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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Purse-Snatching Takes FSB to NTV

At a time when media that dare to criticize the Kremlin are wary of possible attempts to stifle them, NTV television has had a strange encounter with the Federal Security Service.

The FSB, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, got involved in a purse-snatching investigation by Moscow region police when it turned out that one of the witnesses to the crime was the son of a woman who hosts a show on NTV.

Denis Filin, 19, the son of Eleonora Filina, the host of "Ships Have Been Sailing Into Our Harbor...," a Saturday program dedicated to bard music, was detained Jan. 10 with three friends in the town of Reutov, southeast of Moscow, in connection with a purse-snatching.

Filin was soon released to be later summoned to court as a witness, while charges of theft were formally filed against one of his friends who was accused of grabbing a woman's purse.

It would have been an open and shut case had the FSB not gotten involved. Police said an FSB officer put pressure on investigators to charge Filin as well, and his mother said the same FSB officer contacted her in what could have been an attempt to recruit her as a source within NTV.

Unlike the state-controlled television channels, NTV has not been supportive of acting President Vladimir Putin's bid for the presidency and has covered the Kremlin's military campaign in Chechnya more critically.

About a month after the purse-snatching, Filina said she received a call from an FSB officer, who introduced himself as Andrei Ganenko and asked to meet her to talk about her son, who is a fourth-year student at the Moscow Law Academy.

"He said that he can help me with my son, and then that he works with institutions of higher learning. I was shocked - the mention of such official bodies always elicits fear," Filina said. The call was more puzzling, she said, because she needed no help for her son since he was not even a defendant in the case.

She said Ganenko told her not to be alarmed by his call because he was the one asking for something, but he didn't elaborate.

Ganenko came to Filina's house later that day, and during their conversation he asked her various questions about her son and her work.

"He was constantly saying that he can help me, but not gratis and not for money," Filina said, adding that Ganenko never made clear the purpose of his visit, left his number, told her to keep their conversation private and departed.

Two days later, Filina received another call, this time from police Lieutenant-Colonel Alexei Astafyev, who is in charge of the investigation in Reutov. Astafyev told her that Ganenko had called him several times and tried to convince him to make her son a defendant in the case in order to "to keep his mother in tension."

"He said that I should not worry, since putting pressure on him wouldn't work," Filina said.

Astafyev refused to comment when reached by telephone, but in an interview he gave last week to Yury Shchekochikhin, a Novaya Gazeta writer and State Duma deputy, he confirmed that Ganenko called him, asked about Filina and explained that he was interested in her because of "the very tense relations between NTV and the FSB."

NTV officials have made no comment on the case.

Shchekochikhin, who is deputy head of the Duma's security committee, sent a request to the FSB asking it to explain its interest in an NTV employee.

FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich denied that his agency is targeting NTV and said Shchekochikhin's allegations are only "his interpretation of his conversation with a Reutov police officer," Interfax reported.

"Our service has been considering the son of NTV employee Eleonora Filina as a possible candidate to work in the security agencies. And when he committed a crime in Reutov, we requested to see the police report to clarify the issue of his possible employment at the FSB," Zdanovich was quoted as saying.

"Our employees have talked to the student's mother and explained the situation," he said.

The explanation came as a total surprise to Filina, who said no one has ever approached her or her son about his possible employment by the FSB.

Interestingly, in an interview Putin gave to Kommersant that was published Friday, he said that while he was a fourth-year law student at Leningrad State University he was approached by a KGB officer who called him at home and introduced himself as someone who "works with institutions of higher learning." The officer then met with Putin at the university and offered him a job at the KGB.

In an article published in Novaya Gazeta on March 6, Shchekochikhin said the case was being handled by the FSB department charged with defending constitutional order - the department that formerly specialized in tracking down and silencing dissidents.

Astafyev refused to show the police report in the purse-snatching case to Ganenko, demanding to see an official request from the FSB, according to Shchekochikhin.

Shchekochikhin said he became interested in the case because he fears it indicates a return to the KGB era, when criminal cases were opened against innocent people in an effort to intimidate and silence them or force them to become KGB sources within various structures.

"I'm afraid that we are going toward the past in leaps and bounds," Shchekochikhin said in an interview.

In what can be viewed as another sign of a possible return to the past, Putin confirmed in the Kommersant interview that while he was the FSB director in 1998 and 1999, he met with Vladimir Kryuchkov, a former head of the KGB.

"I was working rather actively with the veterans," Putin said.