At the opening of the inquiry into the murder (in 2006) of former FSB Officer ‘Sasha’ Litvinenko Mr Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko’s widow said the following: Alexander Litvinenko was murdered for trying to “expose the corruption” at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s “mafia state”; he was “eliminated” because he had made an enemy of the “close knit group of criminals who surrounded and still surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power”.
If you want to understand the current Russian ‘state’ it is important to know something of the Leningrad/St. Petersburg days so at the risk of boring you we will give a partial account of Putin’s history in St Petersburg, it’s all public domain information which you can check and many of the faces are still present.
Igor Sechin for example was Putin’s chief of Staff in 1994 when Putin was Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg. Alexey Miller, now the Chairman of Gazprom, was on the External Relations Committee of St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office – chaired by Putin – from 1991 to 1996… You get the idea. To quote Masha Gessen’s summary Putin “claimed his place as the godfather of a mafia clan ruling the country. Like all mafia bosses, Putin barely distinguished between his personal property, the property of his clan, and the property of those beholden to his clan…he amassed wealth…by placing his cronies wherever there was money or assets to be siphoned off.” Almost the same words were used in London few weeks ago when the Inquiry into the 2006 murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko opened. Mr Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko’s widow said the following: Alexander Litvinenko was murdered for trying to “expose the corruption” at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s “mafia state”; he was “eliminated” because he had made an enemy of the “close knit group of criminals who surrounded and still surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power”.
So in 1991 when Putin ‘quit’ the KGB (although he would later return to run the FSB in 1998) his former teacher at the Leningrad State University, Anatoly Sobchak was Mayor of St Petersburg (or Leningrad as it was in 1991) so Putin became an adviser and head of the Committee for External Relations of the St Petersburg Mayor’s Office. In 1992 occured what was known locally as the ‘Second Siege of Leningrad’; food was scarce so cities were given raw materials to barter abroad for food; this was the job of the Committee for External Relations. The materials vanished and the food never arrived leading to a semi famine – the ‘Second Siege of Leningrad’. Marina Salye who was then head of a food commission on St Petersburg Council estimated at the time $ 100M went into various pockets, much into the Committee’s and Putin’s. Salye was one of the few to die a natural death in 2012 having cleared out to the middle of nowhere after allegedly receiving a New Years telegram from Putin in 2001 wishing her “good health and the opportunity to use it.” She confronted Putin over the food issue in 1992 later saying “His reaction to everything was absolutely calm. He said, ‘All your efforts will be in vain.”’ Another version of her self imposed exile was that she met Sergei Yushenkov in late 1999 when he was busy investing the appartment bombings (the ‘Ryazan exercise’ etc) in conjunction with Mikhail Trepashkin and was confronted by a senior former KGB and current FSB officer. She realised Yushenkov was in danger and cleared out; Yushenkov was assassinated in Moscow in 2003, shortly after receiving the ‘Terkibaev file’ from Alexander Litvinenko (murdered 2006 in London) relating to the Moscow theatre business, so she was right in that. (The ‘Terkibaev file’ recounts Khanpash Terkibaev’s (aka ‘Abu Bakar’) involvement with the FSB both before and after the theatre hostage crisis, which he took part in and survived to walk free from only to meet a fatal car accident in Chechnya in December 2003). Trepashkin, himself a former FSB officer, was arrested a week before giving his report on the appartment bombings to a court in October 2003, he still lives. Another person who looked into the 1992 ‘Second Siege of Leningrad’ was Yuri Gladkov who back in 1992 had co authored the St Petersburg Assembly’s food commission report with Marina Salye; by 2003 he was Deputy Chairman of the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly when he died of suspected mercury poisoning – no autopsy was held, strangely on October 6th, the same day that Anna Politkovskaya died three years later and quite coincidentally Putin’s birthday. In 1999 the St Petersburg prosecutor launched an investion into what by then was $ 4.5M of funds that had gone missing. The investigation was closed in August 2000 when Putin became President.
