Cowards and Traitors at Condé Nast
Martin Luther King always said he’d much rather battle the white sheets of the KKK than those so-called “moderates” in his own ranks whose cowardice so often betrayed him. We feel his pain especially sharply this week.
The September issue of GQ magazine bears a huge photo of the face of deceased pop star Michael Jackson on its cover and weighs in at a massive 320 pages, if you count the final one which has a sample of LaCoste cologne for men. It’s the “Big Fall Style Issue” and begins with dozens of pages of fashion advertising interspersed with the issue’s table of contents, making it virtually impossible to survey the list of articles in any efficient way.
The cover makes no reference whatsoever to the eight-page investigative article you will find beginning on page 246, written by seasoned war correspondent Scott Anderson and entitled “None Dare Call it Conspiracy.” You also won’t find the article anywhere on the magazine’s website, and National Public Radio reported that the Russian version of GQ won’t even carry the piece in its hard copy, much less online (Bloggasm has more details). The article accuses the Putin regime of planting the bombs which leveled two Moscow apartment blocks in 1999, and then using those massacres as justification to attack Chechnya days later. These are the same explosive allegations that got Alexander Litvinenko poisoned with radiation by the KGB.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of the GAWKER website, however, you can read the brilliant, courageous and absolutely essential article in both Russian and English from the comfort of your browser. UPDATE: The story is now online in HTML format thanks to the efforts of the blogosphere. It’s one of the most important pieces of reporting on Russia in the last decade.
The editors of GQ, and its publishers at Condé Nast, are venal traitors to basic American values. Indeed, we’re surprised that these scum even had the courage to let this article into print in any form, even buried deep within the folds of their pablum about stylish dressing. Hiding it from the world, and censoring it from the people who need to read it most, is a barbaric act of treachery the likes of which American journalism has rarely seen. Everyone employed by these organizations should be ashamed of themselves, they are unworthy of the term “journalism.”
Let’s be clear: Scott Anderson risked his life to report this story, and Litvinenko was not the only one the Kremlin has murdered for similar efforts. In fact, several other high-profile Russians have been assassinated for their efforts to shed light on the atrocity, including Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin. The editors and publishers owed their reporter more respect than to bury his piece in a sordid fashion issue and hide it entirely from the wider world. Anyone who works for GQ and has any self respect should immediately resign. Anderson should sue, and we’ll be happy to donate to his legal fund.
* * *
Anderson’s reporting contains four key points which are, in the context of the mainstream media, absolutely revelatory:
- Putin would not have power but for the bombings
- The West has appeased Putin on this issue
- All those who tried to investigate in Russia were murdered
- The evidence of KGB complicity is compelling and direct
Opening with a terrifyingly evil image of a brooding Vladimir Putin, Anderson’s article begins by making the absolutely critical point that the Moscow apartment bombings were not merely used as a pretext for invading and subjugating breakaway Chechnya, which is bad enough in and of itself given that the rebels denied committing the heinous act, but as justification for the empowerment of Vladmir Putin himself. A proud KGB spy, even in spineless Russia it was to be expected that the population would have some reservations about handing over power to an organization that had just led the country to ruin. The bombings gave Putin the perfect distraction so that nobody paid attention to that disturbing fact when election day rolled around a few months later.
Anderson moves on to nail the other critical issue on the bombings, Western appeasement. He quotes the father of a family that perished in one of the bombings, mincing no words: “They say it was the Chechens who did this, but that is a lie. It was Putin’s people. Everyone knows that. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone knows that.” He continues chillingly:
It is a mystery that lies at the very heart of the modern Russian state, one that remains unsolved to this day. In the awful events of September 1999, did Russia find an avenging angel in Vladimir Putin, the proverbial man of action who crushed his nation’s attackers and led his people out of a time of crisis? Or was that crisis actually manufactured to benefit Putin, a scheme by Russia’s secret police to bring one of their own to power? What makes this question important is that absent the bombings of September 1999 and all that transpired as a result, it is hard to conceive of any scenario whereby Putin would hold the position he enjoys today: a player on the global stage, the ruler of one of the most powerful nations on earth.
It is peculiar, then, how few people outside Russia seem to have wanted that question answered. Several intelligence agencies are believed to have conducted investigations into the apartment bombings, but none have released their findings. Very few American lawmakers have shown an interest in the bombings. In 2003 John McCain declared in Congress that “there remain credible allegations that Russia’s FSB had a hand in carrying out these attacks.” But otherwise, neither the U.S. government nor the American media have ever shown much inclination to explore the matter.
