeared in the capital. "I also," Trepashkin continued, "received information on 'Abubakar,' who, for an extensive period of time, had been living in the city of Moscow and had been earning a profit from firms based at the Hotel Salyut in the southwest of Moscow that no one was laying a hand on. Information had come even earlier that the Hotel Salyut was sending part of the funds to support the Chechen rebels. However, no one was carrying out any checking, since the shadowy funds were also being disseminated to several leaders of the [Russian] power structures. The Hotel Salyut was headed by two Chechens,... but their deputy was [retired] Lieutenant General of the USSR KGB Bogantsev. For this reason, no one [among the authorities] was laying a hand on 'Abubakar' in the hotel." Following the Dubrovka incident, Trepashkin voluntarily turned over the information he had collected concerning "Abubakar" to the FSB, but the FSB reacted to this gesture by "trying to fabricate a criminal case against me."
In a later statement, dated 20 July 2003, Trespashkin added: "At the end of July-August 2002,... I received information about a concentration in the city of Moscow of armed Chechen extremists.... They were especially concentrated in the Southwest and Central districts of the city of Moscow." Trepashkin recalled that he had earlier taken "Abdul" into custody in Chechnya in 1995 but that a senior secret police official, Nikolai Patrushev [now head of the FSB], and the then director of the FSK, Mikhail Barsukov, had "ordered me to leave him in peace.(25)
In a conversation with a retired FSB colonel, V.V. Shebalin, Trepashkin " pointed out to him that in Moscow they [Trepashkin's sources] had seen the field commander from the brigade of Raduev 'Abdul'.... I also acquainted him with materials relating to 'Abubakar,' who was serving as a 'roof' for a number of sites in the district of the metro 'Yugo-Zapadnaya.'" "Running ahead," Trepashkin added, "I will say that presently I am being accused of, at the end of July and the beginning of August 2002, providing Shebalin with information concerning agents of the FSB of the Russian Federation." Trepashkin's conclusion: "Either the concentration of extremists took place under the control of the Russian FSB and they therefore decided to turn my citing of such information into the revealing of a state secret of Russia, or Shebalin did not transmit the information to the Russian FSB." But Shebalin, it emerged, had indeed transmitted the information. According to the same July statement by Trepashkin: "He [Shebalin] said that the Russian FSB was aware of the information, but as to why they did not undertake any measures, and why, in relation to me, on the contrary, they opened a criminal case and seized the data base I had been collecting for years, including data about terrorists, he did not know."
Moreover, once Trepashkin learned that "Abubakar" was among the hostage takers at Dubrovka, "I again proposed to Shebalin to call up the materials on my computer which had been seized." But "the experts from the Russian FSB deemed the information I possessed about the events at the 'Nord-Ost' to be a state secret of Russia, and I was charged with having revealed a state secret."
On 22 October 2003, Trepashkin was arrested by the Interior Ministry on a highway in Moscow Oblast and charged with transporting a concealed and unregistered pistol in his car. Trepashkin was able to get out the information that the pistol (supposedly stolen in Chechnya) had been planted in his car and that the regular police had admitted to him that they had acted at the behest of the FSB. Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev commented concerning this incident: "I do not believe that Mikhail Ivanovich [Trepashkin] had a pistol with him. He is an experienced man, a former officer of the KGB. He is not a bandit, and he is not a fool."(26) On the day preceding his arrest, it might be noted, Trepashkin had granted a major interview to a correspondent for "Moskovskie novosti."(27)
(John B. Dunlop is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.)
(1) In grani.ru, 6 November 2002. The author would like to thank Robert Otto for his exceptionally generous bibliographical assistance and for his most useful comments on a draft of this essay. Peter Reddaway also made a number of remarkably incisive comments on the manuscript. Lawrence Uzzell, too, provided constructive and helpful criticism. The author is, of course, solely responsible for the final version of this essay.
(2) In sovsekretno.ru, November 2002.
(3) Posted on polit.ru, 8 October 2002, by VTsIOM polling specialist L. A. Sedov.
(4) Yurii Levada, "Reiting voiny," "Novoe vremya," 5 November 2002.
(5) See Yevgenia Borisova, "Kazantsev's Ball Now in Rebels' Court," "The Moscow Times," 20 November 2001. For an informative account by Shchekochikhin of a long conversation he had with Zakaev in Liechtenstein, see Yurii Shchekochikhin, "Zabytaya Chechnya," (Moscow: "Olimp," 2003), pp. 248-259. Zakaev describes, inter alia, details of the peace agreement he had largely come to with retired general Kazantsev.
