The Chechens, Sunni Muslims with a history of fiercely resisting the Russians in the 19th century, under their leader, the Imam Shamil (actually a Dagestani), as the Russian Empire subjugated the Caucasus, were a disturbing presence in European Russia in the 1990s. Chechens ran the Mercedes dealership in Petersburg, where lots of stolen vehicles changed hands, but very few if any new ones. During the first war, they targeted me personally, on account of the position taken by the U.S. Government in support of Russia’s territorial integrity. Right after the bombings of the two apartment buildings, our Defense Attache in Moscow reported that the inhabitants of at least one of the buildings were dependents of military personnel. It seemed to me then, as now, that Vladimir Putin would never had sanctioned the sacrifice of those innocent people in pursuit of political goals. But, in my view, there was one person who just might have, and happened to have a connection to the North Caucasus: Boris Berezovsky, who was then serving as National Security Advisor to Yeltsin, or “the Family,” as Yeltsin’s wife and daughter and son-in-law were then known.
The Family was concerned by the prospect of parliamentary elections scheduled for December of 1999, and by the potent alliance recently forged between Yevgeniy Primakov and the mayor of Moscow, Yuriy Luzhkov. They were searching for a way of postponing the elections, and it had occurred to them that the Chechen war and attendant terrorism could provide justification for such a move. In the end, Putin’s campaign proved successful; the Chechens were brought to heel, and Yeltsin abdicated in favor of Putin on New Year’s Eve. We may never know for certain how the apartment bombings (and some strange as yet unexplained KGB activities in another building in Ryazan) came to pass, but I am convinced Putin was not the prime mover.
I have always doubted Putin ordered it. I think he knows all about it but hasn't done anything publicly that would weaken Russia. Suffice it to say, were anyone to do anything like it now, heads would roll with the public fully aware.
Let me also say that while he lives as well as any billionaire, I don't believe he has amassed a personal fortune at the expense of the people. He deserves his stated income (likely more), and the Russian people should always see to it that he never wants for anything but lives out his life in decent and comfortable surroundings. He saved their nation.
I don't agree with his every move and position, but he is the best leader Russia has ever had and he is no menace to the world.
I'm speaking here in the worldly sense. Spiritually, I still believe everyone should be pacifistic.