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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 00:23 GMT
Russian tycoon blames Moscow for blasts
Firefighters searching the scene of a Moscow apartment block blast
About 300 people died in the blasts
Exiled Russian media tycoon Boris Berezovsky says he believes Moscow orchestrated the 1999 bombings of apartment blocks in Russian cities which triggered Russia's onslaught in Chechnya.

At a news conference in London, Mr Berezovsky presented what he said was evidence that the bombings were the work of the Russian security service, the FSB.

Why does (Putin) continue to block investigations into the deadliest terrorist attacks in our history?

Boris Berezovsky
He also said he was sure that President Vladimir Putin, who was prime minister at the time, knew about the campaign.

A spokesman for the FSB in Russia told the Interfax news agency that the allegations were "groundless and lacking in common sense".

The blasts, which killed about 300 people, were blamed on Chechen rebels and shortly afterwards Mr Putin launched a second war against Chechnya.

The military operation had massive support from a public outraged by the bombings.

Documentary evidence

But Mr Berezovsky said intelligence agents, investigative journalists and explosives experts had convinced him that the FSB was to blame.

Boris Berezovsky
Berezovsky is now out of terms with the Kremlin
The Russian tycoon showed part of a French documentary at the news conference which linked two bombings in Moscow and one in Volgadonsk with an attempted attack in Ryazan, 200 km (125 miles) south-east of Moscow.

Security authorities said the Ryazan incident was an "exercise" but Mr Berezovsky and his team showed date- and time-stamped pictures which they said proved that the detonator found at Ryazan was real and said local police experts said traces of explosives were found.

He also has the backing of a Russian explosives expert, ex-FSB member and former director of the Russian Conversion Explosives Centre, Nikita Chekulin, who says that before the bombings, security services purchased large amounts of the explosive Hexogen, said to have been found at Ryazan.

Mr Berezovsky says the fact that no-one has ever been brought to justice for the bombings is further proof that they were not the result of Chechens.

Putin 'compliant'

The tycoon said that the subsequent campaign in Chechnya aided Mr Putin's rise to power.

"The FSB thought that Putin would not be able to come to power through lawful democratic means," he said. "I am not saying that Putin ordered the attacks.. but what I am saying is that he knew such things were taking place."

Russian soldiers patrol Grozny
Troops were soon sent back to Chechnya
Mr Berezovsky was actually a key aide in helping Mr Putin to victory in the 2000 elections but he has since fallen out of favour with the Kremlin and now lives in self-imposed exile in Europe.

He called on President Putin to order an inquiry into the bombings.

"Ever since Putin came to power, people have been asking: Is he really a democratic president of Russia or simply an old-style dictator putting on a show for the West?... Why does he continue to block investigations into the deadliest terrorist attacks in our history?", he said.

"I am calling for an open and independent investigation."

See also:

29 Nov 00 | Europe
Eyewitness: Chechnya's bitter war
01 Oct 00 | Europe
Analysis: Chechnya one year on
20 Sep 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Fear and hatred in Moscow
10 Aug 00 | Europe
The blasts which shook Russia
22 Jan 02 | Europe
Putin blamed for TV shutdown
16 Nov 00 | Media reports
Russian tycoon 'afraid to return home'
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