September 1999 Russian apartment bombings timeline

September 4, 1999

At 9:45 p.m. a car bomb detonates outside a five-storey apartment building housing Russian soldiers in the city of Buinaksk (in Dagestan), killing 64 people.

A second bomb, concealed in a truck parked near the hospital where the wounded are taken, is set to go off at 11:53 p.m. but is found and diffused by local police.

September 9, 1999

Shortly after midnight, a 400-kilogram bomb detonates on the ground floor of a nine-storey apartment building in southeast Moscow, killing 94 people.

September 13, 1999

Four days later at 5:00 a.m. a bomb, planted in the basement of an eight-storey apartment building in southern Moscow (on Kashirkoye Highway) demolishes the building, killing 124. This is the deadliest blast of the four bombings that will happen this month.

Late that day one of the speaker’s staff brings a note sent by a tipster to the chairman of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Gennadii Seleznov, at a session of the Council of the Duma. The note states that an apartment had blown up in Volgodonsk. According to official minutes of the council meeting, Seleznov is quoted as saying, “According to a report from Rosov-on-Don, today, this past night, an apartment house was blown up in the city of Volgodonsk.” This was three days before the apartment actually blew up in Volgodonsk, killing 17. Seleznov, later declines to comment about the incident.

September 16, 1999

Three days later at 5:57 a.m. a truck bomb demolishes an eight-storey apartment building in the southern city of Volgodonsk, killing 17 and injuring 69.

September 18, 1999

The Komsomolskaya Pravda magazine publishes an article in which the head of the public affairs department of the FSB, General Aleksandr Zdanovich, tries to lay blame for the apartment bombings on the world’s leading terrorist at the time --- Osama bin Laden. Zdanovich is quoted as saying, “In the coming days, a brigade of specialists from the U.S. FBI will come to Moscow... The FBI is interested in the possibility of the participation in the blasts in Russia of ‘terrorist no. 1’ Osama bin Laden.”

September 22, 1999

At 8:30 p.m. in the city of Ryazan, a bus driver, returning home by foot, notices a man carrying big sacks into the basement of his apartment building. Given the recent apartment bombings, he alerts the police but by the time they arrive, the man, and two other accomplices with him have left.

Police go to the basement and find three fifty kilogram sacks of white powder, a detonator and a timing device set for 5:30 a.m. The bomb squad is called, they disconnect the detonator, test the white substance using a portable gas analyser and verify that it is RDX (known as hexogen). This is the same explosive used in the previous bombings and is available only on restricted military bases.

Police immediately evacuate the building, 1200 police officers arrive in Ryazan and the hunt begins for the three ‘terrorists’.

September 23, 1999

At 7:00 p.m., Putin praises the vigilance of the people of Ryazan in averting a terrorist attack and orders air strikes on Chechen rebel positions. On state television Putin says, “If the sacks, which proved to contain explosives were noticed, then there is a positive side to it.”

That same evening a phone operator overhears a conversation between two men, one saying that it was impossible to get out of town without being caught. The voice on the other end of the phone replies, ‘Split up and each of you make your own way out’. The suspicious phone operator reports the call to the police and they trace the call. The telephone number belongs to the FSB office in Moscow.

Two of the suspects are tracked down and arrested. Both present FSB identification and on orders from Moscow, they are released.

The sacks of hexogen are sent to two different labs in Moscow for testing, one lab belonging to the secret services (FSB) and the second lab belonging to the Ministry of the Interior (MVD).

September 24, 1999 (Friday)

Vladimir Rushailo, the Minister of the Interior, who heads the commission for combating terrorism, addresses the All-Russian Congress for Combating Organized Crime and praises the people of Ryazan for having averted a terrorist attack. He comments on the failure of the intelligence community to learn of the plot.

Half an hour later, the FSB’s director Nikolai Patrushev appears on national television to announce that Ryazan was just an exercise to test the public’s response and that the three sacks actually had sugar in it. He does not explain why it was then necessary to send the sacks of sugar for analysis to the FSB lab in Moscow. The deadly chain of apartment bombings stops immediately.

March 2000

President Vladimir Putin releases an authorized biography before the presidential election and says regarding the 1999 apartment bombings, ‘Blowing up our own apartment buildings? You know, that is really... utter nonsense! It’s totally insane. No one in the Russian special services would be capable of such a crime against his own people. The very supposition is amoral. It’s nothing but part of the information war against Russia.’