The heroic Russian website Grani.ru maintains a special page devoted to the investigation in both Russian and English, but as Anderson notes the issue has otherwise largely been ignored in Russia as well. That’s because of the third key point, and here Anderson’s reporting becomes absolutely essential: It’s the murders, stupid. Anderson sounds, at long last, the clarion call of warning that only one man remains active in Russia trying to tell the truth about the bombings, a man whose days are surely numbered. That man’s name is Mikhail Trepashkin, the real focus of Anderson’s reporting. Anderson interviewed Trepashkin at length in Russia and found his allegations obviously credible and disturbing. Indeed, Anderson emphasizes that for most of his life Trepashkin was a hardcore true believer of the KGB, and worked to prevent Boris Yeltsin from coming to power and unraveling the fabric of the USSR Trepashkin had worked to hard to weave. Only when he saw his own organization threaten the survival of his own people did he finally see the light.
As we’ve previously reported, both of the key members on the shadow commission that was created to investigate the bombings Yushenkov and Shchekochikhin, were murdered. When KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko tried to pick up their fallen flag, he too was struck down — in the most brazen act of political assassination since the fall of the USSR. Given the fact that the Kremlin razed the sites of the bombings and has never convicted any Chechen of involvement of any kind, any thinking person should be able to understand that the Kremlin has something to hide. Considering that the KGB was caught red-handed trying to bomb yet another building, claiming in a truly obscene manner that they were only practicing to foil future bombings, it’s clear what that something is. It’s murder.
Finally, Anderson drops Trepashkin’s bombshell, the one that got him arrested five years ago. Trepashkin found out that immediately after the Moscow bombings a known KGB operative, Vladimir Romanovich, had been identified by local residents as being involved in the plot. Before the KGB could stop it, local newspapers in Moscow had run a sketch of Romanovich. Soon the KGB intervened, pulling the drawing and replacing it with one of another man, but Trepashkin researched the archives when he learned about the original report, obtained a copy of the drawing and recognized Romanovich. Trepashkin, you see, is like Litvinenko a KGB defector. As soon as Trepashkin started making waves with the drawing at the show trial of two men the Kremlin was attempting to frame for the bombings, Trepashkin was arrested. He spent the next five years in prison, only being released a few months ago. For his part, Romanovich was killed in Cyprus not long after the bombings, ostensibly by a hit-and-run driver but in all liklihood to shut him up permanently after his cover had been blown
Now released, Trepashkin is back on the trail. Anderson realizes that the Kremlin will surely kill him unless his profile can be raised high enough that doing so would be fraught with peril, hence his piece for GQ. Little did he know that his publisher would, as if they were working on orders from Putin himself, virtually kill the piece — burying it so deep that nobody would notice and refusing to run it in Russia, meaning that in essence he had risked his life for nothing.
The only hope is that the scandal created by the magazine’s cowardice will generate a second life for the piece, that perhaps some mainstream publishers will turn out to have more guts than GQ and pick up this vital story and give it the attention it deserves. Maybe then our governments will do the same, and we as voters must demand that they do. Otherwise, we too will be complicit in the rise of the neo-Soviet state awash in blood.
As far as I understand, this article (in the form of reprint) and the American issue in general is becoming hugely popular in Russia (OK, maybe “hugely popular” is only among the 23 per cent that don’t think that tandemocracy is God’s gift to Russian people). In fact, my friends say that this is the first GQ issue that they’ve ever opened.
Just like in Soviet times, Solzhenitsyn and Galich were hugely popular because they were forbidden. As they say, “forbidden fruit is sweet”.
I don’t know whether Conde Nast intentionally publicized their conformity with Russian requests, or it just came naturally – but in the twisted world of Neo-Soviet Russia it could be the best thing they did.
Felix, your point is well taken, I find it revolting that a western publication censored itself to keep access to Russia and their profits there. In doing so they are willing agents of Putin.
We’ve seen this before when CNN admitted censoring itself to keep a presence in Sadddam’s Iraq(their excuse) and NBC’s smarmy grovelling during their China Olympic’s coverage. And, let’s never forget the whole lot of them in the western press that donned burquas and refused to print the Mohammed cartoons.
