Moscow Memories: My Night Watch with Andrei

After apartment buildings start blowing up around the city in 1999, Moscow Never Sleeps signs up for night watch duties with a mysterious GRU officer—and learns the truth about Vladimir Putin.

By MOSCOW NEVER SLEEPS

Somethin’ happens in the North Caucasus, nothin’ happens,
It’s just another President, gettin’ himself elected.
Straight Outta Grozny,” Chechenz With Attitude, 2001

The less you know, the sounder you sleep.
—Russian aphorism, author and date unknown


It takes a lot to rattle Muscovites.

The Third Rome considers itself impenetrable and unconquerable. It sits like a Bizarro Omaha on the edge of the Volga plateau with its only natural defense being its remoteness from anywhere else the civilized world considers livable. A decisive battle in 1480 from the forces of Muscovy ended the Mongol Khanate’s hold on Kievan Rus’ and established Moscow as the dominant consolidating Russian political power. In 1812, Napoleon made it to the outskirts of town where he could see the gold onion domes of the Kremlin’s churches. The rest of his target had been lit on fire and abandoned hours before just to flip the little Corsican the bird. He turned around and was escorted all the way to the Seine by Suvorov’s forces. A century later, Hitler’s army got a dozen miles away from the capital but by that time they were far beyond their supply lines. Zhukov’s troops threw whatever German bones and eyes were still breathing into POW camps that made the gulags look like Club Med and then painted Prussia red all the way to the Spree. During the Cold War, Moscow was deemed invincible: under their treaty with us, the Soviets used all of their allowed anti-ballistic missiles on Moscow’s nuclear defenses. (We put ours in North Dakota.)

But in the late summer of 1999, everyone in Moscow was on edge. During September, several of the city’s ubiquitous prefabricated modular high-rise apartment blocks collapsed in the middle of the night with the aid of explosives detonated in the basement or parked in front of the entrance. In the space of two weeks, almost a thousand people were injured and another 300 killed in Moscow and a couple of cities on the periphery.

“Panel houses” had proliferated in late perestroika and all through the Yeltsin years. They were designed to take advantage of the fact that western Russia sits on some of the most seismologically boring real estate on the planet, smack in the middle of the largest tectonic plate on Earth and therefore unthreatened, at least in theory, by earthquakes. You could find scores of the structures in any city over fifty thousand people. In Moscow, there were probably a few thousand of them. All of us either knew someone who had died or been injured in the apartment bombings, or we knew someone who knew someone who had.

Or we lived in one ourselves. My wife and I and our two kids had just moved in to a forlornly typical but isolated 23-story panel house. A few months earlier, we had been in one of those stalwart colossi built solid by the remainder of Guderian’s abandoned German POWs with bricks a meter and a half on a side. Wartime Soviet architecture was designed to take tank fire and shrug. (The Stalin-era structure sustained direct hits from flying trees the year before during a freak hurricane on the summer solstice. Not even the windows cracked.) But now, ensconced in a quickly fabricated building with less structural integrity than a Lego dollhouse, we were as vulnerable as the rest of the city. The kids were too young to understand, but my wife and I were starting to wonder if it were time to send them stateside to their grandparents for a few months.

And then I met Andrei the GRU man.

On Tuesday, the 14th of September 1999—22 years ago to the day—I came back home in the early evening. The young guard in my building buzzed me in. His name was Aleksandr Sergeevich, so everyone called him Pushkin. Most nights, Pushkin would sit with his face to the monitor, not really trying to hide the fact that he had wired it to a VCR that played American hardcore porn overdubbed with softcore Russian (“You’re my lion,” “You’re my lioness,” “Take me, my knight, ride your mare,” definitely not a literal translation of the actors’ original and much more anatomically graphic dialogue).

Tonight the gross anatomy was turned off. Pushkin was swiveling to face a crowd of two dozen people. My neighbors were overflowing the landing to the lift banks listening to a fit middle-aged man. He wore glasses, a sportscoat, a professional’s haircut, and a wristwatch that cost more than most of the cars parked out front. He looked like a well-off political commentator who was used to speaking to large groups of people. No sign of nervousness, able to project his voice, scanning the crowd to make sure he was being followed. And articulate, using the kind of slowly enunciated official Russian that they train you from kindergarten in this country to respect:

“Building security has given me this list of the occupants of this building,” he said, raising it over his head. “There are enough men in this block to be able to create pairs to patrol the perimeter of this building in two-hour shifts from dusk to dawn. I invite everyone who can to come up and sign off on shifts for the next week. If you have someone you want to walk with, great, or if you do not I will assign you in teams.”

