Christian Caryl

Stories by Christian Caryl

  • Sticking To The Party Line

    If press freedom in Russia is under fire, Mikhail Leontiev is proud to be a member of the firing squad. He's made a habit of trashing journalist colleagues. He has defended military officers sentenced for murdering a reporter who had implicated them in corruption scandals. He has savaged critics of the war in Chechnya. And lately the 42-year-old TV journalist has been hard at work demolishing the reputation of NTV, the independent TV station now under threat of a hostile takeover by the state-controlled corporation Gazprom. Leontiev finds nothing strange about his attitude. "I've never been a democrat," he declares happily. ...
  • All Putin All The Time

    High on the eighth floor of Russia's national television center, journalists from NTV gather for what amounts to a council of war. With tense and tired faces, they listen as one of the station's lawyers, Yuri Bagrayev, briefs them on the day's big news--the latest twist in a prolonged campaign to shut them down. "Don't have any illusions," Bagrayev warns. The government is against you, the courts are fixed, the police could come at any time to drive you out. "Get ready. Soon you'll have to make a choice." ...
  • Russia: A Gorby Celebration

    When Mikhail Gorbachev turned 70 earlier this month, his admirers honored him with a series of high-profile concerts, public discussions and parties. TV shows, magazine cover stories and newspaper interviews re-examined his legacy. In a poll published in the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti, 56 percent of the respondents described him as an "outstanding politician." But the best gift may have come from President Vladimir Putin, who has invited Gorbachev back into Russian politics as an adviser. ...
  • What The Russians Really Want

    ;Back in 1985, Viktor Cherkashin was a senior KGB officer at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. In the shadowy world of espionage, he had a good professional reputation--a spy's spy. So when Robert Hanssen decided to switch sides, he sent a letter to Cherkashin offering to work for the Russians. "I would not have contacted you," Hanssen wrote, "if it were not reported that you were held in esteem within your organization." Today, Cherkashin, 69, is a prosperous Moscow businessman. He owns a big house in the suburbs and drives a light blue 1986 Chevrolet, a trophy car in the streets of Moscow. "I've been on my pension now for 10 years," he said when NEWSWEEK contacted him by phone last week. "I'm in the private-security business." Cherkashin didn't want to discuss the Hanssen case. "I don't like to talk about other people's affairs," said the former spymaster. ...
  • Sorry, No Kandinskys

    You enter the KGB Museum through a cavernous, columned foyer adorned with a huge white bust of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police. Then you walk up a flight of stairs, past a gold-leaf inscription reading "To the Chekists-Soldiers of the Revolution," and meet the official guide, himself a long-time veteran of the old KGB, who refuses to give his name to visitors.The Chekists were the members of Version 1.0 of the KGB, which was originally known, on its founding in 1918, as the Cheka (actually an abbreviation of its long and bureaucratic name, the "Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle against Sabotage and Counterrevolution"). Officially the KGB's history ended in 1991, when the abortive attempt to remove Mikhail Gorbachev from the head of the Soviet Union ended up leading to the breakup of the secret police into half a dozen component parts. One of those is the domestic security service, the FSB, which was recently tasked with running the guerrilla war still...
  • From Russia With Indifference

    Last December, Russian television treated its viewers to a first: an interview with none other than Lt. Gen. Sergei Lebedev, head of the country's Foreign Intelligence Service (known by its Russian initials as the SVR). Lebedev had served for decades in the SVR's predecessor organization, the Soviet-era KGB, and it was there that he made the acquaintance of the man who would later prove so instrumental in the success of his career: Vladimir Putin.So it was interesting to hear Lebedev respond to an interviewer's question about the romantic lure of life in the world of espionage. "Romanticism is present," answered Lebedev. "Let me tell you that the romantic perception of intelligence work and romanticism is, incidentally, what prompts many young intelligence operatives to come and work for us. This element ought to be present in our work. However, if you compare it to James Bond films, there is a lot of fantasy there, of course."For now, Lebedev, along with most of his colleagues in...
  • Unsolved Mysteries

