In September 1999, apartment buildings in Moscow, as well as Buynaksk, and Volgodonsk killed almost 300 people and injured 1,000 more. Supposedly, the work of Chechnyan terrorists, they not only paved the way to the Second Chechen War for Russia, but ushered a security-minded candidate, Vladimir Putin, into the presidency. It wasn’t long, though, before the specter of the Russian intelligence service massacring its own people raised its ugly head.

In 2002, an investigation by David Satter was published by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced international Studies. He wrote:

There is compelling evidence that, contrary to claims that the bombings were the work of Chechen terrorists, they were, in fact, carried out by the Russian government itself. First, the bombings came at a moment when the corrupt oligarchy that ruled Russia faced the loss of its power. The bombings, by seeming to justify a new Chechen war, propelled Putin into power, and he preserved the oligarchy and the Yeltsin era division of property intact.

… Almost from the start, however, there were doubts about the timing of the bombings that could not have been better calculated to rescue the political fortunes of the ruling, Yeltsin era oligarchy. Suspicions only deepened when a fifth bomb was discovered in the basement of a building in Ryazan, and those responsible for placing it turned out to be agents of the FSB.

The bombings have never been definitively pinned on the FSB (Federal Security Bureau). But, writes Satter

The question of “who,” however, is very significant. If, as the available evidence indicates, the bombings were carried out by the FSB, it means the present government of Russia is illegitimate. It also means that a tradition has been established in Russia that can only lead to the country’s degeneration.

Russia has experienced three years of economic growth [as of 2002] after more than a decade of steady decline, and Putin has enacted some needed reforms. None of these changes, however, affect the real challenges facing Russia—crime, ideological disorientation, and demographic collapse. These problems are symptoms of a deep spiritual malaise and they can only be resolved by establishing the authority of moral values in the country that, in practical terms, would be expressed in the rule of law.

Seventeen years later, it is still frightening to think Russia’s current ruler came to power on the wings of such an atrocity.