“And who are you, to tell us what to do?” came the obvious question. The man with the list was unflapped. He identified himself simply as Andrei Andreevich, in a tone that dared anyone not to accept that as a complete answer.

“And when will this be over?” someone else asked.

“Don’t be an idiot,” someone else answered. “Nobody knows. Probably after buildings stop collapsing in the middle of the night.”

“So what, we’re still going to be walking around the building at three in the morning in the dead of winter?” came someone else’s voice.

“If need be,” Andrei Andreevich shrugged. “Can you do it sober?”

That brought laughter, even from the guy it was aimed at.

“So are you telling us,” another challenger shouted, “we have to wake up and walk around this building and expose ourselves to the elements, both natural and criminal, every couple of days for the foreseeable future just because you think it is a good idea?”

Andrei leaned into the question. “I am not telling any of you what to do. If you do not want to protect your wives, children, and property from malicious destruction by terrorists, that is your right as a free Russian citizen and Moscow resident and none of us will judge you or call you cowardly or irresponsible. But if you do want to do what the authorities obviously cannot do alone, then it is best if we do it in a coordinated fashion, as colleagues if not as comrades.”

It’s a cliché that Russians, even in the Soviet days, walked around calling each other tovarisch in constant conversation. “Comrade” was actually used to identify that at least the speaker if not also the person spoken to was a Party member. By the end of the Yeltsin period, when the Communists were just an elephant’s graveyard of sidelined has-beens competing with jackanapes like Vladimir Zhirinovsky for the Number 2 political party slot, throwing the C-word into conversation sent a very specific message: “Back in Soviet times, I had rank, and I might still have it, so tread lightly, comrade.”

Obviously I knew who I wanted as my night watch buddy. I waited a minute or so for folks to sign up and then go to the elevators. Then I made my way straight up to him:

“Excuse me. Hello, my name is…” I started.

Andrei smiled. “Of course. You are the American on the 8th floor,” he said in the kind of lightly British-accented, flawless English that in the 1960s, when he was a student, they only taught the future diplomats and spies. He suggested I join him on the 10 to midnight shift every night, which he had reserved. “Rank hath its privileges,” he said, winking, and he put me down next to him on the schedule. He never had to ask me my name.

Two hours later I met Andrei in front of the building. I had tried to dress inconspicuously, like a local on a chilly autumn evening: dark pants, black boots, black leather jacket, ushanka hat with the flaps drooping, scarf around the neck ready to pull up if the night got cold. Andrei, however, was dressed like a Yorkshire foxhunter: moleskin breeks above green rubber knee-boots, tattersall waistcoat, tweed shooting jacket, even a sherlock hat. The only thing missing was the shotgun and the retriever, although he did have a military thermos on a sling around over his shoulder and a walking stick.

“The style is actually called ‘ratcatcher,’” Andrei explained. “I own a travel company where I take New Russians on fox and game hunting trips in the U.K. Half the reason they go is to dress up like British country gentlemen. I have a whole wardrobe of this kit. I am planning on expanding to trips to the U.S. and Canada so all these rich guys can give me an excuse to shop from the L.L. Bean catalog. Or do you think Eddie Bauer is better?”

“Aren’t you worried you will be easy to see?” I asked.

“I am counting on it,” Andrei shrugged. “Look,” and he pointed with the walking stick around the perimeter of the building:

“We are in a strange and vulnerable location. We are set away from Volokolamskoye Shosse in front of us by a line of poplars at least three deep, a tramline, and another scattering of evergreens. We are set apart from ulitsa Akademika Kurchatova to our left by a Georgian restaurant and more trees. Where our access road should be, there is only the trolley track everyone drives over. To the immediate left of us between us and the Georgians is a closed pharmacy blocking the view from the side street but connected to our building, sharing a cellar. To the right of us is a local blood bank, also deserted at night except for a couple security guards inside, maybe awake, maybe even sober, also with a parking lot. More trees. Other than a few floods on the corners of the building, the area is poorly lit. Behind us is a parking lot of rented car garages, also unlit. If anyone wanted to plant bags of hexagen with a remote detonator in the basement, they can drop a lorry behind or to either side of us, and hand carry the package, and get into our soft white underbelly through any of the basement awnings located on three sides of the panel house and on two sides of the pharmacy wing over there. Or they can bring it in the front door past Pushkin the onanist. You will agree that our humble building is an attractive target, yes?”