It’s a pattern of cowardliness and profits over principles. And they wonder why they are so ignorable anymore.
I’m hoping everyone that visits LJ.ru blogs will pass it along.
Russia’s pathetic stats on internet use plays into Putin’s hands and is why he will make minimal effort to get more Russians online. A dumbed down herd is easier to manage.
@And, let’s never forget the whole lot of them in the western press that donned burquas and refused to print the Mohammed cartoons.
Or maybe rather you meant “the whole lot of them in the western press refused to take part in this FSB-insipred provocation”.
I understood quite well what penny meant… but I have no idea what you meant; let alone what you think penny meant.
As I keep hinting – you are much better when you express your own thoughts…
Well, here we are talking about allegations made by Litvinenko (based on Trepashkin’s work) regarding the 1999 bombings.
Well, according to the same Litvinenko (and also according to Oleg Kalugin), the super glorious awesome Mohammed cartoons provocation was also the FSB work.
And the person behind commissioning these cartoons is indeed an interesting one. (“Interesting” in a Chinese sene.)
We (Peter Olsen and I) wrote about this already here:
So maybe let me remind you:
Peter Olsen // July 16, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Reply
And Flemming Rose, the Jyllands Posten cultural editor who commissioned the cartoons in 2005, happened to serve for several years as a correspondent in Moscow where, Kalugin observes, he published a spate of obviously government-sponsored, anti-Chechen articles. According to Litvinenko and journalist Adlan Beno, Rose also happens to be married to the daughter of an ex-KGB officer. This does not per se make Rose a Russian agent, of course, but Russian intelligence may well have availed itself of this “in-house” connection to influence the Danish journalist. “This guy may have been used,” Kalugin says.
Click to access back_active%20measures.pdf
Robert // July 17, 2009 at 4:15 am | Reply
Ah, Mr. Rose. A sample of his science-fiction:
One such Nordic holy warrior was a Danish advisor to Chechen militants going by the nom de guerre Ibn Wahab. Interviewing Wahab in a Russian prison, Rose discovered that he had taken six wives, three of them Russian girls, naming one Aisha after the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad. “That was when I was first confronted with radical Islam,” Rose says. “I concluded then that it was a totalitarian ideology, very aggressive and framing itself in the same us-vs.-them dichotomy as Nazism and Stalinism.”
It would be cute if he also provided a real name of “a Danish advisor to Chechen militants going by the nom de guerre Ibn Wahab” and wondered why his government is not interested in the fate of his fictional character.
Rose wiping his ass with “his old friend” Sergei Kovalyev (old he certainly is, unlike Rose):
Shortly after the horrific 2002 Moscow musical theatre siege by Chechen terrorists that left 130 dead, I met with one of my old dissident friends, Sergei Kovalev. A hero of the human rights movement in the old Soviet Union, Kovalev had long been a defender of the Chechens and a critic of the Russian attacks on Chechnya. But after the theatre massacre, he refused to indulge in politically correct drivel about the Chechens’ just fight for secession and decolonization. He unhesitatingly denounced the terrorists, and insisted that a nation’s right to self-determination did not imply a free ticket to kill and violate basic individual rights. For me, it was a clarifying moment on the dishonesty of identity politics and the sometime tyranny of elevating group rights above those of individuals—of justifying the killing of innocents in the name of some higher cause.
Yes, because they gassed to death the hostages and themselves there. You know, like in Auschwitz (where the SS would also gas the prisoners and themselves at once, too). But hey, this was not the only Chechen Auchwitz:
In particular, Rose, referring to his “sources” in Russia, asserted, that A.Zakaev killed a Russian priest (later the priest in the wonderful manner “resurrected” and has arrived to London to testify on court against Zakaev to the murder). About present the head of Ministries of Foreign Affairs of CHRI Usman Ferzali [Ferzauli ]Flemming Rose wrote, as about an “organizer” and the head of Chechen “GULAG” in which in conditions of Osventsem [Russian for Auschwitz] were contained Russian military prisoners”.
You know, “Nazism and Stalinism”, complete with “GULAG and Auschwitz”, “horrific” gas chambers in Moscow and “Nordic holy warriors”.
Btw, Kadyrov declared that he wanted “this cartoonist” to be “buried alive”, but said nothing about Rose. But I guess it was just out of his ignorance and stupidity (I mean Ramzan the Hero of Russia).