    Whether the Ukrainian president actually ordered the murder of a political nemesis will probably never be proved to anyone's satisfaction. But judging from the demonstrations that have jolted Kiev, the court of public opinion has already declared Leonid Kuchma guilty, though he has denied it vigorously. Last week about 5,000 demonstrators converged on the city center to push for a "Ukraine without Kuchma" in the largest antigovernment rally since Ukraine gained independence 10 years ago--and organizers promised there were bigger ones to come.Such anti-Kuchma fervor would have been unthinkable a few months ago. In November 1999 Kuchma was re-elected with 56 percent of the vote. He was expecting to cruise through an uneventful five-year term. But that was before journalist Georgy Gongadze, editor of an Internet news site known for its anti-Kuchma muckraking, disappeared last September under mysterious circumstances. Two months later a headless corpse turned up not far from Kiev....
  • Tough-Love Diplomacy

    Nostalgic cold-warriors sat up up and took notice last week when U.S. officials announced that a Russian diplomat by the name of Sergei Tretyakov had decided to abandon his job at the United Nations and remain on American soil. Though his new U.S. handlers were reluctant to divulge details, Russian journalists speculate that Tretyakov was probably working as a spy under diplomatic cover. But whatever his motives, the case had one remarkable effect: for the first time in nearly a decade, the word "defector" has re-entered the vocabulary of Russia's relations with the West.Even though Tretyakov resigned his midlevel post and asked for asylum last October, the timing of the revelation was all too appropriate. Russians' irritation over their country's demotion from superpower status is colliding with a new policy of tough love from the West. George W. Bush set the tone in pre-Inauguration newspaper interviews, reasserting his plans to develop a national missile defense (a project...
  • Twilight Of The Oligarchs

    Sergei Dorenko was hardly surprised when he was fired two weeks ago. The blow had been coming ever since last September, when the executives of Russia's No. 1 television network, ORT, abruptly canceled the news show he anchored and began dismissing the members of his news team, one by one. No one had any doubt why. The Kremlin was furious at his outspoken broadcasts--especially his coverage of the disastrous loss of the submarine Kursk. Now old friends and colleagues are asking what they can do for Dorenko. He advises them to keep their distance. "I don't recommend to people that they help me," he told NEWSWEEK. "I'm a lightning rod."He'll get little solace from his former boss at ORT. One of the most powerful "oligarchs," the tycoons who dominated Russian politics while Boris Yeltsin was president, Boris Berezovsky was instrumental to the rise of Yeltsin's successor, a career KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. That was then. These days the oligarchs are losing their chokehold on...
  • Declining Democracy

    When I first met Ravshan Gapirov I didn't think that I might be helping him to get arrested. Gapirov is the director of a human-rights center in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, long considered the most liberal of the five countries in the region that once were part of the Soviet Union. We met just 10 weeks ago, and I remember him vividly--a small, intense man with a thick black mustache, quivering with energy and the rightness of his quest for justice.Finding him wasn't easy. I worked my way from contact to contact, quizzing passersby and neighbors. Everyone in the town--a hardscrabble place called Kara Su, which translates as "Black Water"--seemed to have heard of him, but none knew where he lived. Finally, I ended up at his home, a few small buildings and an arid yard tucked away behind a high wall. Across the road, a canal ran between deep concrete banks, and along the far side of the canal is a formidable wire-and-concrete fence. On the other side of the fence lies...
  • Kidnapped In Chechnya

    The shooting started near the Chechen village of Starye Atagi last Tuesday. Unknown assailants fired on a humanitarian aid convoy delivering medical supplies to local hospitals, wounding Richard Littell, an American working for the organization Action Against Hunger. Littell and his colleagues managed to flee. But another American-Doctors Without Borders worker Kenneth Gluck-was less fortunate. ”[He] was forced out of his car into the attackers’ car, which then disappeared,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement issued after the incident.The fate of Gluck, 38—the first American kidnapping victim in the 18-month-old Chechnya conflict—is still unknown. But the incident serves as an ominous reminder of a bloody war that has left thousands dead and turned hundreds of thousands into refugees. While the continuing conflict has lately been largely ignored by the outside world, Russians are becoming increasingly pessimistic about its outcome.Within hours of Gluck’s disappearance, the...
  • Usa-Bashing Works For Putin

