She is a vivacious blonde who narrowly escaped death from a bomb which exploded outside her flat, thanks to a last-minute decision to give her hairstyle a final crimping before running out to a waiting cab.
Now she sits in an anonymous hotel lobby in central London having fled Russia to seek political asylum in Britain because she is in “mortal danger”.
Her crime? Apparently having offended the master of the Kremlin with her bestselling writings that have accused President Vladimir Putin of stifling political and press freedoms in Russia.
Yelena Tregubova, 33, is a former member of the Kremlin press corps whose racy first book Tales of a Kremlin Digger provides a rare look inside the corridors of power.
Tregubova published her account in October 2003 after spending three years travelling the country with President Boris Yeltsin, and another year covering his successor, Putin. “The main point was to say: Putin has killed freedom of speech in Russia. Of course, Yeltsin had his problems, but it was an era of freedom, an era of hope.”
The book was an instant success in Russia. It included a flirtatious scene in a sushi bar with Putin when he was head of the FSB intelligence service. But Tregubova promptly lost her job on Kommersant and was blacklisted from Russian media. In 2004, a bomb exploded in the corridor outside her apartment, just moments before she opened the door, but she still resolved to stay in Moscow. When Anna Politkovskaya became the 13th journalist to be killed in Russia since Putin’s election in 2000, Tregubova “saw how it could happen to me”.
Why is Putin afraid of a free media? “Because he is from the FSB/KGB. When I was learning journalism, my teachers were the BBC Russian service, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. For him, in Soviet days, they were enemies of the state. My friends were his enemies. The second reason is because if he were a strong leader he wouldn’t be afraid. He is weak. He is afraid of his own citizens.”