The talented investigative reporter, 27, died on Monday when a briefcase he had been given by a contact turned out to contain not documents as he had expected but a bomb which blew up as he unlocked it. 'It was not supposed to happen this way,' were the journalist's last words in the grubby ambulance taking him to Moscow's Sklifosofsky hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Another journalist, Katya Deyeva, was injured in the blast.
Kholodov's death was overshadowed by media preoccupation with the Queen's visit to Russia. Here was just another mafia killing, it seemed to reporters whose concern on Monday night was reporting the monarch's appearance at the Bolshoi theatre.
But Mr Gusev quickly refocused priorities when he accused the leaders of the Russian army and the former KGB of assassinating his reporter. 'I am sure the strands of the murder lead to the FSK (Federal Counter-Intelligence Service), to the command of the Western Army Group and directly to (Defence Minister Pavel) Grachev,' he said.
The Defence Minister vehemently denied the accusation, saying Mr Gusev's judgement was blurred by emotion.
President Boris Yeltsin supported Mr Grachev, saying there was 'one reason' behind the campaign against him: the opposition could not forgive him for the role he played 'defending democracy in October 1993', when he sent troops to Moscow to put down the rebellion of the Soviet-era parliament. Mr Yeltsin went on to propose the issuing of licences to journalists investigating crime and corruption, which he thought might help to protect them against the mafias.
Whether or not military leaders ordered Kholodov's killing, they had strong reason to dislike him. He had been delving into the activities of the GRU (military intelligence), which he believed was training terrorists and mafia killers. He had poked his nose into areas of ethnic tension such as the Caucasus, where the Russian army does not appreciate interference. Even more provocatively, he had written bold articles on how officers from the Western Army Group, which withdrew from Germany this summer, had enriched themselves. He alleged they had been involved in car theft and arms smuggling.
Moskovsky Komsomolets, formerly the organ of the young Communists, has become somewhat sensationalist since the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, freed the press with his policy of glasnost, but colleagues said Kholodov's work was always well researched. So much information had he collected, in fact, that he was due to give evidence on corruption in the Western Army Group to parliament.
There is no doubt that Russian soldiers were reluctant to leave Germany, which was regarded as a comfortable posting. General Grachev said just before the withdrawal at the end of August that Russian soldiers should have been given 15 years to pull out instead of just four.
Apparently Kholodov had been hoping for more dirt on the Western Army Group when he went to Moscow's Kazan railway station to pick up the briefcase which his contact had stowed in the left- luggage room. The contact was an agent of the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service, whom Kholodov had always found reliable. The reporter waited until he was back in his office before opening the deadly case.
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