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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Book Accuses FSB of Killings

The Federal Security Service has used organized crime gangs and war criminals to carry out contract killings in Russia and abroad, according to excerpts of a book co-authored by a renegade former FSB officer and published Monday in a special issue of Novaya Gazeta.

The book, which has not been published, was written by former FSB Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky, a historian and writer who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1978.

Litvinenko fled Russia last year saying he feared for his life, and in May of this year obtained political asylum in Britain. His troubles began after he called a news conference in late 1998 to accuse his FSB superiors of ordering the killing of Boris Berezovsky, who was then secretary of the Security Council. Litvinenko was arrested and later released on the condition he not leave Russia, but he managed to flee the country. In recent years he has been closely associated with Berezovsky, who lives in self-proclaimed exile abroad.

Litvinenko joined the KGB in 1988. Beginning in 1991, he had worked in FSB units responsible for investigating organized crime groups. Some of the strongest allegations published Monday concern the FSB's use of organized crime.

The validity of Litvinenko's accusations, however, is all but impossible to judge. In the excerpts published Monday, which fill 22 full pages in the tabloid-size newspaper, no source is given for many of the stated facts, and many of the allegations are not supported by evidence.

Even Novaya Gazeta, which is sharply critical of President Vladimir Putin, questions whether the authors can be believed. In an accompanying editorial, the weekly newspaper appeals to the State Duma to create an independent parliamentary commission to look into Litvinenko's allegations.

Litvinenko did not respond Monday to a request made through his London lawyer for an interview.

An officer on duty at the FSB on Monday said the agency would not comment on the report.

A retired KGB officer, however, said Litvinenko's allegations were entirely plausible.

The planned book, titled "FSB Blows Up Russia," also accuses top Russian officials of taking million-dollar payments from Chechen leaders beginning as early as 1992.

The money was paid for weapons and ammunition left in Chechnya by Russian troops and in exchange for Russian commanders agreeing to halt certain military operations, the excerpts said.

Alexander Korzhakov, who was then-President Boris Yeltsin's top bodyguard and is now a deputy in the State Duma, is among those accused of taking money. His assistant, Nikolai Moiseyenko, said Monday by telephone that the allegations were groundless and he said Litvinenko was too low placed to have access to such information anyway.

The excerpts describe the raid on Budyonnovsk in June 1995, in which about 1,000 people were held hostage in a hospital by rebels led by Shamil Basayev, as revenge for Moscow reneging on a deal to stop the fighting. Chechen separatist leader Dzhokar Dudayev had paid "a bribe of several million dollars," but the war continued.

Then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who carried out negotiations with Basayev, knew about the deal and realized the Chechens had been deceived, the excerpts said. And that is why Chernomyrdin allowed Basayev's men to retreat safely back to Chechnya.

Most of the excerpts deal more directly with FSB operations. They describe a secret department specializing in locating and liquidating people considered a danger to the state.

The department created a special security firm, Stelth, which used organized crime groups, including the Izmailovskaya group, to carry out contract killings, the excerpts said. The department was responsible for the "fairly well known contract killings of criminal leaders, businessmen and bankers," the planned book said. It gave no names of the victims.

The FSB has been quick to hide evidence and kill anyone who might link it to crimes or criminals, the excerpts said.

For instance, the excerpts said, FSB control over a famous gang led by the Larionov brothers in the Primorye region was impossible to prove because after one brother was killed in a criminal shootout, the remaining one told investigators he would tell the court about the gang's relationship with special services and was killed in jail.

Litvinenko's planned book describes the operations of one of the special groups he said was created by the FSB.

Andrei Morev was a Russian soldier serving in Chechnya who in 1996 destroyed the tiny village of Svobodny and was arrested as a war criminal. According to the published excerpts, Morev was told by FSB investigators that he had two options — work for the FSB or go to jail.

In 1998, a group led by Morev — 12 people, all accused of war crimes in Chechnya — began on the FSB's orders to liquidate people in various countries, including Ukraine, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Moldova, the excerpts said.

In August 2000, members of the group started to disappear. Morev made several video copies of his confession and went into hiding, Litvinenko wrote.

Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with INDEM, said he does not believe the FSB created special departments to carry out murder.

"I am sure that discipline in the FSB is poor and officers are poorly paid. If they received such orders, they would simply go out and tell the first journalist they met about it," Korgunyuk said. "Such departments could exist in a totalitarian society, but not in this country."

Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a retired KGB lieutenant colonel, said you have to be from the secret services to know that what Litvinenko wrote is true.

"It is 100 percent true," Preobrazhensky said. "He did a good job. Such groups of murderers existed there long ago and it was not necessarily FSB officers who did the killing but their agents who officially had no connection to the FSB."

Preobrazhensky said Litvinenko does not have the documents to properly source his information because he fled the country. "But all he says is right.

"Look, [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn also did not refer to any documents, but he showed the bare truth about the gulag and opened the whole world's eyes to what was going on in this country," Preobrazhensky said.

The former KGB officer said he doubted the book would create any trouble for the FSB. "I think even if the State Duma creates the commission to investigate the facts, it will be filled with FSB-controlled people who will ultimately sabotage its work. There will be no results whatsoever."

The excerpts go into detail only in one case — the well-reported incident in Ryazan on Sept. 22, 1999, when residents prevented a possible explosion of their apartment block after seeing three people carrying several big sacks from their car into the basement of their building.

The country was on alert. Shocked by several apartment bombings in Buinaksk, Volgodonsk and Moscow in which about 300 were killed, people were closely watching their homes.

Ryazan experts said the explosive hexogen was found in the sacks, and a timer set for early the next morning was neutralized.

For two days, the whole country was looking for the terrorists and, as in the other bombings, Chechens were blamed. Finally, on Sept. 24, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev said it had been a training exercise. The sacks were said to contain sugar and not hexagen, even though residents and others who looked in the sacks described a yellow vermicelli-like substance and not a white powder.

The results of the investigation by local law-enforcement officers were confiscated, the case was classified and Patrushev offered his apologies to the people of Ryazan.

Litvinenko's report, however, contained little that had not already been published in Novaya Gazeta and other newspapers last year.

Novaya Gazeta is an independent publication popular with the intelligentsia. It is best known for its investigations of corruption and coverage of human rights issues, including reports from Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya.