Freelance conspiratorial military operations groups, consisting of former and current members of special armed forces units and the structures of law enforcement, began to be set up in Russia in the 1980s.
Russia has about 30 state departments of armed law enforcement, and military operations sections were set up within each of them. It is hard to say whether this development was deliberately organised or spontaneous. It is, however, obvious that the FSB - Russia's Federal Security Services - tries to have its own people everywhere and, even if it does not always organise the groups in the formal sense of the word, it has controlled their activity, to a greater or lesser degree from the very beginning.
The story of the establishment in the Maritime Territory, in the Russian far east, of the group headed by the brothers Alexander and Sergei Larionov is an instructive example.
In the late 1980s, Alexander and Sergei Larionov were assigned to work in one of the largest production associations in Vladivostok, named Vostoktransflot. Once there, Sergei Larionov rapidly became the head of the association's Communist Youth Organisation. When the privatisation of the association began, the Larionov brothers somehow managed to find enough money to buy, either in person or through their representatives, a large block of shares in Vostoktransflot. Then they registered a security service at the company under the name of System SB. This became the basis for the most powerful and violent organised criminal group in the history of the Maritime Territory.
The Larionov brothers' men toured the military bases of the Pacific Fleet, approaching the commanders, or their deputies for personnel matters, and telling them they were hiring men due for transfer to the reserve for work in the special units of System SB, which dealt with the fight against organised crime. So after they were demobilised, members of military sabotage groups went to work for the Larionovs. Their group was structured along the same lines as the GRU, with its own intelligence and counter-intelligence sections, its own "cleaners", its own surveillance brigades, explosives specialists and analysts. State-of-the-art equipment was bought in Japan: radio scanners that could intercept pager messages and radio-telephone conversations, "bugs", night-vision devices, and directional microphones concealed in a variety of objects.
The Larionovs' brigade worked very closely with the secret services of the Maritime Territory, primarily with the naval intelligence service of the GRU. Contracts for the elimination of criminal "bosses" came from the local UFSB. The Larionovs' own analysts identified seven such bosses who headed groups which controlled businesses in Vladivostok. The brothers decided to "take them out" and take over the businesses for themselves.
The man at the top of the list was a bandit with the underworld name of Chekhov. Two "liquidators" from the Larionovs' brigade set up an ambush on a road outside the city and raked Chekhov's automobile with automatic weapons fire. When the driver leaped out of the car, he was killed by a shot to the head, and the wounded "boss" was taken into the low hills, doused with petrol, and set on fire.
An explosive device of massive power was thrown into the bedroom of another "condemned man". The target escaped unhurt, but the entrance hall of the apartment building collapsed, and four bystanders were killed.
In 1993, conflict arose within the group. One of its leaders, Vadim Goldberg, and his allies, kidnapped Alexander Larionov, took him out to the forest, and killed him by stabbing him dozens of times with knives. When he learned his brother was dead, Sergei Larionov went into hiding. Late in 1993, all the members of the group, including Sergei Larionov and Goldberg, were arrested by police detectives. At one of his first interrogations, Larionov declared that he wouldn't say anything yet, but he would tell everything he knew at the trial: everything about System SB and its controllers in the secret services. To prevent this from happening, Larionov was killed. He was being held in Vladivostok detention centre number one, in a solitary cell under heavy guard. While Larionov was on his way to another interrogation, a prisoner called Yevgeny Demianenko, who had been behind bars for 19 years, was led into the corridor in the opposite direction. As Demianenko passed Larionov, he pulled out a "point" and killed Larionov with a single blow.
The acts of vengeance against Larionov continued after he was dead. In 1999, unknown persons attempted to blow up his flat with his wife inside it, but she was not hurt. Some time later, a hired killer shot Larionov's lawyer, Nadezhda Samikhova. Rumours circulated in Vladivostok that "the secret services are getting rid of witnesses". The public prosecutor's office certainly took a suspiciously long time to bring the case to court. The investigation lasted for several years, and charges were only brought on January 14, 2000. The criminal case against the Larionovs' group amounted to 108 volumes, but there were only nine accused in the dock. Three of them left the court as free men, because the time they had spent in detention was counted against their sentence. The others were given jail sentences of eight to 15 years (Goldberg himself received a 15-year term).