He handed me the thermos and gestured to remove the top and pour myself a cup of whatever was in it.

“You weren’t always a tour guide, were you?” An earthy yet otherworldly melange of coffee and ginger hit me when the cap came off.

“No, I was not,” Andrei admitted. “What I used to be was a colonel in the GRU, Soviet military intelligence. When I was training my counterparts in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen how to booby-trap mosques, the first thing I told them was to avoid getting seen by people on patrol especially if the patrols were going out of their way to be obvious. The second thing I taught them was that, if the patrols are stubbornly consistent, consider a softer target. You and I cannot prevent these bastards from killing someone, but we can encourage them to kill someone else. Drink!”

The coffee was amazing. “What Cuba is to cigars, Yemen is to coffee,” Andrei said. “One of the Islamic militants who captured and threatened to behead me as a lesson to the Great Red Satan eventually went into the coffee export business when South and North Yemen reunited. He sends me a pound a month for free, his way of saying thank you.”

“For training him how to bomb places of worship?”

“No,” he said, reaching for the thermos. “For not killing him with the other guards. I trained the Communist regime, my coffee guy was with the rebels. When my guys came to break me out, we decided to leave one of them alive to tell his bosses not to kidnap the GRU guys anymore. I picked him to survive because while I was sitting blindfolded for a week waiting to join Lenin and Dzerzhinsky in an eternity of nothing, the others called his mother a pig’s cunt but he insisted on answering them in beautifully poetic Arabic. Also, whenever I had to use the toilet, he untied my hands so I could wipe and wash myself like a human being. So I spared him from execution.”

Having been in Moscow at this point only a bit over two years, I somehow managed not to spit out my coffee. Andrei noticed me puffing out my cheeks. “That is right, hold the brew in your mouth, swish it slightly, then swallow. Think of it like wine, let all of the flavors come out. They call this qishli and actually make this from the husks, not the beans. Like a natural low-caf. Wait until you crave more before you drink more, the effects last longer that way.”

I let him do most of the talking for the rest of the walk. It took about ten minutes at a leisurely pace to circumnavigate the building and peer through the trees to see if any new cars had parked in the neighboring lots. Every few entrances we passed, he would light a Dunhill and tap at the awnings with the walking stick to make sure they had not been jimmied. He would cock his ear, like a doctor tapping a patient’s chest, as if the thudding noises diagnosed what was inside. When we had finished the cigarette— I refused his offer of my own as I was trying not to admit that I had started smoking again but I would take drags when offered—he would move on. He kept us under the lights whenever possible and he raised his voice on purpose every few minutes, because “surprising burglars is a stupid way to get killed.”

If we saw anything suspicious, Andrei explained, we would retreat into the shadows and call it in. I had a walkie-talkie paired with Pushkin or whoever was on shift. Building security all knew my voice and would put up with my clubfooted Russian, take my report, and call it in to the local militsiya precinct. Andrei for his part had his Motorola flip phone with some good friends on speed dial, unaffiliated with the local precinct cops, who would be here in minutes.

I did not ask if these friends also received free coffee from the Arabian Peninsula every month. I also did not ask if a man who went from one job that required him to carry a gun at all times to another job that required him to carry a gun a lot of the time was in fact carrying a gun at this time. That way, if my already spooked wife asked if I was walking around in the middle of the night with an armed Russian, I could honestly say I did not know.

Our first night went quietly. We did not know it yet, but the only two successful bombings in Moscow had already passed. We also did not know it for a day or two, but on the 13th, the night before our first patrol, not only had one house gone down, but somebody elsewhere in Moscow found a package of powder in the basement and called it in to the local police. It would soon be revealed that at least two more apartment buildings in the capital had been booby-trapped and ready to blow with almost a thousand residents between them.

The next night, the 15th, we took a double shift from 10 pm to 2 am. This time, the jovial guy from the Poverty Sucks poster was gone. Andrei was in full uniform—green and gray camo combat combo complete with colonel’s stars on the collar and the service patch on his shoulder, his last name and blood type above his breast pocket, paratrooper boots, and a leather ushanka hat with the Russian tricolor chevron. The walking stick was gone, and instead he had a neatly trimmed black-eyed German shepherd on a leash. The dog was the size of a small pony. Andrei still had the thermos, which he handed to me, ever the gracious host, nodding that I should take the first cup.

