‘She always had her own opinion’. Galina Starovoitova’s assistant Ruslan Linkov on her murder and the servile majority that prevents the building of a democratic Russia
Galina Starovoitova [Wikipedia]

20 November 2023

by Andrei Presnyakov

Source: Spektr.Press

On 20 November 1998 one of the most notorious political murders of modern Russia took place. Galina Starovoitova, one of the most prominent democratic politicians of the 1990s, was killed by assassins In St. Petersburg in the entrance to her apartment building.

Starovoitova became known as a People’s Deputy of the USSR in 1989. She was then elected to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR and later to the State Duma of Russia. In 1991-1992, she worked as an adviser to President Boris Yeltsin on interethnic relations.

The cornerstone of her political and public activities was the defence of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. Starovoitova took part in the development of the laws ‘On Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression’, ‘On Alternative Civic Service’, ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations’, ‘On the Rights of National-Cultural Associations’ and many others. She was the author of the second chapter of the Russian Constitution: ‘Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms.’

On 20 November 1998, Starovoitova died. The investigation into her murder continues to this day. It is the second longest Russian investigation, second only to the case of the execution of the royal family of Nicholas II in 1918. Those who ordered the killing and most of the perpetrators of the crime have not been found. The first arrests of those directly involved in the murder of Galina Starovoitova were made only in 2002. Seven years later, the criminal authority and ex-member of the State Duma Mikhail Glushchenko, who had been charged with organising the attempt on Starovoitova’s life, found himself in the hanDemocratic Union of the law. He, in turn, testified against another well-known criminal authority, the leader of theTambov organised crime group Vladimir Barsukov (Kumarin). The trial in this case is still to come, but in 2019 Barsukov was sentenced to 24 years in a strict regime colony when convicted on a number other charges.

When Galina Starovoitova was shot dead by assassins 25 years ago, her aide and press secretary Ruslan Linkov was next to her. He was seriously wounded but miraculously survived. Only many years after that terrible evening he was able to leave the house without a bodyguard. Today Ruslan Linkov spoke to Spektr magazine and told us how the murder investigation had proceeded, what the investigation missed, and what made Galina Starovoitova different from most Russian politicians of the 1990s.

– How did you meet Galina Starovoitova and become a member of her team?

– In 1988, the first legal opposition party, the Democratic Union (DEMOCRATIC UNION), was established in the former Soviet Union. Its programme provided for the dismantling of the “evil empire”, which had existed for almost 70 years by that time: banning the activities of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, dissolving the KGB and all communist power structures, lustration and so on. I was a member of the DEMOCRATIC UNION. I took part in numerous street protests and rallies, which usually ended being broken up and arrests made. In St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) they took place most often at the Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt. That was our traditional place of gathering and protests, but we also organised them on Palace Square. For example, on 23 August 1989, DEMOCRATIC UNION held a rally there in solidarity with the Baltic States, supporting their independence as part of the ‘Baltic Way’ protest.

In the process of preparing such rallies and discussing various political issues, I met Galina Vasilyevna. At that time, she had been elected People’s Deputy of the USSR from Armenia and periodically participated in opposition rallies. She supported our ideas to return the name of St. Petersburg to the city, supported our programme related to the prohibition of the KGB and the CPSU, was one of the initiators of the abolition of Article 6 of the USSR Constitution (which established the monopoly of the CPSU in ideology).

On the initiative of several USSR deputies, in particular academician Andrei Sakharov, with whom Galina Vasilyevna was actively working at the time, Article 6 was cancelled in March 1990. Unfortunately, this happened after Sakharov’s death. In fact, his passing was the catalyst for this decision.

It was in this situation that I met Galina Vasilyevna, we kept in touch and worked together. She suggested that I and several other colleagues, friends, and like-minded people from Democratic Union join her team. As a result, I worked with her for nine years, until her tragic death.