There is good reason to believe that the brigade of the well-known Samara criminal "boss", Alexander Litvinka (known by the underworld nickname of Nissan), worked for the FSB. Litvinka lived in Ukraine. In the early 1980s, he arrived in Samara and, following a series of armed robberies, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. He emerged from the penal colonies as a "boss" and was given the nickname of Nissan for his love of Japanese automobiles. Having acquired the support of Samara "bosses", such as Dmitri Ruzlyaev ("Big Dima") and Mikhail Besfamilny ("Fiend"). Litvinka set up his own brigade, which consisted of karate experts who were strict teetotallers and obeyed orders unquestioningly.
Litvinka was soon involved in a war for control of the Volga Automobile Plant (VAZ). In early 1996, a meeting between representatives of two Samara criminal groupings was held at the Dubki Hotel. When the negotiations had been successfully concluded, four unknown persons shot the assembled delegates using Kalashnikovs. Four underworld "bosses" and one "legitimate villain" were killed. Litvinka was identified as one of the assailants, and he was arrested shortly afterwards. A month later he was released from jail, and no charges were brought against him. From that moment on, no one in criminal circles doubted that Litvinka worked for the secret services, and he was declared an outlaw at one of the "thieves' councils". To avoid being killed, Litvinka left the Samara Region and only appeared there on rare occasions, usually to carry out another contract killing of a gangland "boss". It seems clear that Litvinka was responsible for the killing of Ruzlyaev in Samara in 1998, and of the "boss" Konstantin Berkut in 1999.
On the afternoon of September 23, 2000, Alexander Litvinka was killed in Moscow in the vicinity of house number 27 on Krylatskie Kholmy Street. The shooting was carried out by four men. At the crime scene policemen found four pistols abandoned by the killers: two Makarovs with silencers, a Kedr automatic, and an Izh-Baikal. They also found a Makarov belonging to the victim. The assailants left the scene in a white VAZ-2107 automobile. We can only guess at who it was that eliminated Litvinka, FSB operatives or Samara "bosses".
The well-known Kurgan brigade of Alexander Solonik ("Sasha the Macedonian"), consisting mostly of former and current employees of the Russian secret services and military units, was also "run" by the secret services, in particular the SBP and FSB. The Kurgan group appeared in Moscow in the early 1990s and was taken over by the leader of the Orekhov group, Sergei Timofeiev ("Sylvester"). Timofeiev was an agent of the MB-FSK and maintained close contact with a former officer of the Fifth Department of the KGB USSR by the name of Maiorov, who later headed up one of the security organisations in the Toko Bank. Maiorov regularly visited the head of the Operations Department of the ATT, Lieutenant- General Ivan Kuzmich Mironov, the former secretary of the Communist Party organisation of the Fifth Department of the KGB USSR, who was now directly responsible for seeking out terrorists.
In the mid-1990s, major changes began taking place within the Orekhov group, when Timofeiev acquired a rival in the person of Sergei Butorin ("Osya"). In September 1994, Timofeiev was blown up in his Mercedes automobile. Then one by one people loyal to Timofeiev disappeared. Butorin created his own group, which included people from the Orekhov, Kurgan, and Medvedkov criminal organisations. His "cleaners" included special operations officers from the GRU, MVD, and VDV. Serving members of various military and law enforcement departments appeared in Butorin's entourage, including one lieutenant colonel from counter-intelligence (he was later accused of a number of serious crimes, but the charges were dropped).
In late 1994, three men by the names of Koligov, Neliubin, and Ignatov emerged as the clear leaders of the Kurgan group. The fame of the "Kurgan cleaners" spread throughout Russia. One of the most famous of the hitmen was Alexander Solonik, but the most active and dangerous killer in the group was called Konakhovich.