“No gun,” he said when he caught me looking for a holster on his belt. “It will just get us killed faster.”

“Faster than what?” I wanted to ask. Instead, I complimented him on the coffee, which was now a thicker and heartier brew that tasted of chocolate, cinnamon, and dates.

“That is Mocha—did you know that the word comes from the name of the original Yemeni coffee port? And this right here is Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales.” The Russians have been naming purebred bitches after aristocratic British dames since Tolstoy. “I think she likes you.”

“Does she growl at everyone she likes?” I asked. Andrei tossed a few words of doghandler Russian at her, to which she did not appear to react. Instead, Her Highness continued to stare and whine at me like I was caught outside the Warsaw Ghetto with a gold star on my chest and she was waiting for “Achtung” or “Schnell” before getting her sic on.

“She is not showing you her teeth,” Andrei answered. “Definitely a good sign. I got her as a puppy as soon as I was re-assigned to HQ, mostly as a talisman not to get sent back to the Middle East. Muslims, especially Arabs, are not at all good with domesticated canines.”

Neither are Jewboy American lawyers raised by cat ladies, but I figured that I could keep myself civil about it if Lady Di did.

The three of us started around the building, clockwise. When we got to a corner, Andrei would let out the dog’s leash so she could crouch down and scout around the other side. She did this with the silence and grace of a ninja or my mother’s tabbies before they got fat. Most of the time, Lady Di was satisfied with what she saw and she retreated back to Andrei’s side, panting and wagging her tail. We would then turn the corner and Andrei would bark a command at her; she would then examine the next awning, sniffing and pawing at the hatch. I assume she never found anything because she would trot quietly back after inspection and sit up for a reward of a biscuit, a headrub, or at least a quick vot suchka moya (“that’s my good little bitch”).

“Can she smell hexagen?” I asked after the fifth or sixth awning left her olfactories unimpressed.

“Probably not,” Andrei answered as he handed me the doggie treats and the leash. “She was never a service dog; she is not trained like a hound. She’s barely useful on hunting trips unless you want to cook rats. But she lives here, she knows when something does not smell right. If someone who does not belong here leaves his scent on the grounds, she will tell me.”

“Like Chechens?” I asked. Russia was now at the precipice of the second or third resumption of hostilities in the Caucasus since the end of the original Chechen War a few years back. A month earlier, a bunch of Saudi-born militants attached to one of the dozens of Islamist separatist movements in Russia’s southeast had committed some atrocity or another in Dagestan, a region we would now call “Chechnya-adjacent.” Yeltsin’s response was to promise quick reprisals, to fire his sitting Prime Minister, and to put Vladimir Putin a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. Putin, effectively still in charge of the country’s largest civilian law enforcement body, set the FSB loose and started rounding up Chechen men off the street around the country. Within a month, Russians were dying in pre-dawn explosions.

“Chechens?” Andrei looked at me the way you look at an adult who asks you what Grandpa Frost got you for New Years, and laughed. “These are no Chechens, my dear boy.” He was maybe 10 years older than me.

“Okay, Dagestanis—”

Same look, even more condescending.

“But the news—”

Andrei nodded. “Yes, the news is all about Chechen—or Dagestani, or Lak, or Avar, or Lezgian, or Karachaian, or you name it—separatists and Khattab and Maskhadov and Sharia warfare and all of that disinformational vagination. Is that a word?”

“No,” I allowed, “but it probably should be. You can say pizdyozh.”

“As can you, apparently. Prostate fluid, then. Of course that is what they will say, because Chechens have been the usual suspects since Tolstoy wrote about them in The Cossacks. But if this were really Chechens you know what would be true?”

I was distracted for a moment. Lady Di had found something around the corner that made her run back to me. After a nod of approval from her master she dropped from her jaws onto my boots a newly dead rat. I assumed that she considered that a meritorious achievement on her part, so I went to take a treat from my pocket. Andrei shook his finger and said “think SeaWorld, not Old Yeller.” From some place of courage I did not know I had, I put a snausage between my teeth like a cheroot and spread my arms waiting for my furry Shamu. The beast stood, planted her front paws on my chest, took the jerky cigar from my mouth, and licked my face like it was the plate. She barked once, growled just menacingly enough that I would respect her in the morning, waited for me to use the word suchka correctly for the first and last time in my life, and then trotted happily forward to the end of her leash as we continued walking.

“See? I told you she liked you.”

