One of the most dismal trends to emerge from conservatism in the past several years is the rise of the Putin-lover. I find these people hard to take. These purported conservatives hold up a former KGB thug who morphed into a gangster in the 1990’s as an avatar of conservatism. And why? Because gay pride parades are banned in Moscow – or something. Or I guess it is because he – the man who set up an Islamist strongman in Chechnya - is the Champion of Christendom.
In response, I usually bring up a revealing and horrifying incident from Putin’s past that has been driven down the memory hole – the Moscow Apartment Bombings.
What are the Moscow Apartment Bombings? Here’s a Cliff’s Notes summary: After spending a year as head of the FSB (the successor of the KGB), Putin became Boris Yeltsin’s Prime Minister in May 1999. By that point, Yeltsin’s popularity had plummeted to 2% in the polls. As well, his health was failing, Putin was a total unknown, and new Presidential elections were around the corner. Then a miracle happened:
“During the 12 days from September 4-16, however, everything changed. Four Russian apartment buildings were blown up in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. The controversies that wracked the country over corruption and privatization were suddenly forgotten. Eight years of post-Soviet Russian history was telescoped into the shocking images of bodies being carried out of the rubble of bombed apartment buildings.
Putin, the newly appointed Prime Minister, expressed perfectly the desire of the country for revenge. On September 24, Putin said, ‘We will pursue the terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, then in an airport, and, forgive me, if we catch them in the toilet, then we’ll rub them out (mochit) in the toilet…. The question is closed once and for all.’”
The bombings terrorized Russia, so much so that many Russians were afraid to sleep indoors. 293 people were killed and another thousand were wounded. But unexpectedly the bombings stopped as quickly as they had begun. On Sept 22, an apartment in Ryazan was targeted but the bombers were caught. They were FSB agents.
The official Kremlin story was that the Ryazan incident was not the attempted bombing it appeared to be but rather a “training exercise”. Of course, one of the serendipitous results of this terror campaign was that all of Russia’s economic problems were forgotten. On October 1, Russian forces entered Chechnya\ and Putin was elected President in March after an unprecedented rise in his popularity.
Curiously, no further bombings occurred or were attempted after Sept 22 ‘training exercise’. In the following year, the Russian Duma - now dominated by Putin supporters - sealed all records related to these bombings for 75 years.
Hmmm. The likeliest explanation is that a senior politician conducted a deadly terror campaign on his own soil in order to bolster his popularity and win an election. Let that sink it.
Given that Putin is a major player on the world stage today, and increasingly popular among certain fringe circles in the West, this story is more relevant than ever. For this reason, I am glad David Satter providing an in-depth retelling of this story over at The American Interest. Satter is a journalist and a foreign policy expert who specializes in Russia.
Go over to The American Interest and read the article. It should be read in full. Even though I knew a lot about this atrocity myself, I still learned a lot I didn’t know before. For instance, I did not know that rumours were actively circulating before the terror campaign that the Kremlin was considering such a thing. But apparently there were.
The quote above is taken from that article, which is in turn taken from an upcoming book on Russia, The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road To Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin. It sounds like this should be mandatory reading to anybody who is interested in who runs Russia today.