The Kurgan group fought a bitter war with another operation, the Bauman group. According to one of the agents who worked with the Kurgan group, during this war dozens of members of the Bauman brigade were killed, and usually they were first abducted and subjected to extremely cruel torture, including being burned and having their eyes put out, before they were eventually finished off. The Kurgan group called the members of the Bauman group "the beasts' brigade", and claimed that it included a number of Dagestanis. One reason that the war was fought was to gain control over one of the firms that sold American cars. But the real point was that the tyres of these were used to conceal drugs imported from Columbia.
The activities of the Kurgan group were monitored by the 12th Section of the MUR. Operational matters were handled by Oleg Plokhikh. Two members of the Kurgan organisation were finally arrested and put away in the Matrosskaya Tishina detention centre. In a conversation with his lawyer, one of them said that if they used psychotropic drugs on him he might break down and "spill" everything he knew about a dozen major contract killings, including that of the well-known television journalist Listiev. He asked to be transferred to Lefortovo jail and promised to begin cooperating with the investigation if they would give him definite guarantees of his safety, since the Kurgans had been responsible for many killings, including those of several so-called "legitimate villains", which were punishable by death under the unwritten laws of Russian prisons. MUR began preparations to move both the detainees, but they were too late. Information leaked out, and both Kurgans were killed on the same night, even though they were in different cells. It was a contract killing of two suspects whose testimony would have helped to solve a number of other sensational contract killings.
Solonik was luckier. After his arrest, he was put in a special wing at Matrosskaya Tishina, from where arrangements were made for his flight abroad, to Greece.
The rout of the Kurgans might have been the direct responsibility of the leader of the rival Koptev criminal organisation, Vasily Naumov ("Naum"), who was one of the MVD's secret agents. At one time, the Kurgans had gained the confidence of the Koptev organisation, and then, having identified almost all of their rivals' sources of income, they began doing away with the Koptev brigade's leaders. Realising just who was responsible, Naumov "shopped" the Kurgans to the 12th Section of MUR. Then the FSB became involved, because it didn't want the Kurgan group, which it ran, to be destroyed, and because it was afraid of information leaking out and causing a scandal. The FSB quickly figured out that information on the Kurgans was being supplied to the MUR by Naumov, who had close contacts with members of the Kurgan group. They informed the Kurgans of their discovery.
On 27 January 1997, Naumov, accompanied by his armed bodyguards from the police special operations group Saturn, arrived by car for a meeting with the MUR operations officer who was his contact at the GUVD building at 38 Petrovka Street. He called the officer on his mobile phone, asked him to join him outside, and waited in the car. While the officer was coming downstairs from his office, a Zhiguli automobile pulled in behind Naumov's car, and the men in it shot Naumov dead with automatic weapons. The Kurgans had made it clear that they knew about Naumov's collaboration with the MUR.
Agent Naumov's activities could not, however, have led to the destruction of the Kurgan group if not for two other circumstances. The first was that Korzhakov was removed from his post as head of the SBP, and the structure was subsequently dismantled.
Without Korzhakov's support, the Kurgans were vulnerable. The second was a "paid up" contract issued to the central administration of the MVD for the Kurgan group's destruction. The contract was "paid" by the Bauman bandits, who traditionally had good contacts in the MVD, and after Korzhakov's dismissal they were able to raise the matter of getting rid of the Kurgans in the ministry.
Apart from the MUR, the Kurgans were also being hunted down by Butorin, who gave orders for them to be shot. All of the murders planned by Butorin's group were thoroughly planned and executed at the level of professional secret services, including literally minute-by-minute reporting-in by participants in the operation. The intention was to gather together the core of the Kurgan operatives (Koligov, Neliubin, Ignatov, and Solonik) in Greece and kill them all at the same time.
Butorin's operation for the annihilation of Solonik's group was carried out under the control of the FSB or the GRU. This is probably why there was an information leak, and two weeks of round-the-clock observation of the Greek villa were wasted. Koligov, Neliubin, and Ignatov didn't turn up to see Solonik.