    For many Americans, the forthcoming movie "Thirteen Days" will evoke, as entertainment, an event that has long since faded into history: the Cuban missile crisis. For many Russians, Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Cuba evoked an event that is still a raw wound: the loss of the Soviet imperium.Putin didn't take any missiles with him on his trip to Havana, the first by a Russian leader since the fall of the Soviet Union, but he did go bearing a civilian nuclear agreement and arms contracts. Just as important, Putin brought a message of sympathy to Fidel Castro and other Latin American leaders who dislike Washington's blustery ways as the world's lone superpower. "Similar attempts at world domination were made numerous times throughout the course of history--and it is well known how they ended," Putin declared in a speech in Havana. Then he flew on to Canada--over U.S. territory--without stopping in Washington.For the president of a nation that can't pay its bills--$157 billion in...
  • Sing Along With Stalin

    Can a song, a banner and a symbol keep Russians' minds off how tough their lives remain? Vladimir Putin has to hope so. Last week the Russian Parliament voted 381 to 51 to approve the president's choice for a national anthem. They also voted overwhelmingly in favor of his proposal to keep the white, blue and red national flag and the tsarist two-headed eagle as the national coat of arms. The Communist opposition leader, Gennady Zyuganov, particularly praised the "majestic" melody--an enthusiasm shared by none other than Joseph Stalin, who in 1943 picked it to replace the revolutionary hymn "Internationale" as the Soviet anthem.Millions of Russians only wish they could get the Georgian dictator's pet tune out of their heads. They came close in 1991, when the Soviet Union broke up. Lyrics like "O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people, / To Communism's triumph lead us on!" gave the song an unintended sense of irony. Russia's first postcommunist president, Boris Yeltsin, chose a...
  • The Aftermath Of A Squall

    With any luck, Edmond Pope will go home to Pennsylvania alive. But as of last weekend, the American businessman's friends and family could only keep praying. Suffering from bone cancer, he has been denied access to Western doctors since he was arrested on spy charges on April 5 and locked up in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo Prison. The disease had been in remission, but in recent weeks Pope, 54, has looked weak and ill. Last week in a Moscow courtroom he stood trapped in an iron cage, holding hands through the bars with his wife, Cheri, as he became the first American convicted of espionage in Russia in four decades. Even after the court sentenced the retired U.S. naval intelligence officer to 20 years of hard labor in a maximum-security prison, Pope kept insisting he was no spy.To the Kremlin his guilt or innocence was beside the point. The big thing was the risk he might die in Russian custody. Two days after the verdict, an official pardon commission publicly advised Vladimir...
  • The Empire In Shadows

    It's not everyday that American presidential candidates wade into the murk of Russian corporate politics. So it wasn't terribly surprising that George W. Bush Jr. got it wrong during the debate last week, when he suggested that loans from the International Monetary Fund wound up in the pocket of former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. In fact, the recent allegation that Russian officials pocketed a $4.8 billion IMF loan date from the summer of 1998, when Chernomyrdin had already left office. The stories that do involve Chernomyrdin are a good deal more juicy. He has denied charges leveled by the CIA, among others, that he amassed a dubious fortune from the vast business empire he once ran: Gazprom, the natural-gas monopoly that figures prominently in so many recent tales of intrigue out of Russia.Gazprom remains an enduring symbol of what's wrong with the Russian economy. In Soviet times, Gazprom was a vast bureaucratic monopoly, riddled with bottlenecks and badly mismanaging the...
  • Strange Bedfellows

    Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, two of Russia's richest men, have never been chummy. On the contrary, they are known as ruthless rivals (a former Kremlin bodyguard, Aleksandr Korzhakov, once claimed that Berezovsky asked him to have Gusinsky whacked). But powerful enemies sometimes have short memories, particularly when faced with a more resourceful foe. These days Gusinsky and Berezovsky are engaged in a common battle, and both have come to the United States to drum up support against their new adversary: President Vladimir Putin, the colorless ex-KGB agent who wants to reshape Russia in his own image.Last week Berezovsky was in New York on a charm offensive that took him to the august Council on Foreign Relations and other gatherings of policy-shapers. The PR campaign followed a similar U.S. tour by Gusinsky. The message? "Actions against me and against my main rival in the media business," Berezovsky wrote in The New York Times on Friday, "are only the most visible signs...
  • Along Power Avenue

    On a warm day in early September, a crowd of Russian villagers set up a roadblock in Kalchuga, a tiny village seven and a half miles outside of Moscow. It lasted only 10 minutes--just enough time to make a point. A TV crew filmed the group brandishing posters and chanting slogans against a luxury housing development going up in a local forest preserve, while red-faced policemen tried to break up the protest. Just an obscure event? Not exactly. The demonstration blocked traffic on Rublyov Highway, which leads from Moscow to the homes of some of Russia's most powerful officials. Many of the cars stopped were government limousines. "Every day you close the road for government cars," one of the protesters told a cop. "But when we close the road, you push us away. Who are you working for, anyway?"In another time and place, outsiders would have ignored a few dozen souls protesting wildcat real-estate development. But this is Vladimir Putin's Russia, and the Rublyov Highway is the jugular...
  • 'I Was Liberated'

    For a few days last week, Karolina Yemelyanova and her high-school friends discovered a whole new life--a life without TV. After a devastating fire in Moscow's Ostankino television tower that blacked out television screens across the capital, Yemelyanova's crowd found themselves engaged in bizarre activities: reading books, going out for strolls, talking with everyone around them. "Usually you just sit there and stare at the screen," Yemelyanova, 16, said in wonderment. "You don't see anything, you don't hear anything." Her friend Zhenya Semina, who is preparing to enter Moscow State University in the fall, marveled: "You can even talk with your own family for a change. I had some real serious talks with my parents." About what? The teenager blushed. "I'd rather not say. It's much too intimate."The TV-tower fire, which claimed three lives and took 26 hours to extinguish, was the latest incident in a summer of humiliation for President Vladimir Putin's government. It was preceded by...
  • Russia's Press Strikes Back

    When a dour Vladimir Putin met with grieving relatives of the Kursk crew last week, he made it clear who was to blame for his poor showing in the crisis. It wasn't the military men and senior officials who had put up a smoke screen of calculated half-truths. The real culprit, Putin said, was Russia's scrappy independent media. Their owners, he charged, "have stolen money and manipulated public opinion."Putin had reason to be irritated. For months, his government had been cracking down on the independent press, going so far as to briefly imprison Vladimir Gusinsky, owner of the NTV network (and NEWSWEEK's partner in publishing the weekly news magazine Itogi). Initially cowed by the campaign, the independent press was emboldened by the Kursk tragedy. NTV regained its combative voice, feeding viewers a steady stream of stories that contradicted official pronouncements. When the government dismissed offers of foreign assistance, the daily Izvestia ran a photo of the Kursk crew with the...
  • Problems For Putin?

    Nina, a building custodian in my apartment building in a placid neighborhood in southwestern Moscow, was shaking with frustration. "Now it turns out that the British are only going to get there on Saturday. On Saturday!" The night before, on Wednesday, the Russian government, had finally announced its willingness to accept Western offers of help in the race to save 118 sailors trapped in the nuclear submarine Kursk on the floor of the icy Barents Sea.The announcement followed days of arrogant displays from Russian officialdom. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who heads the government commission assigned to investigate the disaster, bragged about the quality of Russian rescue equipment, which was, he said, "no worse than what the Americans have" - as if the Kursk were on display at a trade fair rather than in the center of a life-or-death emergency.Days later, after a series of failed attempts to save any members of the crew, Klebanov was telling a press conference that Russia...