– The investigation has been going on for 25 years. Obviously, you, as the only witness, were at its epicentre. How did the investigation go back in November 1998, when it was possible to find the perpetrators and those who ordered the killing while the trail was still hot, as they say?

– I should note that different investigators were involved in this case. Some of them had a clearly expressed political position. In the first days after the murder, when I came to my senses and I was transferred from the intensive care unit to a regular ward, they came to say that in principle they understood why Galina Vasilyevna was killed.

In their opinion, Starovoitova allegedly did not think about the Russian people at all, but was always defending “some national minorities: the Jews, the Armenians, the Tatars”. I’m actually quoting this. Such national-patriotic rhetoric was heard from the mouths of criminal investigation officers. Accordingly, these people were not particularly interested in finding the real criminals. They tried to transfer the case from the political to the domestic plane and convince their superiors it was a case of a banal robbery or something similar.

– This version did appear in the media shortly after Starovoitova’s murder, but it was quickly refuted by Sergei Stepashin, then Minister of the Interior. He was travelling to St. Petersburg at the time.

– President Boris Yeltsin instructed Stepashin to oversee the investigation. I must pay tribute to Sergei Vadimovich, who made quite a lot of effort to solve the crime, but he soon left this position and could no longer supervise the investigation.

Do you know when one of the heads of the investigation team asked me about the reasons and motives for the terrorist act committed against Galina Vasilyevna? Only in 2017. Count how many years had passed since 1998. Almost 20!

Naturally, I gave detailed testimony, and it was all legally drawn up. Unfortunately, I cannot share what was written there now, as I am bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

I can only say that the investigation is still ongoing. Three perpetrators are wanted in the case of the assassination of Galina Vasilyevna. One is the person who fired the gun, the second is the person who organised the surveillance of Galina Vasilyevna, who was also involved in the destruction of evidence. And the third was the person in charge of them. International arrest warrants, via Interpol, have been issued for all three of them.

There is also someone who was previously arrested, who in April 2019 the FSB accused of participation in the organisation of Starovoitova’s murder. He is now held on remand. This is Vladimir Barsukov (Kumarin). It is often written about him in the media that he was directly related to the leadership of the Tambov organised criminal group in St. Petersburg.

– It was Mikhail Glushchenko, who was detained in 2009 as one of the organisers of Galina Vasilyevna’s murder, who testified against Vladimir Barsukov (Kumarin). Do you believe that Glushchenko actually repented, or did he just make a deal with the investigation? So if he puts the blame on Barsukov, he himself won’t get a life sentence?

– It is difficult for me to speak about the motives of a criminal by the name of Glushchenko. I would consider his actions and statements in the general context of his biography. This is an anti-hero from criminal circles. He grew out of the sports environment of the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1990s, he became famous throughout Russia as a gangster belonging to the Tambov criminal group. He has a large number of offences on his record. The trials against him continue.

At the same time his previous biography and significant events in his life did not prevent Glushchenko in 1995 from buying a mandate of a State Duma deputy from LDPR from Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Protecting himself from law enforcement agencies with a deputy’s immunity, he committed various crimes on an even larger scale. He used the administrative opportunities that the status of a people’s elected representative gave him. The parliamentary seat allowed the gangster to exert a certain influence on ministers, heads of various state structures and monopolies, mayors, governors and so on. He always organised his behaviour on the basis of his own criminal perceptions and personal gain.

What interest he now has in testifying against Barsukov is a difficult question. As far as I know, he did it using a polygraph. The forensic examination showed that Glushchenko shared information about Barsukov quite openly.

– The investigation into the murder of Galina Vasilyevna has been going on for many years. Are there any points that have not yet come to the attention of investigators from different agencies?