In short, the author of this provo is -at minimum- a “Russophile” liar (see for example his invention of this “Nordic holy warrior Ibn Wahab” character he claimed he had interviewed in person), married to the daughter of an ex-KGB officer. Draw your own conclusion.
The effect of not “donning burquas”(???) through taking part in Flemming Rose’s provocation was of course a huge wave of anti-Western (and of course not anti-Russian) feelings in Islamic countries (and in particular these more third-worldish where the public is easier to manipulate, many even thought the cartoons were “from America”). Embassies around the world were attacked (and in some cases even burned down), many people died in riots such as in Afghanistan and Libya (and in Nigeria where the Christians were targeted by a pogrom mobs), others joined terrorist organizations hoping to kill us (for example the priest murdered in Turkey, a direct connection). Still so super cool? If people think so, they’re stupid (there’s this term, “useful idiots”).
The story is making it’s way to the Russian internet:
Not that they owe us anything, but where is page 8 of the English article?
LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS:
Yeah, looks like that’s an oversight. The last page is only one column. It speculates that Trepashkin is still alive because he has a narrow focus and a low profile, unlike the others, and notes that now that he’s alone his chances of being whacked are much better.
That’s page 7, one more column after that appears to be missing.
RFE picks up the Conde Nast Controversy:
@Trepashkin, you see, is like Litvinenko a KGB defector.
Actually he’s the KGB (and the Soviet Union) loyalist – who believes he’s standing against traitors. (It’s all well explained in the article.)
Well he’s not still a member of the KGB, that’s for sure, and that’s what we mean by defector.
intr.v. (d-fkt) de·fect·ed, de·fect·ing, de·fects
1. To disown allegiance to one’s country and take up residence in another: a Soviet citizen who defected to Israel.
2. To abandon a position or association, often to join an opposing group: defected from the party over the issue of free trade.
First, there are no members of the KGB anymore at all (except in Belarus or in North Ossetia and such, where the KGB continues to exist), just like there are no active members of the NKVD or GPU.
Now, Trepashkin never defected from the KGB (in fact he is still loyal to his 1980s-era utopian vision of the KGB of when he was young and the things were easier in his Moscow), as he even supported the abortive Soviet coup attempt of 1991 that resulted in the ultimate fall of the KGB as well as the Soviet Union in general (and the rise of the corrupt Russian regime).
You may say he “defected” from the FSB.
I meant in South Ossetia.
He’s just an anti-corrupt true-believer (who believes the state agents should not be criminals), in which he I guess resembles for example this guy from the SS:
1) I’d like your permission to (re)print your article on Frontline
for our website
2) I was hoping we could use your ‘scribing’ talent for our website.
The Best Shows Youre Not Watching (dot) com [all one word]
‘The Clone Wars’ is one of our featured shows. We’re hoping to round up a few people who can occasionally contribute perspective (via an article/blog) on the shows – maybe a recent episode, future direction, plot shortcomings etc.
What’s in it for you?
Primarily a larger audience back channeled to your blog. We don’t pay but the site has a lot of promise and we’re pretty excited about getting it off the ground. Let me know what you think.
LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS:
So, Robert, even if I take everything you say about Jyllands Posten’s attack on Chechen atrocities at face value – how does it make him FSB’s useful idiot, let alone agent?
And if I take everything you say about Jyllands Posten’s Russian connection at face value – how it negates penny’s point that western press donned burquas and refused to print the Mohammed cartoons? Are you saying that western press recognized FSB provocation and wasn’t taken by it?
Let me repeat – I understood quite well what penny meant… but I have no idea what you meant; let alone what you think penny meant. Your long quote unfortunately obscure what you are trying to say!
@So, Robert, even if I take everything you say about Jyllands Posten’s attack on Chechen atrocities at face value – how does it make him FSB’s useful idiot, let alone agent?
I’m talking about the guy’s shameless LIES, like this interview to non-existing “Nordic holy warrior in a Russian prison”. Try to defend this, come on.
It’s not even like his story of “murdered priest” who was alive (maybe someone lied to him about this and he was only an idiot), it’s not his racist “opinion” about the “Nazi Stalinist” Chechens (and their “Auschwitz Gulag” POW camps – while many Russians were actually released to their mothers or Russian human rights activists just like that, saying “take them home” – or even things like http://articles.latimes.com/1995-02-28/news/wr-36872_1_russian-army this), but this “interview” with the person who doesn’t exist.