March 13, 2000

Russian journalist, Pavel Voloshin, publishes an article in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper revealing an exclusive interview with a soldier named Aleksei Pinyaev. Private Pinyaev’s military unit had been posted to Ryazan in the fall of 1999 and assigned to guard an arms depot located on the military base. Curious, Pinyaev and a comrade looked inside the warehouse and instead of finding weapons, found fifty kilogram sacks marked sugar. They used some it for their tea but tasted something so repugnant that out of fear for their health they had a specialist test it to make sure they hadn’t been poisoned. The test results revealed the substance was hexogen.

Former New York Times journalist David Satter who would later interview Pavel Voloshin would write, “The additional evidence (obtained from Pinyaev) appeared to increase the likelihood that the FSB had planned to blow up the building at 14/16 Novoselov Street. For the first time it was alleged... that at the time of the Ryazan ‘exercise’ a large quantity of hexogen was being kept under guard in a warehouse on a military base twenty miles from Ryazan in sackcloth bags that were labelled ‘sugar’.”

March 19, 2001

The Supreme Court of Dagestan sentences six men for the September 4 Buinaksk bombing. The defence lawyers for the accused say that their clients were beaten into making their confessions. The subsequent trials of others arrested are closed to the public. The British newspaper The Independent, writes in a report that the trials were “meeting behind closed doors in a penal colony located outside of Stavropol, 750 miles south of Moscow.”

May 2001

Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko and Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky co-write a book called ‘Blowing Up Russia’, excerpts are published in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. In it they lay out a case of the FSB being behind the 1999 apartment bombings

March 5, 2002

Sergei Yushenkov, a politician and the first chair of the Public Commission for the Investigation of the Bombings of the Apartment Houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk, flies to the premier of the documentary ‘Assassination of Russia’ in London. The film is based on Litvinenko and Felshtinksy’s book ‘Blowing Up Russia’. Yushenkov publicly states that he will distribute copies of the film in Russia and makes it his key campaign promise to independently investigate the bombings.

Shortly after, Tatyana Morozova, whose mother was killed in the September 9 bombing in Moscow, hires Mikhail Trepashkin. He is a professional investigator and a former lieutenant colonel in the FSB.

April 17, 2003

A month later, Sergei Yushenkov is shot to death near his house in Moscow.

July 3, 2003

Yuri Shchekochikhin, a politician who was part of the same public commission investigating the apartment bombings as Yushenkov, dies after a mysterious two-week illness. This happens right before he is scheduled to fly to the U.S. to meet with FBI investigators. Shchekochikhin had been vomiting for a week before he fell into a coma and his skin peeled off and all his hair fell out. After he dies, Shchekochikhin’s medical documents are ‘classified’ by the Russian authorities and his family is denied access to it. The symptoms of his illness fit radioactive poisoning.

October 23, 2003

On the eve of investigator and lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin’s testimony in the trial of several men arrested for the 1999 bombings, he is arrested by police.

May 19, 2004

After a military trial Mikhail Trepashkin is convicted of revealing state secrets and is sentenced to four years in prison. Eventually he is released on early parole but is re-arrested in September 2005 and sentenced to another two years. Amnesty International issues a statement that year stating that the evidence against Trepashkin had been falsified.

October 7, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya, an international award-winning Russian journalist, who already survived one attempt on her life in September 2004 is shot to death at point blank range in the elevator of her apartment building. This is on Putin’s 54th birthday. He declines to comment about the murder despite it being the lead news item in the country. Three days later at a press conference in Germany, when pressed by journalists to comment, Putin seems angry and says about Politkovskaya, “her political influence in the country was extremely insignificant” before condemning the murder.

November 23, 2006

Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko dies from radioactive polonium-201 poisoning in the hospital. He had fallen sick on November 1 after having tea with two fellow former FSB officers in London. In 2000 Litvinenko had co-authored a book about the apartment bombings, accusing the FSB for being behind it. After his death, a letter he had written while dying is read publicly by his friend --- in it he accuses Vladimir Putin for being responsible for his poisoning.

November 30, 2007

Mikhail Trepashkin is released from prison.

June 9, 2014

Five men are sentenced to prison for Anna Politkovskaya’s murder but the men refuse to disclose who paid them for the contract killing.

January 27, 2015

Public hearings are scheduled to begin in London into the murder of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.