Then two people who were loyal to Butorin, Sasha the Soldier and Seriozha, both of whom knew Solonik, arrived at Solonik's house, called him out to the car, and drove off in the direction of Athens. On the way, Soldier, who was sitting in the rear seat, threw a noose over Solonik's neck and strangled him.
Meanwhile, operatives of the Moscow RUOP had set out to fly to Greece after receiving information from Butorin that Solonik lived in the small village of Baribobi, on the outskirts of Athens. Following the directions Butorin had given them, on 3 February 1997, the RUOP officers discovered Solonik's body. If they had arrived a day earlier, they might have found him alive. But the people who drew up the timetable for their operation knew just who should arrive where and when, and they were late precisely because they were not supposed to find Solonik alive.
That, in general terms, is the official version of events. What actually happened we shall never know. Solonik had left four audio-cassettes with his recorded memoirs in a numbered safe in a bank in Cyprus. In January 1997, a few days before he "met his end", he phoned his lawyer Valery Karyshev and asked him to publish the contents of the tapes in case of his death. When Solonik "departed" on 2 February, for some reason he took the money from his account with him. Somehow, Solonik's fingerprints disappeared from his case file, and the female friend who was with him in Baribobi disappeared into thin air.
With typical lawyer's alacrity, Karyshev published Solonik's tapes that same year, and it became clear that the book, which told a lot of stories, but without naming names, was Solonik's special insurance policy: "don't come looking for me, or I will name names". Incidentally, Butorin, who was put on the federal wanted list "for committing especially heinous crimes", was never found. They say he became a big businessman. He always had several foreign passports, so he could easily have left Russia altogether.
Another freelance special group was the organisation of GRU Colonel Valery Radchikov, the head of the Russian Fund for Afghan War Invalids. The group was founded in 1991 via the GRU. At the final count some 37 people connected with the invalids' fund were killed, and another 62 were injured.
In 1994, the fund's first manager, Mikhail Likhodei, was blown up in the entrance of his apartment block. In October 1995, Radchikov only survived by a miracle when he was seriously wounded by six bullets but managed to evade the killers who attacked him in his car. However, his legal advisor and deputy, Dmitri Mateshev, never recovered consciousness and died following the shoot-out. On 10 November 1996, 14 people were blown to pieces and 26 mutilated by an explosion at the Kotlyakovskoe Cemetery. The dead included Likhodei's widow, Elena Krasnolutskaya, who was the financial director at the invalids' fund, and Likhodei's friend and successor, Sergei Trakhirov. Radchikov was accused of planning the bombing. On 3 September 1998, when Radchikov was already in jail, another of his assistants, the general director of a new Afghan War fund, Valery Vukolov, was shot dead.
For all these years, money had been embezzled from the fund, which, after all, is the norm in Russia, but the extent of the embezzlement was exceptional. The most conservative estimates put the amount at about $200m (£100m). The case was investigated by the finest men in the public prosecutor's office, led by the investigator for especially important cases, Danilov. He was assisted by four other "bigwigs" and over 100 operatives (making in total a team of more than 180). But they were unable to work out where the millions stolen from the Afghan War invalids had gone. Radchikov himself was accused of stealing only two-and-a-half million dollars.
A few days after Radchikov's arrest, his deputy at the fund, Valery Voshchevoz, who monitored all of the fund's cash flows and was one of Yeltsin's agents for the presidential campaign of 1996, was hastily dispatched to the Amur region as the president's plenipotentiary representative. The trial of Radchikov and his two accomplices, Mikhail Smurov and Andrei Anokhin, lasted 10 months. On 17 January 2000, the state prosecutor demanded sentences of 13, 15, and 10 years for the accused.
Radchikov was accused of plotting in 1996 to kill his competitor in the "Afghan movement", the chairman of the invalids' fund, Sergei Trakhirov, and of giving a pistol and at least $50,000 for this purpose to one of his neighbours in the apartment block, the Afghan War veteran Andrei Anokhin. He, in turn, persuaded Mikhail Smurov to take part in the murder for $10,000.