– I would point out the very important circumstance that the ideological element is no longer part of the investigation. It follows from the materials of the case against Glushchenko and his other subordinates and associates who were previously convicted that those who ordered the killing turned to Glushchenko for the execution of this terrorist act for a reason. Glushchenko had in his team mainly representatives of the Black Hundred organisation – the Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky Foundation. This was an anti-Semitic, pseudo-Orthodox organisation which also had the status of a private security company licenced to use weapons and special equipment. These Black Hundreds carried out surveillance of Galina Vasilyevna, which lasted about six months. They tapped her home phone and selected a place for the assassination attempt. Initially they planned to use a sniper, who was to shoot from the roof of the opposite house on the Griboyedov Canal. Then they chose another option – a murder in the main entrance hall.

And every day, ideological propagandising was taking place in the office of these Black Hundreds. A certain priest Father Roman, or the surname of this man was Romanov (the investigation did not fully specify this episode), came to them and ‘preached’ that Starovoitova was ‘an enemy of the Russian people, a Mossad spy, a CIA agent, MI 6’ and so on. She allegedly ruined the Soviet Union and should be killed for that. Such ‘suggestions’ were also made daily in the form of prayer services.

Unfortunately, this ideological incitement of the wretched and mostly uneducated killers, was left out of the investigation. As well as the story concerning the former press secretary of Metropolitan John of Leningrad and Ladoga – Konstantin Dushenov. During the investigation and trial Dushenov gave false testimony, trying to create an alibi for the day of the murder of Galina Vasilyevna for his friend Yury Kolchin, the man in charge of the group of killers. This circumstance was proved by the court. Kolchin, a former GRU warrant officer, was Mikhail Glushchenko’s ‘right-hand man.’

Dushenov convinced the court that Kolchin could not have followed Galina Starovoitova that evening of 20 November, secretly following her car from the airport to her house on the Griboyedov Canal. But the billing information on Kolchin’s phone said otherwise. Nevertheless, Dushenov was not prosecuted, although it turned out that he gave false testimony. Incidentally, the case file showed that the former press secretary of the Metropolitan had repeatedly visited the offices of the Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky Foundation.

– You have repeatedly called the participants in the organisation of Galina Vasilyevna’s murder ‘Black Hundreds.’ Is this a figurative expression?

– No, they identified themselves that way. Dushenov at the time was publishing a newspaper called Rus pravoslavnaya [Orthodox Russia]. Kolchin and his men printed a supplement to this publication called The Black Hundred, without hiding their ideology.

In St. Petersburg, these individuals also ensured the existence of the local branch of the Party of Spiritual Revival of Russia, which was headed by Zhirinovsky’s sister. When in 1999 the LDPR was removed from the elections (in fact, because Vladimir Volfovich included a huge number of leading criminal figures in his lists), this party became the substitute for the LDPR.

On its basis, Zhirinovsky formed an organisation called the Zhirinovsky Bloc, and with it he eventually made it to the State Duma. This party in St. Petersburg was organised from Glushchenko’s office.

The whole ideological background somehow escaped the gaze of the investigation. The court eventually found that the terrorists – the perpetrators of this crime – were guided by political motives, their goal was to stop the public, political and state activity of Galina Starovoitova. However, the court did not indicate what specific political motives moved the perpetrators to the terrorist act and murder.

– Was the court able to give any assessment of the ideological views of the defendants?

– Everything that was heard in court and was in the materials of the criminal case at that time should have been the basis for a fresh investigation on the basis of newly discovered circumstances. A whole range of other people should have been charged. The same ‘pseudo-priest’ should have been sought out. It was necessary to bring this case of a gang of perpetrators to its logical conclusion, not to mention those who ordered the killing and who have still not been found or named.

As for Dushenov, the fact of his perjury has been established and recorded directly by the court. There is an article in the Russian Criminal Code that provides for liability for such things, but he has not been charged. He has been put out of the picture.

– Let’s move on from the investigation to Galina Vasilyevna’s political legacy. There is an opinion that after 19 August 1991 the democrat supporters of Boris Yeltsin who came to power had no real interest in democratising society. Starovoitova’s views quickly diverged from Yeltsin’s after he became president of Russia. How would you define her place in the political arena in the mid-1990s?

