The news broke first on Ibansk.com, as it often does these days, the hyperbolic blog having filled the void left by the Kremlin-controlled media for informative, if overheated, news of the New Russia. They say even Putin reads it—secretly, of course. Citizen Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov, the anonymous impresario behind Ibansk, was digging in the Cheka’s graveyard again, a favorite spot of his and a dangerous place to be found with a shovel. No one’s caught on to Ivanov yet, but plenty of people would happily see him buried. I know because I know a lot of them. As I read his latest post, I had the feeling the list just got longer.
Has a final chapter been written in one of Ibansk’s more sordid tales—that’s saying something, no?—the greed-driven life and none-too-early death of one of New Russia’s most notorious oligarchs? Or is this the first entry in a new book of mystery and deceit?
Anatoly Kosokov. Even longtime denizens of Ibansk will be scratching their heads, pulling at the cords of memory. Kosokov? Who the hell, pray tell, is Kosokov? Abramovich, Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky—sure, all well-known names, although two live in London, one in Tel Aviv, and one in solitary confinement in Siberia. But Kosokov?
Ivanov asks, how soon we forget? Patience. He will explain all.
Kosokov wasn’t as flamboyant as his fellow thieves. He didn’t buy yachts, estates in England or France, or football clubs. Still, he was just as ruthless and made himself almost as rich—until the end.
An accountant by training, Kosokov worked in the vast aparat of the Soviet Finance Ministry. His sister married one of Yeltsin’s chief aides. Sounding more familiar? In the early years of transition, he acquired a series of banks and built them into Rosnobank, Russia’s third largest. He was worth billions. Then came the financial crisis of 1998, the collapse of the GKOs (an Ibanskian version of a financial guarantee if there ever was one), and the devaluation of the ruble. Fortunes evaporated overnight, including Kosokov’s. Or did it?
I remembered Kosokov. A short, coarse, ambitious man, too sure of himself by half. He made a point of telling you how well he knew everyone from Yeltsin on down. Exactly the kind of guy to make a killing in Russia’s train-wreck transition to capitalism. He wasn’t one of us—us being the Cheka, Lenin’s original and still my preferred name for the ChK/GPU/OGPU/KVD/NKVD/MVD/MGB/KGB/SVR/FKB/FSB. Most know it as the KGB, or today’s acronym, FSB. The secret police by any label you choose.
Kosokov was always around, acting as if he belonged. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but it seemed odd, looking back. The Cheka has always taken care of itself first, and we were under attack from all sides back then, following the failed Gorbachev coup and the collapse of the Party. Kosokov was one who argued loud and long for putting us out of business. Our paths might have become intertwined later on, but I was long gone by then, and he, of course, had disappeared. Or had he?
I went back to Ibansk.com.
Rosnobank didn’t fail until a year later, October 1999. Rumors abounded—embezzlement, money laundering, financing ties to Chechen terrorists. The answers went up in smoke—literally, along with the depositors’ funds—in a spectacular fire that gutted the headquarters tower in central Moscow. Arson, certainly, but as with so many such investigations in Ibansk, the perpetrators were never found, even though this was without doubt a sophisticated crime involving much preparation and many hands. Nine dead, the life savings of millions—gone. Depositors queued for weeks to find they had nothing left. But this is Ibansk—who gives a damn about them?
The authorities went looking for Kosokov, although just what they planned to do if they found him is still a question. The case foundered, and in due course fell onto the slag heap of forgotten offenses.
Until now. A charred corpse has been unearthed—a decade old!—in an old Soviet shelter beneath the burned-out barn at Kosokov’s dacha in the Valdai Hills. And Ivanov is told—sssshhhhh!—in strictest confidence, by sources too well placed not to know, that DNA tests will prove it to be the body of Anatoly Kosokov.
Ivanov will neither waste bandwidth nor insult intelligence by listing the myriad questions this discovery raises. He will, however, go looking for answers. Keep your browsers open to Ibansk. Ivanov is on the case!
Even as an ex-Chekist, I don’t try to defend the Soviet system. I lived it on all sides, experienced everything it could inflict, for forty years. I still have the scars. I moved to New York to get away from my past and to keep some distance from the cauldron of Wild West capitalism, pseudo-democracy, and Cheka control we now refer to as the New Russia. Ivanov’s more direct. He calls it Ibansk, which translates roughly as Fucktown. Making a clean break is never easy, though, especially in this global age, even forty-seven hundred miles and an ocean away.
We have a saying in Russia. If a pig comes to your table, he will put his feet on it. Trouble is, no one tells you how to spot the pig.
Copyright © 2011 by David Duffy