10 years on from blasts that triggered second Chechen campaign

Ten years ago, in September 1999, a series of powerful explosions shook Russia. Four apartment buildings were blown up, killing innocent people in their homes, many sleeping peacefully.

It is remembered as Bloody September. Over a period of two weeks, a string of terrorist attacks rocked Russia. Peaceful life was buried under the rubble of exploded apartment buildings.

More than 300 people died in a succession of blasts throughout the country, almost 2 thousand were injured and lost their homes.

“They were gone so suddenly – my mom and dad – both on that night,” remembers Maxim Mishirin. A decade ago, Maxim’s life changed dramatically – he lost most of his family in September 1999, when their apartment building in Moscow was blown up. Ten years on, Maxim is still heartbroken. “I regret so much that I didn’t phone them more often, didn’t come to see them more often. My life is so empty without them.”

Bloody September

String of explosions in apartment buildings across Russia claimed the lives of 315 people

4, September – Buinaksk, Republic of Dagestan, 64 killed
9, September – Moscow, Guryanova St., 109 killed
13, September – Moscow, Kashirskoe highroad, 124 killed
16, September – Volgodonsk, Central Russia, 18 killed

It is believed that both the reasons and the consequences of the tragedy were rooted in the North Caucasus, in turn sparking more violence in Russia’s Caucasian republics, the Chechen republic first of all.

Military operations in the Caucasus had ended three years before the terrorist attacks, but by setting off bombs, the Chechen terrorists seemed to be sending a clear message – they were not ready for peace. Nevertheless, the responsibility for some lay elsewhere.

Leonid Ivashov from Academy of Geopolitical Studies believes that “Boris Yeltsin was largely inadequate as a president at that time and he was losing grip on the country. That’s why the authorities knew that militants in the Caucasus were re-arming, but they had no order from the president to contain them.”

After the whole country succumbed to fear, someone had to act. It was then that Russia’s prime-minister Vladimir Putin delivered a memorable phrase.

“We’ll pursue terrorists everywhere. If we catch them in a toilet – we’ll waste them right there,” Putin said.

These words are now associated with the start of the second military campaign in the Caucasus. However, some came up with a theory claiming it was the Russian security service, the FSB, which masterminded the bombing campaign in order to justify another Chechen war and to establish Putin in power.

They have suggested that the two men that carried out the blasts were employed by the organization. However, even the lawyer defending the victims’ families believes this theory is pure nonsense.

Lawyer Igor Trunov interrogated the two men detained following the blasts and he believes their connection with Islamic extremists has been proved 100%.

“I saw footage of these two cutting throats of wounded Russian soldiers during the Caucasian war. So there’s no doubt to me that they belonged to terrorist organizations from Chechnya,” states Trunov. “Even if they were intimidated by someone to confess to committing these horrible crimes, witnesses’ reports and the results of expert reports prove they were acting on behalf of Chechen terrorists.”

Blasts in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk were the last straw. Several more years of intense fighting against terrorists in Chechnya followed, which were accompanied by more terrorist attacks on the civilian population.

A decade on, those who lost loved ones in the initial bombing campaign still gather once a year to commemorate the dead. They say they will never feel safe.