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Colonel Savelyev's exploit
Written by /Nikolai Nikolayev   
, 18 2005

'Novaya gazeta'

What went on behind the scenes of a famous report

The pager reported the seizure of a hostage at the Swedish embassy. Ineeded get to the scene with a film crew as quickly as possible. They'd already send a car there with some spare cassettes, batteries, hand lights, and a mobile telephone so that we could 'go live.' Back then we didn't have minibuses with satellite dishes and generators and their own television transmitter. Backthen the whole information service had four mobile phones. Ourgovernment competitors didn't even havethese.

The novice cameraman grew quiet upon learning of our forthcoming, unplanned filming. Apparently he was immersed in unrealizable dreams of the big cinema. Weonly just made it to

Mosfilm Street

as police were blocking that section of the road.

Almost all of those who made it to the embassy print and film correspondents and photographers greeted each other, and added with a smile: "Happy State Security Agent Day!” The seizure of hostage actually interrupted the celebratory feast taking place after the official portion of the annual celebration of the founding of the VChK ('Cheka'), on December 20th.

A wall of non-celebratory special services leaders' backs stood darkly worrying behind the fence of the embassy. In Astrakhan
fur or evening dress hats, fashionable caps, fine coiffures and bald spots all were turned away from us, betraying a stormy conversation. Judging by everything, the security chiefs in their holiday finery gave birth to the hostage rescue plan at the very moment they were observing the proceedings just 70meters from them, within the walls of Swedish embassy.

Commercial representative Jan Ulof Nustrome was taken hostage by a tall person in a ski-mask. Theaggressor was threatening the Swede with a grenade and required, at first 10, then 30million dollars and an aircraft ready to take him to a country which he would report only to pilots.

We got into a good location, after arranging the camera so that it was possible to view the rare, even by 1997standard, two-door Volvo-343 automobile. Thehostage sat at the wheel, and the, terrorist was in the passengerseat.

From time to time minibuses drove up and stopped at the fence. Through the loose blinds of the side windows, one could see snipers concentrated within. Soldiers with rifles also lay on the roof of the embassy entrance. Among the freezing cameramen and the reporters strolled OMON (SWAT) policemen, loudly warning that the terrorist was careless, and he could at any moment go from words to deeds and grenade splinters would definitely find us. Black humor came to our aid. Thecameraman stayed in his previous position. Itwas possible to possible to convince that OMON members that the security authorities would not allow our loss, since in the literal sense they had already rose to our defense. Wesucceeded, but whether from natural fearlessness, or from whatever remained from the celebrations, the security chiefs were somehow undisturbed by the fact that their line would be the first to receivefire.

Text was recorded by telephone after regular thawing out in the automobile. Outof foppishness, Ifroze in my fashionable fall boots. Inthe spirit of I'll sing about what Isaw, it was necessary to record two-three minutes of text each time. Myrecorded voice was reassembled at ‘Ostankino’ on top of pictures from the videocassettes, which were delivered from the scene by a backupcar.

Ihad to go talk with the cameraman. Ihad no right to ask him to film when things were exploding or the wild shooting started. Buthow could Ihint that we came here not to escape from bullets and shrapnel, but to film as others were rescued? Though he was dressed warmer than I, the cameraman no less frozen. Itwas the fellow's first big break as a news reporter, a real baptism by television. Youdon't, you pronounce some password, to which a sign is given in answer, and we understood that we would film until the end, not matter what happened.

When they start shooting, I'll take the tripod, and you film from the shoulder. I'll take the spare battery and videocassettes in my bag.

That's it, now he knows the rules. Hisfirst day of work can become his last not just due to superfluous heroism, but due to the usual cowardice. Hedoesn't say anything. Itlooked like he'd chosen a middle course.

A silhouette separated itself from the
Astrakhan hats. Inthe headlights stood a thickset person in a short jacket. Thesleeves of his dress-white shirt were unbuttoned. Theman walked was wrapped in the short jacket, the open sleeves and collar of his white dress shirt visible. Theman walked up to the car. Hestopped by the driver's side door. While leaning against the roof, he began saying something to those sitting in the Volvo through the lowered window.

An ambulance with its siren blaring drives up to the embassy building and stopped just behind the backs of Lyubyanka's key personnel.

Then suddenly, the driver's side door of the hostage's automobile was thrown open. TheSwede yielded his place to the man in the jacket, and noticeably fussing, in an instant he was mincing down the glassy corridor of the embassy, hurrying to enter the territory of his sovereign government. Sovereign, though surrounded by Russian Alpha-team soldiers and snipers.