– She was always known for having her own opinion and an independent view on most issues. In the autumn of 1991, shortly after the failure of the GKChP putsch, she managed to stop an almost imminent war in Chechnya.

Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation, was on holiday at the time. Acting Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi, together with Ruslan Khasbulatov, chair of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, decided to send troops into Grozny to overthrow President Dzhokhar Dudaev. It was then that the first blood would have been shed in the republic. And many generals were unhappy that Galina Starovoitova stopped this Chechen war, forced them to turn back the troops that were on their way to Grozny.

At that time she was on a business trip to Helsinki and Stockholm and negotiated with the prime ministers of Finland and Sweden. From there she eventually reached Boris Yeltsin with calls and telegrams and persuaded him to stop what Rutskoi and Khasbulatov were doing.

– Was that the reason for her break with Boris Yeltsin?

– It was the precondition for a further split. The final point before her resignation as President Yeltsin’s adviser on inter-ethnic relations was when the same generals, as well as Russian Deputy Prime Minister Georgy Khizha and the head of North Ossetia, Akhsarbek Galazov, organised ethnic cleansing of the Ingush people in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia in the autumn of 1992.

After this happened, Galina Starovoitova strongly criticised Yeltsin’s policies and the actions of the Russian armed forces and security services. She condemned the deportation of 65,000 Ingush from the Prigorodny district and the bloody massacre that accompanied this ethnic cleansing. This was the basis for her resignation, as well as the resignation of Gennady Burbulis (Russian State Secretary) who supported her. Yegor Gaidar’s government soon followed the same path out.

– Galina Starovoitova resigned in November 1992, and already in December she submitted to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation a draft law ‘On the ban on professions for those who implemented the policies of the totalitarian regime.’ It was about lustration. Why was she not supported even by her comrades-in-arms in the democratic camp then and in 1997, when she submitted a similar document to the State Duma?

– A large number of people who called themselves democrats and liberals, who formed the backbone of the first democratic parties and popular fronts, were in one way or another connected with the very bodies we were opposing. As a result, we had to face fierce resistance within the democratic movement – from those people who had either signed up to co-operate with the KGB or were themselves employees of these structures.

The second category of people who opposed lustration within the democratic camp were former functionaries of the CPSU, i.e. people who had held quite high positions in the Party apparatus. They were afraid of losing their influence and career opportunities. Their resistance was the reason why Boris Yeltsin, when this bill was first presented to him, asked Galina Vasilyevna: ‘Do you want to lustrate me too?’ She replied, ‘Yes, if you have violated human rights and persecuted dissenters.’

It is clear that Boris Nikolayevich himself, of course, would hardly fall under the scope of this law, but some of his inner circle could well have been lustrated. Many of the heads of the security services he reappointed after August 1991 were naturally liable to be banned from the profession, and some might even have been put on trial for crimes they committed in persecuting dissidents.

– The situation with former KGB and Party nomenklatura officers was clear even then. But why did even people like human rights activist Elena Bonner oppose Galina Vasilyevna’s proposal?

– Life has shown that not all the arguments put forward by the opponents of the lustration law have stood the test of time. I have respect and great affection for Elena Bonner, and I can say that her position changed later on. Later she was in favour of putting communist ideology on trial, something which unfortunately never took place.

Boris Yeltsin did not initiate the relevant international legal procedures. It was important to have organised this process not just within Russia, but as an interstate one, involving all the countries of the former socialist camp that had suffered from communist regimes and their ‘combat units’ like the KGB. Although time has been lost, there is still a chance to carry out such a process. Another question is who will initiate it, how and when will it be done?

I remember that opponents of the law on lustration and opponents of the trial of the CPSU-KGB used to say: ‘We should not organise a witch-hunt.’ Now we see that it was the rejection of lustration and the trial of criminal communist ideology and practice that allowed the ‘witches’ to go on a hunt for decent people.

