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By Talia Jessener
On Wednesday 13th September, by kind invitation of Henry Smith MP, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed David Satter to discuss his book: ‘The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep.’ The book covers the rise of authoritarianism in Russia under both Yeltsin and Putin, focusing on the apartment bombings of 1999 that brought Putin to power, claiming that although the attacks were contemporaneously blamed on Chechen separatist terrorists, they were in fact orchestrated by the Russian FSB.
Satter began by claiming that the many problems within contemporary Russian society are often ignored or under-reported by Western media and elites, whose tolerance of Putin’s regime has been costly for those in the former Soviet Union.
Satter traced the rise of authoritarianism to the fall of communism, claiming that instead of establishing a new post-Cold War society based on liberalism and strong moral values, the Russians instead focused on the speedy privatisation of property, and that due to this lack of emphasis on the rule of law, they immediately forwent their chance to effect anything other than the ‘façade’ of democracy.
He went on to describe the events of what he termed ‘Russia’s 9/11,’ during which bomb explosions in four different apartment buildings killed over 300 people. He explained how such a tragic attack caused nationwide outrage, with people not only looking for someone to blame, but also looking for a national saviour to reassure them and once more regain order and security. The answer to these pleas came in the form of Vladimir Putin, who, almost overnight, shot into the public eye by blaming the attacks on the Chechens, in a popular move that saw him win the Presidency later that year.
However, according to Satter, the Chechens, who denied responsibility for these attacks, were unlikely to have committed them anyway – their grievance was with the Russian military and political elite rather than with the Russian civilians. Satter claimed that it was in fact the Russian regime itself who orchestrated the attacks in order to produce a casus belli for the second Chechen war.
The most telling piece of evidence came less than a week later, Satter explained, when the discovery of a fifth unexploded bomb saw the city of Ryazan go into lockdown. A phone call was detected by police, which stated that three people were trapped in the area, and asked for advice to escape, to which they were told to leave one at a time. When the police traced and then dialled the number they were connected to the Headquarters of the FSB. This revelation led to the arrests of 3 members of the FSB. The organisation claimed the bomb was a fake intended to test the vigilance of the locals. and Satter expressed his outrage that the West had believed this ‘idiotic excuse’ despite traces of an explosive gas being found on the bomb.
Satter ended his talk by wondering how different Russian society would be today if instead of supporting them, the Americans and the West had challenged the Russians and held them to account over their explanation of these events, and concluded by stressing the obligation of Western powers, media and intellectuals to do so.