Another early deal they did in St Petersburg involved the cities casinos which were notoriously run at the time by organised crime. To ‘clear up’ the gambling business in the city it was decided that the city should have a controling stake (51%) in all casinos – this was in 1991 I think. The proclaimed aim was use the proceeds for municipal regeneration, very noble. Various state agencies were given a cut; the tax police, the KGB and the tax office were all given stakes – the remaining 49% stake in the casinos remained in mob hands, in this case particularly those of the Tambov gang and it’s chief mobster Vladimir Kumarin/Barsukov. Meanwhile on a trip back to Germany to attract investment in May 1992 Putin met Vladimir Smirnov who advocated investment in property. Smirnov was one of the founders of the St Petersburg Real Estate Holding Company/Saint Petersburg Immobilien und Beteiligungs AG (aka SPAG) registered in Germany in 1992 and Putin became a non executive Director. Questions and prosecutions regarding SPAG didn’t arise until 2000 in the west – alleged money laundering via Liechtenstein and connections to the Colombian Cali cartel – all sorts leading to the German side of the operation Rudolf Ritter’s prosecution by that time Putin was already untouchable in Russia. An interesting note on the SPAG business is once Putin became President it was all ‘cleaned up’ (erased) naturally and the following conversation was taped (part of the ‘cassette scandal’ of 2000) between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his security chief Leonid Derkach:
Leonid Derkach: Leonid Danilovich. We’ve got some interesting material here from the Germans. One of them has been arrested.
Leonid Kuchma (reading aloud): Ritter, Rudolf Ritter.
Leonid Derkach: Yes, and about that affair, the drug smuggling. Here are the documents. They gave them all out. Here’s Vova Putin, too.
Leonid Kuchma: There’s something about Putin there?
Leonid Derkach: The Russians have already been buying everything up. Here are all the documents. We’re the only ones that still have them now. I think that [FSB chief] Nikolai Patrushev is coming from the 15th to the 17th. This will give him something to work with. This is what we’ll keep. They want to shove the whole affair under the carpet.
However back in the 1990s all was still under wraps and in 1996 after Putin’s dacha burnt down Smirnov and Putin (with others including Yury Kovalchuk, now the the Chairman of the Board of Directors and biggest shareholder of the Russia bank, media magnate and said to be ‘Putin’s banker’ and Forbes Golden 100 listed) started the Dacha Consumer cooperative ‘Ozero‘. This is a gated community for strictly VIP old school chums on the shore of a lake outside St Petersburg. Nobody get’s in. I know some who have tried and suffered for it. From SPAG came Ozero – literally and quite likely financially.
To return again to the past by 1994 Putin was by the Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg and one of the first things he did was to award the Petersburg Fuel Company (PTK) a monopoly on oil supply to St Petersburg. This became a vehicle to reward friends; Smirnov became Director General and Kumarin became Vice President – Kumarin survived an assassination attempt in which he lost an arm shortly after. Smirnov later went on to run Tenex, which handles the export side of Russian nuclear business while Kumarin reportedly to pay for some deal that would favour another Putin friend and was arrested for money laundering, banditry, murder etc; 15yrs hard labour.
The careers of Sechin, an old buddy of Viktor Bout’s when he was gun running for the KGB in Africa in the late 1980s, and Alexey Miller who is best pals now with Gerhard Schroder after North Stream and who miraculously has risen from a representative on the Committee for External Relations of the Saint Petersburg Mayor’s Office in 1991 to become Chairman of Gazprom – and of Smirnov and Kovalchuk, who in 1992 was a Kumarin deputy in the Tambov gang, let alone the career of Putin himself, justify Masha Gessen’s Putin’s mafia summary. Nothing has changed in the system – it’s just become national. The question is what happens when some of the gang have to be cut out? Simple: you get a license rob more innocents – thus Vladimir Evtushenkov and Bashneft must pay more to Sechin who’s a ‘made man’ in the American mafia film vocabulary. And people think you can ‘do a deal’ with these people?
It is the past, but it’s indicative of how Putin operates now.