– In 1996, during the presidential election, Starovoitova actually stood against Yeltsin as a candidate. She was not registered, but the fact remains. The situation was quite tense: Yeltsin was in bad physical shape, and Ziuganov looked like a real rival. Why did Galina Vasilyevna decide not to support Yeltsin in such a situation, but to put herself forwards as a candidate?

– She did so, firstly, because she was against the war in the Chechen Republic unleashed by the Russian government. Yeltsin was responsible for this crime. Secondly, she believed that there was a real danger that Boris Yeltsin, for health reasons, would not be able to make it to the end of the election campaign and would thus hand over power to Ziuganov, a Stalinist communist. Doubts were also present as to whether Yeltsin would subsequently be able to fully govern the state. She considered it irresponsible for the Democrats not to nominate a candidate. In her view, unconditional support for a man for whose benefit and in whose service political projects were created, as was the case with Boris Nikolaevich at a certain period in history, was clearly wrong. We remember how such ‘parties of power’ as Democratic Choice of Russia and then Our Home is Russia were conceived and born.

Galina Vasilyevna believed that parties cannot be built from above. They should correspond to the demands of citizens and society, not those of the power elites and nomenklatura. It is not the government and presidential administration that should dictate to the parties their next steps and actions, but the parties themselves with their programmes should influence the political course by criticising the government and the president. Therefore, she ran for office to implement her own political views.

She had quite a large number of enemies in the presidential administration. For example, Alexander Vasilyevich Korzhakov, the head of President Yeltsin’s Security Service. The ‘grey cardinal’ who made every effort to remove Galina Vasilyevna from the 1996 presidential election, even though 1.2 million signatures of voters across the country were collected in her support.

In addition, many generals in Yeltsin’s entourage remembered their fears and misgivings about the fact that at one point Galina Starovoitova was being considered for the post of Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation. I watched them come to her reception room with armfuls of flowers and sit for hours waiting for her to arrive from rallies, sessions of the Supreme Soviet and other events to pay their respects. Some begged for positions, such as military attaché of the Russian Federation at the Russian embassy in Washington.

Obviously, the military were afraid that a civilian Minister of Defence, especially Starovoitova, would be able to carry out serious reform of the army, eliminate the slavery of conscription, and prevent new military conflicts and insane corruption, which during these conflicts, provoked by high-placed military officials, flourished and enriched the Russian generals.

– Already after she was being reported as the next defence minister, in 1992, Galina Vasilyevna uttered the phrase: ‘The only guarantee [of the country’s democratisation] today is the will of an enlightened part of the population, which is not so large.’ Did she think that the overthrow of  the Soviet regime was only supported by a minority? Or that a majority of Russians were ready to support any regime in power?

– She believed there should be leaders who would not follow the public opinion that dominated the post-Soviet space, because it was unfortunately mostly slavish in nature. This was characterised by obedience and a readiness to serve, to be subjects, not citizens, a population not people. It is clear that in such a situation democratic leaders should have worked to form a new agenda, to actually educate citizens and explain their rights. Most of Starovoitova’s political activity was connected with such work of enlightenment. And she was probably killed because she spoke out about this, unlike many other leaders of the democratic movement. She was not silent and tried to explain to people their rights in clear language, telling them how these rights could and should be used.

Galina did not immediately join Yeltsin’s team. As has already been mentioned, she first worked with academician and human rights activist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. When the offer to join Yeltsin’s team came, she consulted with Sakharov about whether he thought it was the right thing to do. Andrei Dmitrievich then said that it was very important to be able to influence the policy that would be developed by a potential presidential candidate from the democratic forces.

Unfortunately, however, Boris Yeltsin soon began to rely not on independent-minded and professional reformers, principled democrats and human rights activists capable of defending democratic principles and ideals, but on a servile bureaucratic mass. This systemic nomenklatura, which had survived from Soviet times, quickly took control of Yeltsin and turned the country and its citizens into hostages to their own interests – as it had been in Russia before, during the times of serfdom and Bolshevism.

Translated by Rights in Russia

Leave a Reply