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September 15, 1999
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Central Asia/Russia

Who gains from the Moscow apartment bombings?
Global Intelligence Update
September 14, 1999


The explosions in Moscow during the past week are among the most deadly in Russia's recent past. The Russian administration blames the Chechens, but we will not attempt the impossible task of assigning blame. Rather, we will discuss who could benefit from the bombings. We can find no evidence that Chechen rebels - or the Russian mafiya, another suspect group - would benefit from bombing Moscow apartment buildings. Only political forces in Moscow would seem to benefit.


Explosions in two apartment buildings in Moscow have claimed over 200 lives in the past five days. No group has claimed responsibility and the police have made no definitive statements indicating they have specific suspects under investigation. While there is not enough information to assign blame for these bombings, we can eliminate some of the suspects and discuss who could gain - namely, political forces in Moscow.

The target and death toll from the recent spate of bombings in Russia are inconsistent with previous acts of political or criminal retribution dating from 1996. Bomb attacks in Russia are forms of political protest, gang warfare and ultra-nationalism. Hence, the target is defined for each case, inhibiting collateral damage. Strictly political bombings occurred in Moscow immediately before and after the 1996 presidential elections, killing four and injuring dozens in separate incidents. The highest toll on lives lost in the republics until the recent attack was in North Ossetia in 1998, with 53 dead and 100 wounded. The current casualty count for the first bombing on September 9 is 92, higher than any single bomb attack in Russia since World War II.

Russian leaders, including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkhov, have chosen the Chechens as the preferred scapegoat. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who was appointed head of the investigation into the bombings, has also announced that his prime suspects are the Chechens. Although Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's September 13 statement that the bombing was ''a clear terrorist act'' did not specifically name the Chechens, proof that they were responsible would legitimize further force in Chechnya. He said if a link is found between the bombings in Moscow and the fighting in Dagestan, the ''federal government will consider itself within its rights to use all resources at its disposal to rebuff the aggression.''

Russians may be willing to believe that Chechens are attacking in Moscow as well as the Caucasus, but it is highly unlikely. In his statement of denial, rebel leader Shamil Basayev said, ''We had nothing to do with the explosion in Moscow. We never kill civilians. This is not our style.''

Based on the group's activities in Dagestan, Basayev is correct. Generally, Chechen forces have targeted military and police forces. The bombing early this month of Russian military housing in Buinaksk killed 64 people, including members of military families. The target, though, was clearly a military installation.

Chechen militants also have not attacked regions outside the ones they intend to claim - Dagestan and Chechnya. And finally, since the Islamic rebels have a spokesman and a press center through which to publicize their fight, we would expect them to claim their actions; they have not. These reasons lead us to believe that the Islamic militants led by Basayev are not the perpetrators of the Moscow bombs.

Organized crime is another potential but improbable suspect. Russian organized crime is motivated by profit and expansion. The mafiya is not known to commit mass murders, especially through such overt actions as bombs large enough to demolish entire apartment buildings. According to an FBI report, the Russian mafiya prefers economic crimes such as fraud, extortion, theft, drug trafficking and contract killing. The apartment building bombs were not tightly controlled to target one or a few specific targets. Reports of typical mafiya activities do not suggest that these explosions were coordinated by the Russian organized crime element. Large-scale bombings against civilian targets simply do not fit into the Russian mafiya's modus operandi.

Having eliminated both the mafiya and Chechens as likely suspects, it is now interesting to question who else could gain from the bombings. With President Boris Yeltsin in his last year in office and parliamentary elections due this December, the political situation in Russia is tense and agitated. The war in the Caucasus adds to the situation, and a Chechen bombing crusade could give Russia license to execute a full force campaign against Chechnya.

The Moscow bombings could also push the Duma to declare a state of emergency in the outlying regions. Preliminary debate on how to enforce such a condition is scheduled for September 14. Until recently, most of the nation was strongly against this type of action.

Speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, Yegor Stroyev, firmly opposed emergency measures due to the situation in Dagestan. However, after the second Moscow apartment block bombing, he said there was ''a need to consolidate the legal base for combating the rampage of terrorism and crime.'' Speaker of the lower house, the State Duma, Gennadiy Seleznev, said September 13 that the Duma would begin its September 14 meeting by discussing a draft law on regulating a state of emergency in some regions.

A state of emergency would interfere with December parliamentary elections. This could benefit Yeltsin, who would like to see the elections postponed until he can ensure a loyal successor. Yeltsin's opponents, such as former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, have long feared that Yeltsin would call a state of emergency for political gain. The recent bombings could give him the excuse to do this legitimately.


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