And I guess being married to a daughter of a KGB agent is just nothing unusual here.
@And if I take everything you say about Jyllands Posten’s Russian connection at face value – how it negates penny’s point that western press donned burquas and refused to print the Mohammed cartoons
Refusing to take part in a foreign provocation designed to create international mayhem is a bad thing now?
Robert, I was referring to the craven cowardliness of the western media in refusing to print the controversial Mohammed cartoons.
This is the same western media mind you that had/has no problem printing the image of the controversial “piss Christ” art and other images that are offensive to Christians or Jews.
They put their burqas on, hid under the editor’s desk and hypocritically pretended that they didn’t want to offend while essentially surrendering the west’s cherished value of free speech. What they in their spineless behavior really feared was retaliatory physical violence.
The thing about free speech is that it does NOT confer a right that someone never be offended. Muslims need to deal with that principle if they are ever going to morph into democratic secular societies.
The western media’s self-censorship was cowardly and a disgrace. I’ll stand by my metaphor.
I don’t think my comment was that obtuse or confusing.
@Robert, I was referring to the craven cowardliness of the western media in refusing to print the controversial Mohammed cartoons.
And I was talking about the FSB conspiracy to publish the provocational Mohammed cartoons. No, the Russian handlers of Rose and he himself were not really interested in “the west’s cherished value of free speech”.
@This is the same western media mind you that had/has no problem printing the image of the controversial “piss Christ” art and other images that are offensive to Christians or Jews.
Any “piss Christ” image is not “offensive to Jews”, it is rather offensive to Muslims (Christ is basically a prophet in Islam, just like Mohammed is a prophet too).
Contemporary active measures are not confined to Russian soil. In fact, the recent
controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad may well have been
choreographed by the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The evidence is
circumstantial but compelling. For one, Kalugin says, the KGB has a history of using
Danish journalists to plant disinformation in the Western press. And Flemming Rose, the
Jyllands Posten cultural editor who commissioned the cartoons in 2005, happened to
serve for several years as a correspondent in Moscow where, Kalugin observes, he
published a spate of obviously government-sponsored, anti-Chechen articles. According
to Litvinenko and journalist Adlan Beno, Rose also happens to be married to the daughter
of an ex-KGB officer. This does not per se make Rose a Russian agent, of course, but
Russian intelligence may well have availed itself of this “in-house” connection to
influence the Danish journalist. “This guy may have been used,” Kalugin says.
Click to access back_active%20measures.pdf
Insinuation that sweep method
Flemming Rose’s method is the same every time: He never takes any direct confrontation with opponents of the Russian war in Chechnya or the core of their arguments. He devotes himself instead to a critique of peripheral detail or implies that critics in some vague sense that he did not set out to prove more, are interested parties, biased, in general, without any credibility.
Rose shot at multiple messengers
The dust had barely subsided over New York’s twin towers, before Mr. Rose with the Russian intelligence as the source reveal that even in the Chechen terrorists were about to take a pilot training so they could repeat the al-Qaeda’s big stunt.
Robert, your “FSB conspiracy to publish the provocational Mohammed cartoons” is ridiculous.
You really aren’t getting my point which is just as well.
Not really Penny, it’s not the first time they have done things like this.
And to be honest, as shown above by GQ and its owners, the “Trendy Lefty” media has always been a bunch of useful idiots for the KGB in these matters.
I agree with you entirely on how disgusting it is that western “journalists” and media will print articles that are highly insulting to Christians and Jews.
It should be the same rules for all religions in regards to insults. Either everyone is off limits, or all are legitimate targets.
@Robert, your “FSB conspiracy to publish the provocational Mohammed cartoons” is ridiculous.
You meant rather “Litvinenko’s and Kalugin’s”.
(Kalugin was the director of the KGB for the USA, now living in the States.)
I was about to write a long post… then I saw yours and realized that you said same thing clearly and succinctly.
“It should be the same rules for all religions in regards to insults. Either everyone is off limits, or all are legitimate targets.”
No question there. All religions should be targets. Freedom is the right to offend.
You forget that with freedom comes responsibility.
Just because you can do something does not mean you should.
