The Explosion at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport


Earlier today an explosion ripped through Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, killing dozens and wounding many more. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has been quick to blame the attack on terrorists, probably from the restive North Caucasus, and President Obama has issued a similar statement.

But Western press reports leave out one important bit of context: There is widespread (and mainstream) speculation that many of the terrorist attacks attributed to Chechens in recent years were actually perpetrated by the Russian secret services, to further the political aims of an ever-more-authoritarian Russian state. The 1999 apartment bombings triggering the Second Chechen War are widely suspected to have been the work of the FSB, the KGB's successor organization. As The Economist's former Moscow correspondent Edward Lucas put it in his book The New Cold War:

The weight of evidence so far supports the grimmest interpretation: that the attacks were a ruthlessly planned stunt to create a climate of panic and fear in which Putin would quickly become the country's undisputed leader, as indeed he did. It is a measure of how far opinion has shifted that the conspiracy theory has gone from being an outlandish hypothesis to something believed by serious opposition politicians such as Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the main liberal party, Yabloko. It is as if mainstream contenders for the Democratic nomination in America's presidential election had publicly supported the contention that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were an inside job organized by Vice President Dick Cheney.

There are also serious allegations that the Russian security services were involved with (or had foreknowledge of) both the Beslan massacre and the Moscow theater hostage crisis. Despite the fact that the assassinations of both FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko and investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya were widely reported here in the US, few drew the connection between their murders and the damning accusations that they made against the Russian state.

Litvinenko and Politkovskaya are no longer alive to challenge the party line, which is all the more reason for Western reporters to be skeptical of the Kremlin's official statements. The controversy surrounding the 1999 apartment bombings and subsequent attacks on civilians is critical to understanding Islamic terrorism in Russia, but unfortunately it's not something you're likely to hear.