Similar tactics in Russia

From The Moscow Times
Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2002. Page 3

Berezovsky Promises to Show Film in London
By Gregory Feifer

Exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky has promised to show a documentary film in London on Tuesday that he says will provide evidence that a series of apartment building explosions in September 1999 was the work of the Federal Security Service.

The government blames the explosions on Chechen terrorists but has yet to produce evidence backing up the claim. Two suspects, neither of them Chechen, have been put on trial. Both were acquitted last fall.

The FSB announced last month that all those responsible for the explosions were "known," and that some have been arrested, but provided no further information.

Two explosions in Moscow followed by a third in the southern city of Volgodonsk, which left a total of about 300 people dead, served as justification for the Kremlin to launch a second campaign in Chechnya.

Initial successes in the Chechen war contributed in no small part to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's soaring public approval ratings in the months before he ran for president.

Critics said Berezovsky and other members of the clique of Kremlin insiders dubbed the "family" had used the apartment building explosions as a ploy to hold on to power in the waning months of ailing former President Boris Yeltsin's administration. Putin, a former spy, had only recently resigned as FSB chief to become prime minister.

The release of the film, expected at a news conference at 6 p.m. Moscow time, coincides with the anniversary of the 1953 death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Berezovsky did not respond to faxed questions Monday, but has previously said "foreign" journalists worked on the film, declining to elaborate further.

The film is not expected to be shown on Russian television, but video copies will likely circulate in Russia.

The Liberal Russia political movement, funded by co-chairman Berezovsky, plans to stage a rally at Lubyanskaya Ploshchad at 6 p.m. The event, organized in conjunction with human rights organizations, aims to declare "unallowable the restoration of Stalinism" in Russia, a Liberal Russia spokeswoman said.

Liberal Russia has also planned protests and round-table conferences in several other cities, including St. Petersburg, Rostov and Perm.

Berezovsky has said his film relies heavily on the documentation of an incident in Ryazan the government says was an emergency exercise but critics say was a foiled attempt to blow up yet another building.

Only a week after the explosion in Volgodonsk, residents of a Ryazan apartment building noticed a suspicious car parked near a basement door. Inside, police found bags of white powder wired to a detonator and a timing device set for 5:30 a.m.

Police evacuated the building, claiming they had averted a terrorist act. Investigators said the bags contained hexogen, an explosive. Two days after the bomb's discovery, however, FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev announced his agency had staged the incident, planting a dummy bomb in an exercise meant to test public vigilance. All traces of the bomb were removed.

Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama think tank said he doubted Berezovsky's film would release any new information about the explosions, adding that it would nonetheless call attention to the fact that the government has yet to respond to charges that it was responsible.

Berezovsky turned against President Putin shortly after having played a pivotal role in his election in 2000. The businessman now lives in London, from where he directs criticism toward Putin, who he says is squashing freedom of the press and undermining democratic values established under his predecessor, Yeltsin.

Two years after winning office, Putin's public approval ratings remain above 70 percent.

Berezovsky says Putin's presidency will not last long despite his ratings, and that exposing the motivations behind the apartment bombings might help undermine his administration.

Pribylovsky said the government would most likely respond to the film in its usual manner -- silence. "Any bombs put under the president could explode in the future," he added. "But as long as people believe in Putin as the good tsar, nothing will come of such accusations."

Berezovsky, meanwhile, has in recent months come under renewed fire from the FSB, which accused him of supporting Chechen terrorists. Berezovsky acknowledged having given $2 million to rebel leader Shamil Basayev after the first war, but noted that both men were government officials at the time and the money was allotted for reconstruction work.