(6) On this group, see "Chekisty vo vlasti," "Novaya gazeta," 14 July 2003.
(7) Sanobar Shermatova, "Chechen Plan Hammered Out," Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 30 August 2002. The "Khasbulatov plan" appeared as a prefix entitled "Plan mira dlya Chechenskoi respubliki" in Ruslan Khasbulatov, "Vzorvannaya zhizn" (Moscow: "Graal," 2002). The so-called "Brzezinski plan" appeared as: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, and Max Kampelman, "The Way to Chechen Peace," "The Washington Post," 21 June 2002.
(8) In grani.ru, 17 October 2002.
(9) Olga Allenova, "Terrorizm i zakhvat posle antrakta," "Kommersant vlast," 28 October 2002.
(10) Yevgenii Primakov, "Shest punktov po Chechne," "Rossiiskaya gazeta," 10 September 2002.
(11) In grani.ru 17 September 2002.
(12) Sanobar Shermatova, "Mirotvortsy pod kovrom," "Moskovskie novosti," no. 6, 18 February 2003. Subsequently Shermatova reported that the high-level talks had been conducted "in one of the republics of the North Caucasus." ("Shestero iz baraevskikh," "Moskovskie novosti," 29 April 2003). Writing in "Po-amerikanski no poluchaetsya?" in the 5 August 2003 issue of "Moskovskie novosti," Shermatova added: "At the very time when Moscow was accusing Maskhadov of having organized the terrorist act at Dubrovka, he, according to our information, was located in a secure place in one of the republics of the North Caucaus."
(13) hro.org, 19 October 2002.
(14) Olga Allenova, "Terrorizm i zakhvat posle antrakta," "Kommersant vlast," 28 October 2002.
(15) In "The Moscow Times," 31 October 2002.
(16) In grani.ru, 18 October.
(17) Kavkaz-Tsentr, translated by BBC Monitoring, 4 October 2002.
(18) Aleksandr Khinshtein, "Glavnyi terrorist 'Nord-Osta,'" "Moskovskii komsomolets," 23 May 2003; and Zinaida Lobanova, "Tolko on otvetit za 'Nord-Ost'?" "Komsomol'skaya pravda," 22 April 2003.
(19) "V Moskve gotovilos chetyre 'Nord-Osta,'" "Rossiiskaya gazeta," 20 June 2003. Avdyukov was removed from his post in July 2003: "Prokuror Moskvy podal v otstavku," grani.ru, 31 July 2003.
(20) See Khinshtein, "Glavnyi terrorist..."; Andrei Skrobot, "Vzryvy v Moskve gotovyat v Podmoskove," "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 6 June 2003; and Zinaida Lobanova, Andrei Redkin, "Ne vinovny my! Baraev sam prishel," "Komsomolskaya pravda," 23 June 2003.
(21) Aleksandr Zheglov, "Pravitelstvu veren," agentura.ru, 30 June 2003. This article is said by agentura.ru to have first appeared in the newspaper "Den," 3 December 2003.
(22) Zinaida Lobanova et al., "Naiden ment, pustivshii terroristov v 'Nord-Ost,'" "Komsomolskaya pravda," 9 June 2003. An earlier report by Lobanova that appeared in the 22 April 2003 issue of the same newspaper had stated that the weapons and explosives had been transported to the capital from Ingushetia in a truck loaded with watermelons and had then been kept in two rented garages in Moscow, one on Leninskii Prospekt and one on Ogorodnyi Proezd. It appears that the explosives were originally housed at the base in the village of Chernoe.
(23) Zinaida Lobanova, "Tolko on otvetit za 'Nord-Ost'?" "Komsomolskaya pravda," 22 April 2003.
(24) For the text of Trepashkin's "Spravka," see "Tainstvennyi 'Abubakar,'" chechenpress.com, 31 July 2003.
(25) In "Ekho 'Nord-Osta' i vzryvov domov v Rossii," Kavkazkii vestnik (email@example.com), 22 July 2003. The text also appeared in: "'Nord-Ost': provokatsiya FSB," chechenpress.com, 21 July 2003.
(26) In Polina Shershneva, "On poidet do kontsa," newizv.ru, 24 October 2003.
(27) Igor Korolkov, "Fotorobot na pervoi svezhesti," "Moskovskie novosti," 11 November 2003. In the 4 December 2003 issue of "Novaya gazeta," journalist Anna Politkovskaya reported that Trepashkin was being tried in a closed trial conducted by the Moscow District Military Court and that Amnesty International was in process of according him the status of political prisoner.