“The Chechens would have taken credit, wouldn’t they have?” I answered, bemused, less by the Russian conspiracy theories and more by the growing realization that I [Heart] Dogs.

“Exactly,” Andrei said. “Killing Russians, even civilians, is something they would be proud of. The Russian government is saying that these attacks are retribution for supposed Russian Army atrocities against civilian targets in Grozny and if that were true—”

“Then the Chechens would have every reason to brag about doing it,” I interrupted him. “Otherwise what’s the point?”

Andrei laughed. “See?” he shouted at the dog in Russian. “And you said Americans are all imbeciles!” Then he winked at me and sighed. “Also, this is not the target Muslims would choose.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Terrorists are trained to think in symbolic terms when it comes to target selection. When I was teaching South Yemeni regulars where they would need to defend against fundamentalist aggression, I told them to expect attacks on examples of secular administrative power and on heads of civilian and military authority. If we were talking about New York and not Moscow, hitting these apartment blocks would be like bombing a housing project in Queens when you have those two massive phallic paeans to capitalist democracy sitting in downtown Manhattan.”

In February 1993, in a last-gasp attempt to get a big law firm job out of law school, I had an interview with one of the whitest of white shoe firms at the very bottom of Manhattan, below Wall Street. When I came up from the subway, emergency vehicles were screaming out of the Battery Park station northbound. Reception in the building kept a bunch of us waiting for twenty minutes and only allowed the group upstairs when NYPD and building security had determined that the explosions were contained to a parking garage under one of the Towers. I had probably been on the train right under the WTC when the van blew up. I told all of that to Andrei.

He lit a Dunhill and insisted I take my own. “They will come back for the towers,” he said. “That is a job the filth will not leave unfinished, because whoever gets it will be the undisputed leader of worldwide Islamic fundamentalist terror. There are not a lot of infidel trophies that even come close to the Towers—Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, maybe that opera house in Australia, possibly the Ostankino TV building—but turning a bunch of middle class dormitories into a stack of concrete pancakes dripping with people ketchup is not really the same, is it?”

“So, who?”

Andrei’s smile disappeared. “Who benefits every time ‘the Chechens’ shock and awe the country?”

“No offense to your I presume former profession, but first off, the military?”

“None taken,” Andrei shrugged, but he would not look me in the eye. “Of course, having a beautiful little war benefits our military-industrial complex, especially when you consider that the generals in the Russian forces are probably selling the Chechens their weapons in the first place. Who else?”

As if to give me a hint, he made a peace sign with his right hand and tapped the two outstretched fingers, twice, to his left clavicle. This is Soviet-era sign language for “the fuzz” because it mimes epaulets. Only, in Andrei’s case, because he really was in epaulets, he was actually tapping his colonel’s pips. Before Putin was raised to the White House and they were instructed to stop, some of the nation’s media would jokingly refer to the now-civilian administrator of the Federal Security Service by his stature and terminal rank in the KGB, i.e. “the little Colonel.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but he shook his head. “Speak of the Devil, and all that,” he said. “Back in the day, when my father’s generation did not want to say Stalin’s name, they dragged the finger across the upper lip like a mustache. Brezhnev was the finger between the eye and the brow, like, well, like an eyebrow. Gorbachev was pointing at the head where the birthmark is.”

“So Yeltsin would be,” and I flicked my middle finger against my Adam’s Apple, Russian sign language for “shitfaced.” Andrei laughed and said “nobody fears Boris Nikolaevich, his name is always safe. But we can stick to”—again two taps to the pips —“for the new guy, ok?”

Lady Di ran up to me and started growling again, only this time she was wagging her tail and nuzzling my pocket.

“Oh, for the love of God,” Andrei groaned. “I think she thinks she is a cat. That is her way of purring.”

“Should I give her another treat?”

“If you do not, she will drop dead rodents at your feet until you do.”

Having no further need for her ratting services, I decided to spoil her. I discovered Lady Di was a creature of transactional affection. For the rest of the night, as long as I held her leash and fed her beef-stick addiction, she essentially ignored Andrei and she would scout corners, sniff awnings, and report back to me with an all-clear tail wag on autopilot. Vot suchka, indeed.

“In the United States, you have the CIA and the NSA leading over a dozen other federal intelligence services,” Andrei recited. “They made us memorize all of them at one point in training. I got a commendation for knowing the full names of all of their directors. Each service is supposed to operate in its own sphere of authority, with minimal overlap or conflict over shared areas of activity. In theory.”

