VLADIMIR Putin almost a quarter of a century in power in Russia was characterized by brutality, cunning and cruelty.
And Vlad’s villainy began before he even took office, when he allegedly played a role in the deaths of three MPs who were investigating him.
In 1999, a series of shocking terrorist attacks rocked Russia.
Between September 4 and 16, explosions hit four apartment buildings in the cities of Moscow, Buynaksk and Volgodonsk.
In all, 307 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured as panic spread across the country.
The attacks were blamed on terrorists from the breakaway region of Chechnya and this, combined with the invasion of Dagestan, sparked the Second Chechen War.
Putin, who was then Russia’s prime minister, was praised for his handling of the crisis, boosting his popularity in the crucial few months before the presidential election that saw him take power.
However, several experts who studied the attacks believed that they were actually coordinated by Russian state security services that wanted to bring Putin to power.
Independent investigations into the bombings have been nearly impossible due to Russian government obstruction.
One insider who believed Putin was at least independently behind the attacks was Alexander Litvinenko.
The former FSB agent defected to the UK and compiled a report on the bombings.
Speaking to Sun Online, Yuri Felstinsky, a friend of the late Alexander Litvinenko, explained how they dug up Putin’s shadowy connections with the FSB.
Yuri, who co-authored with Litvinenko the book Blowing up Russia, said they came under pressure from Russian authorities after their investigations.
He said: “As a result, Litvinenko had to flee Russia, technically he was a defector. We finished our work in London, it was published in 2001 and it was a big hit.”
Yuri continued: “It was published by the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where Anna Politkovskaya worked.
“When we tried to publish the book in Russia, a court order was issued that banned the publication of the book.
“It was the first order of its kind since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in the 1970s.”
both [Yushenkov and Golovyov] were shot. After that, no one investigated the attacks
The couple later created a documentary based on the book.
This was before Putin had cracked down on free speech and the free press to the extent he would in the years to come.
“The Russian parliament was trying to investigate the terrorist attacks,” added Yuri. “It was the Russian security services that were behind the attacks that sparked the Second Chechen War.”
Even an official investigation failed to find any blame that could be attributed to Chechen terrorists.
“After the Russian government and even the FSB conducted an official investigation, not a single Chechen was found to be involved,” Yuri said.
Several Russian parliamentarians have taken a particular interest in investigating the attacks, Yuri explained.
One of them was Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was in charge of the security committee and was also deputy head of the independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta.
Yuri described his meeting with Mr. Shchekochikhin.
He said: “I gave him the book manuscript in the summer of 2001 in Zagreb, Croatia.
Shchekochikhin died suddenly on July 3, 2003, from a mysterious illness.
The time of his death came just days before his scheduled flight to America where he planned to meet with FBI investigators.
An investigation by Novaya Gazeta found that his medical documents were either “lost” or deliberately destroyed by Russian authorities.
The suspected cause of death was radiation poisoning, an almost identical method of attack to that used on Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
As Yuri said: “He was poisoned with something similar to what was used against Litvinenko.
“It happened in Russia, so there was much less investigation than there was in Litvinenko’s death.”
He added: “He died after two weeks in a coma, it was a terrible death.”
Two other MPs were killed around the same time.
Sergei Yushenkov and Vladimir Golovlev were both investigating terrorist attacks at the time of their deaths.
Yushenkov was assassinated on April 17, 2003, a few hours after his political party had registered to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Shortly before his death, he reportedly received threats from a high-ranking FSB general, Aleksander Mikhailov.
He had ties to exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who provided much of the funding for his political party before the two fell out.
After his death, Berezovsky told the Kommersant newspaper: “Whatever my disagreements with Sergei, he is my partner after all. I am at a loss for words.”
Golovlev was found shot to death in a wooded area near his Moscow home while walking his dog in August 2002.
At the time, he was under investigation for corruption.
Some suspected that he was killed as a result of his business dealings, but Yuri believes he knows where the blame for the death lies.
He said: “Both [Yushenkov and Golovyov] were shot. After that, no one investigated the attacks.”
Putin won a landslide victory in Russia’s 2000 presidential election, just eight months after being thrust into the national spotlight by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
At 47, he was the youngest person to rule Russia since Stalin took power in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.
Despite his controversial past as an officer in the terrorist Soviet secret police, the KGB, he won over the majority of Russians with his tough stance on law and order.
The collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s led to nearly a decade of chaos and economic instability, and many Russians longed for a strong leader.
But even at the time, his critics denounced him as a warmonger for his brutal prosecution of the war in Chechnya.
Yuri says the bloody war in Ukraine shattered any illusions he may have held about whether Putin could be capable of killing his own citizens.
“The war destroyed the last people who gave Putin the benefit of the doubt [over coordinating the apartment bombings]”It shows that the 1999 attacks were definitely carried out by the FSB.”