Killing Trakhirov was not easy. Everywhere he went he was accompanied by bodyguards from the Vityaz unit, which was under the command of Sergei Ivanovich Lysiuk, who worked closely with the FSB. "Hero of Russia" Lysiuk, the founder and first commander of the Vityaz interior forces' special operations unit of the MVD RF, had been recruited into the ranks of the secret agents of the Special Section of the KGB when he was still a senior lieutenant. The last member of the special service to act as Lysiuk's contact was the head of the military counter-intelligence unit, Vladimir Yevgenievich Vlasov, who actually removed Lysiuk's name from the listings of the FSB's secret agents (so that he would not be given a new controller) and made him a so-called "archive agent". (Lysiuk won his "Hero of Russia" for commanding the Vityaz unit in the defence of the Ostankino television centre in 1993. He was the one who gave the order to open fire on the supporters of the putsch.)
Under the new circumstances, Vlasov was one of Lysiuk's deputies in his commercial firm. Operational information indicates that the commercial activities of Lysiuk's firm included training contract killers, including members of Lazovsky's group, but Lysiuk himself might not have known anything about that, even though the Moscow region criminal investigation department reported frequent sightings of Lazovsky at Lysiuk and Vlasov's base.
So the conspirators decided to blow up Trakhirov at the Kotlyakovskoe Cemetery during the wake for Mikhail Likhodei, the chairman of the Afghan War invalids' fund who was killed in 1994. Amazingly enough, just a few days before the bombing, Trakhirov's bodyguards were changed. The new bodyguards were killed in the explosion, but the old ones from Vityaz survived. We can assume that Lysiuk might have known about the forthcoming assassination attempt from Vlasov or other people in his entourage.
The court hearings on the case of the bombing concluded on 18 April. The accused were offered a final word, and all three of them said that they had "nothing at all" to do with the terrorist attack, and thus asked the court to find them innocent. Radchikov's lawyer, P Yushin, declared that the case had been deliberately fabricated.
On 21 January, the Moscow District Military Court, under the chairmanship of Colonel of Justice Vladimir Serdiukov, acquitted the accused because "their involvement in the crime committed had not been proved". The court regarded the arguments of the investigation into the case of the explosion at Kotlyakovskoe Cemetery as unconvincing. The acquittal was founded on the results of the court's analysis of the remains of the explosive device, which diverged significantly from the results of the analysis carried out during the investigation.
In addition, a female acquaintance of one of the accused, Mikhail Smurov, testified that on the day of the explosion Smurov was at home and could not possibly have set off the explosive device, as the investigators accused him of doing.
Valery Radchikov was also acquitted on the charge of embezzling two-and-a-half million dollars from the fund. All three accused were released directly from the courtroom. On 25 July, 2000, the Public Prosecutor's Office lost its appeal to the Supreme Court for the acquittal to be set aside. Radchikov was intending to take the dispute to the European Court. However, at about eight o'clock in the evening on 31 January 2001, he was killed in an automobile accident 39 kilometres along the Minsk Highway on his way back to Moscow in a Moskvich 2141 automobile. That same day the Novosti press agency announced that the law enforcement agencies were of the opinion that Radchikov's death might not have been a simple accident.
Dozens of dead bodies, millions of dollars missing, and not a single criminal caught - taken altogether this is simply a statistical impossibility for the world of crime. And you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out which group was behind this complicated and highly successful game in which the main player suffered a fatal automobile accident at such a convenient moment.
This is an edited extract from 'Blowing up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror' by Alexander Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky, published by Gibson Square, priced £14.99. To order a copy for the special price of £13.50 call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk
The Russian secret services
FSB: Federal Security Service, effectively the latter-day KGB
UFSB: Regional FSB
GRU: Russian Ministry of Defence's foreign military intelligence operation
MB-FSK: Ministry of Security and the Federal Counter-intelligence Service. (The KGB, effectively, was first renamed as MB, then as FSK, and only later as FSB)
SBP: President's Security Service
MVD RF: Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation
ATT: Anti-terrorist centre of the FSB
GUVD: Division of the MVD