Pingback: Global Voices Online » Russia: Scott Anderson’s GQ Article
Pingback: Official Russia | Russia: Scott Anderson’s GQ Article
Quoting myself :)
Quoting Powerline in their post about this and about Kim’s article at Pajamas Media:
No, I don’t know Scott Johnson (although I wish I did). But indeed, marketing works in mysterious ways
Read rest at link below.
Putin: The dark rise to power (the full text of article of GQ magazine banned in Russia)
But as it turned out, the old man had a more personal connection to the tragedy. His daughter, son-in-law, and grandson had lived at 6/3 Kashirskoye, and they had all perished that morning, too. Leading me up to the monument, he pointed out their names in the stone, and desperately brushed at his eyes again. Then he angrily whispered: They say it was the Chechens who did this, but that is a lie. It was Putin’s people. Everyone knows that. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone knows that.
It is peculiar, then, how few people outside russia seem to have wanted that question answered. Several intelligence agencies are believed to have conducted investigations into the apartment bombings, but none have released their findings. Very few American lawmakers have shown an interest in the bombings. In 02003, John McCain declared in Congress that there remain credible allegations that Russia’s FSB [Federal Security Service] had a hand in carrying out these attacks. But otherwise, neither the United States government nor the American media have ever shown much inclination to explore the matter.
This apparent disinterest now extends into Russia as well. Immediately after the bombings, a broad spectrum of Russian society publicly cast doubt on the government’s version of events. Those voices have now gone silent one by one. In recent years, a number of journalists who investigated the incidents have been murdered – or have died under suspicious circumstances – as have two members of Parliament who sat on a commission of inquiry. In the meantime, it seems that most everyone whose account of the attacks ran counter to the government’s version now either refuses to speak, has recanted his earlier statements, or is dead.
No doubt part of this reticence stemmed from recalling the fate of the man who made proving the conspiracy behind the bombings a personal crusade: Alexander Litvinenko. From his London exile, the rogue former KGB officer had waged a relentless media campaign against the Putin regime, accusing it of all manner of crimes and corruption – and most especially of having orchestrated the apartment-building attacks.
In November 02006, in a case that riveted the world’s attention, Litvinenko was slipped a lethal dose of radioactive polonium, apparently during a meeting with two former Russian intelligence agents in a London hotel bar. Before the poison killed LItvinenko – it took an agonizing twenty-three days – he signed a statement placing the blame for his murder squarely at Putin’s feet.
But Litvinenko had not worked alone on the apartment-bombing case. Several years before his murder, he had enlisted another ex-KGB agent in his search for answers, a former criminal investigator named Mikhail Trepashkin. The two men had a rather complicated personal history – in fact, back in the ’90s, one allegedly had been dispatched to assassinate the other – but it had actually been Trepashkin, working on the ground in Russia, who had uncovered many of the disturbing facts in the case.
Trepashkin had also run afoul of the authorities. In 02003 he had been shipped off to a squalid prison camp in the Ural Mountains for four years. By the time of my visit to Moscow last year, however, he was out on the streets again.
Then he began to tell me about his career at the KGB. He’d spent most of his years as a criminal investigator who specialized in antiques smuggling. He was, in those days, an absolute loyalist to the Soviet state – and most especially the KGB. Trepashkin was such a dedicated Soviet that he even supported a group that attempted to thwart the ascent of Boris Yeltsin in favor of preserving the Soviet system.
I could see that this was going to be the end of the Soviet Union, Trepashkin explained in the coffee shop. But even more than that, what would happen to the KGB, to all of us who had made it our lives? I saw only disaster coming.
And that disaster came. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia plunged into economic and social chaos. One particularly destructive aspect of that chaos stemmed from the vast legions of Russian KGB officers who suddenly entered the private sector. Some went into business for themselves or joined on with the mafiyas they had once been detailed to combat. Still others signed on as “advisers” or muscle for the new oligarchs or the old Communist Party bosses who were frantically grabbing up anything of value in Russia, even as they paid obeisance to the “democratic reforms” of President Boris Yeltsin.
Of all this, Trepashkin had an intimate view. Kept on with the FSB, the Russian successor the the KGB, the investigator found it increasingly difficult to differentiate criminality from governmental policy.
In case after case, he said, there was this blending. You would find mafiyas working with terrorist groups, but then the trail would lead to a business group or maybe to a state ministry. So then, was this still a criminal case, or some kind of officially sanctioned black operation? And just what did ‘officially sanctioned’ actually mean anymore, because who was really in charge?
Finally, in the summer of 01995, Mikhail Trepashkin began work on a case that would change him forever, one that placed him on a collision course with the seniormost commanders of the FSB and, Trepashkin says, would lead at least one of them to plot his assassination. As with so many other incidents that exposed the malevolent rot in post-Soviet Russia, this one centered on events in the breakaway southern republic of Chechnya.
The implication of this was staggering, for access to such equipment was severely restricted. It suggested that high-ranking security and military officers had colluded not only with a criminal gang but with one whose express purpose was to raise funds for a war against Russia. By the standards of any country, that wasn’t just corruption, it was treason.
Yet no sooner had Trepashkin started down that investigative trail than he was removed from the Bank Soldi case by Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the FSB’s internal-security department. What’s more, he says, no charges were brought against any of the Russian officers implicated, and nearly all of those caught in the initial dragnet were soon quietly released. Instead, Patrushev ordered an investigation of Trepashkin. That investigation lasted nearly two years, at the end of which Trepashkin had reached his personal breaking point. In May 01997, he wrote an open letter to President Yeltsin detailing his involvement in the case and charging much of the senior FSB leadership with a host of crimes, including forming alliances with mafiyas and even recruiting their members into FSB ranks.
I thought that if the president knew what was happening, Trepashkin said, then he would do something about it. This was a mistake on my part.
But then something very strange happened. It happened in the sleepy provincial city of Ryazan, some 120 miles southeast of Moscow.
Amid the state of hypervigilance that had seized the nation, several residents of 14/16 Novosyolov Street in Ryazan took notice when a white Zhiguli sedan pulled up to park beside their apartment building on the evening of September 22. They became downright panicked when they observed two men removing several large sacks from the car’s trunk and carrying them into the basement before speeding away. Residents called the police.
Discovered in the basement were three 110-pound white sacks wired to a detonator and explosive timer. As police quickly evacuated the building, the local FSB explosives expert was called in to defuse the detonator; he determined that the sacks contained RDX, a explosive powerful enough to have brought the entire apartment building down. IN the meantime, roadblocks were established on all roads out of Ryazan, and a massive manhunt for the Zhiguli and its occupants got underway.
There the matter may well have ended, except that same night two of the suspects in Ryazan were apprehended. To the local authorities’ astonishment, both produced FSB identification cards. A short time later, a call came down from FSB headquarters in Moscow that the two were to be released.
Contradictions in the FSB’s account were manifold. How to reconcile FSB headquarters’ sacks-of-sugar claim with the local FSB’s chemical analysis that had found RDX? If this truly had been a training exercise, how was it that the local FSB branch wasn’t informed ahead of time, or that Patrushev himself didn’t see fit to make mention of it for a day and a half after the terrorist alert was raised? For that matter, why did the apartment-building-bombing spree suddenly stop after Ryazan? If the attacks were truly the handiwork of Chechen terrorists, surely the public-relations black eye the FSB had received over the Ryazan affair would spur them to carry out more.
Easier said than done, for by January 02002, Russia had become a very different place. In the two years since Putin had been elected president, the once-thriving independent media had all but disappeared, while the political opposition was being steadily marginalized to the point of insignificance.
Yes, he said, I would have done things very differently. I see now that one of my flaws is that I am too trusting. I always thought the problems were with just a few bad people, not with the system itself. Even when I was in prison, I never believed that Putin could actually be behind it. I always believed that once he knew, I would be released immediately. Trepashkin’s grin eased away; he gave a slow shrug of his powerful shoulders. So a certain naïveté, I guess, that led to mistakes.
I wasn’t wholly convinced of this. More than naïveté, I suspected his “flaw” was actually rooted in a kind of old-fashioned – if not downright medieval – sense of loyalty. At our first meeting, Trepashkin had given me a copy of his official résumé, a document that ran to sixteen pages, and the first thing that struck me was the prominence he’d given to the many awards and commendations he had received over his lifetime of service to the state: as a navy specialist, as a KGB officer, as an FSB investigator. As bizarre or as quaint as it might seem, he was still a true believer. How else to explain the years he had spent being the dutiful investigator, meticulously building cases against organized-crime syndicates or corrupt government officials, while stubbornly refusing to accept that, in the new Russia, it was the thieves themselves who ran the show?