“You mean turf battles?”

“Yes! Great phrase. Turf battles.” He swirled the thermos, to make sure he had saved enough for the second hour. “We have turf battles here too. The GRU was set up in the Great Patriotic War, much like your OSS was. Now, we are a little like the intelligence wings of your armed services, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the more operational functions of the CIA. In the UK, we would be MI6. We had our turf wars with the KGB during the Soviet period and now we have to deal with both of KGB’s ublyudky, the SVR and the FSB. The SVR is tolerable, a bunch of amiably incompetent mediocrities bugging embassies and running diplomatic spies, both yours and ours. By the grace of God those characters generally avoid penising up the modest tasks which are their charge. But the FSB is where the real urody from the KGB go, the guys who like bloodshed at home even more than abroad.”

I looked at him and he read my mind:

“Yemen was different,” he said. “Regrettable, but part of the rules. I was a combatant, they were combatants. Combatants know not everybody in war gets to go home alive. I did what I had to do to survive and to reduce the chance that my side would take casualties. I do not lose sleep over the casualties I caused.”

He could still read my mind:

“The business with the mosques, yes, there was collateral damage. It’s harder, but I can live with the mosques, the coffeehouses, even the schools. You hit civilian targets ‘by accident’ all the time. We all do it. The only difference between us and you is when you get caught killing another country’s citizens with a military excuse in hand you say sorry and write a check; we just deny it or tell the world to go to their own anus. But when Saddam gassed his own people, that was over the line, was it not? When a government has to resort to mass murder of its own citizens to stay in power, who in that government gives that order without a gram of conscience? Who can that carry out that order against their own countrymen with enthusiasm?”

“That’s the FSB?”

Andrey tapped his shoulders again. He poured me half of the last of the coffee into the aluminum cap, and clinked it against the thermos in a toast. “To my country, that great sow’s vagina, and all of her children...”

The night went on, uneventfully for us and the rest of Moscow. Early in the next morning, a truck blew up in front of an apartment block in Volgodonsk, a provincial town about a thousand kilometers due south of the city, not far from the Caucasus. Mysteriously, three days earlier, the day before the second Moscow explosion, the speaker of the Russian Duma had made an impassioned speech mourning the recently dead in Volgodonsk from an explosion that would not take place for another 72 hours. Either the man was a time traveler or he was the Steve Harvey of Russian politics.

The next day when I got home there was a note under my door:

“I HAVE BEEN CALLED AWAY TO CATCH SOME MORE RATS. I HAVE ARRANGED ANOTHER PAIR TO TAKE OUR SHIFT UNTIL I RETURN. STAY WITH YOUR FAMILY. ALL THE BEST, A.”

Within a few days, Moscow seemed to return to normal. A week later, local police in Ryazan acting on a tip discovered several bags of powder and a detonator. FSB headquarters sent personnel from Moscow who commandeered the sacks, tested them, and declared they contained sugar. The local cops then detained a group of people who were casing another building. The detainees produced FSB badges and were released. Faced with obvious connections to what could have been the deaths of hundreds of more people, Putin’s successor as director of the FSB claimed the entire thing was a training exercise to see if the local cops were on their toes.

The explosions were over, and on New Year’s Eve, Yeltsin handed the country to Vladimir Putin.

As for the bombings themselves, a few liberation organizations from Dagestan appeared from out of nowhere, proudly took credit for all of it, and retreated into obscurity. Russian law enforcement rolled up an impressive array of Caucasians—none of them, curiously, actual Chechens—and meted out vengeance in and out of court over the next several years. Journalists and lawyers who investigated the links between the FSB and the bombings faced similar fates: vehicular deaths, shootings, poisonings, long prison terms on improbable charges. The owner of the NTV television network, which ran an exposé on the bombings in early 2000 that cast doubt on the official story, was hounded out of the country. The Duma and the government not only refused to inquire into the possibility that the nation’s primary law enforcer was in fact a mass murderer, they eventually sealed all records until after 2075 and made it a felony to investigate further. A few years later, a KGB/FSB agent named Alexander Litvinenko defected to London and did more than just tap his shoulders; he named names. Litvinenko was later assassinated, probably on the orders of the same man he accused, with a cup of tea-flavored polonium in a Mayfair chaykhana.

Over two decades later, Putin is still President.

I never saw or heard from Andrei or Lady Di again, but I still [Heart] Dogs.

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Photo credit: PX Fuel. Soviet panel housing.