In 15minutes the reporters found out that they succeeded in switching the hostage for a counter-espionage colonel by the name of Anatoly Savelyev, a man noted for his skill in convincing terrorists to give up. Theambulance nurse whispered: The doctors are making up a sleeping potion, which they're going to put into a bottle of cognac. I'd trusted doctors since childhood Therumor spread through the crowd that the terrorist and negotiator had asked for coffee and cognac.

Sliding along the icy asphalt on the leather soles of his shoes, Savelyev's subordinate walked up with a packet in his hands. Itwas a good distance away, so we weren't successful in seeing everything that was happening inside the Volvo. Savelyev unbuttoned his jacket. Thegloomy salon of automobile seemed illuminated by his white shirt. Whatlooked to be a peaceful conversation with brandy suddenly was suddenly made alarming by some strange embraces. Savelyev laid himself down on the chest of the man sitting alongside.

Then, as if on command, the cameramen bustled and with their in the cameras and began to tensely shoot the proceedings.

The terrorist gestured for help from the doctors. Savelyev lost consciousness.

Attempting to stop the snipers, the man who had seized the Volvo began to shout that he already pulled the pin and was holding the retainer of the grenade's fuse, and so if the person who was to approach the car not a physician but a special services agent in plain clothes he would blow himself up. Alarge doctor ran up to the car in a smooth gait unusual for his size, and he demonstratively carried in front of his a metallic case with the characteristic Red Cross emblem. Themedic tried to do something, but the fellow who had lost consciousness never came to. Ata minimum, the colonel, already lying alongside the car, needed to be transferred to the ambulance. Theterrorist offered the following: he would help the medic place Savelyev on a stretcher, and then take his place at the wheel. Onlyafterwards could another doctor approach to help with the stretcher.

Time passed. Savelyev lay unconscious as before. Thesecurity chiefs agreed with terrorist's proposal. Thephysician again broke into a run towards the car. Thepassenger door was opened and terrorist began to go around the trunk of the Volvo. There never could have been a better target for the snipers.

No one gave the command, and no one took the shoot. Theterrorist, already noticeably calmer, approached that figure lying on the ground. Hebent down and held out his hands. Andat this moment a group of Alpha-team members, who had been standing not far from the ambulance, opened up with a squall of very visible tracer fire. Theterrorist fell immediately, but the bright orange aurora borealis still flickered awhile, alternately striking those lying on the ground.

The blood-stained stretcher carrying Savelyev without any signs of life was loaded into the ambulance. After switching on the siren, the machine drove off, the cordon once again drew closed, and the new director of counter-espionage came out to meet the press. Theoperation was regarded very high marks. Questions about the drugged cognac and its strange effects remained without commentary. Regarding Savelyev, not a word was spoken.

The whole next day, which was Saturday, the incident at the Swedish embassy was front-page news. Inever had a chance to catch a nap from
6 A.M. until the evening all the lead journalists wanted to obtain commentary from an eyewitness. Itold what Isaw. Thescenes which the cameraman had shot left no doubts some of the bullets, intended for the terrorist, hit the helplessly sleeping colonel of counter-espionage.

Towards evening, into the mixture of telephone conversations, tobacco smoke, and clattering computer keyboards that was the news room arose the was a the mixture of telephone conversations, tobacco smoke and clatter of computer keyboards it appeared the editor of the news program 'Itogi'. Subtly stating: Well, tomorrow you'll the rest she preferred to leave to my already clouded imagination.

Television journalists worked differently at 'Itogi'. Someliked to prepare their reports the day before, but many worked until the minute hand began to count of the approach of the inevitable broadcast. Andthen, in the very heat of the moment, from behind my back appeared a correspondent at the television network. Nowhe works where it is the most secure, i.e., a fully protected, self-censoring government television channel. Iwon't state his name. I'll just say that when Ilook at him Ithink: one couldn't find a better stunt double for Attorney General Ustinov. Switch them around, and no one will notice for at least a week. Thiscorrespondent began things in his own way. First he introduced to me his friends two well-tanned men about thirty years of age. Howthey managed to get in there was made clear after they explained they were from the Special Forces and Imust have seen them at the Swedish embassy.

They came in order to have a talk with me. Theoverall meaning of there requests could be reduced to one simple one: it was not necessary to write about how Savelyev had perished, because no one knew the whole truth, and the official version made no mention of the sleep-inducing cognac and indiscriminate firing. Theyhad already reported to his widow that the colonel had died of a heart attack. Pronouncing their words like an incantation: Be a good fellow the special services member convinced me not to say toomuch.

There wasn't much time until the broadcast. Nota single minute for diplomacy. Dryly taking my departure, Igrowled that everything that Iwrote will be heard on the air. TheAlfa-team members and their chum, the correspondent who looked like an attorney general, went to another room and had a quick conference. Theattack was repeated, literally a few minutes later. Inorder to get rid of the swelling journalistic conflict, it was necessary to play the simpleton with a forced-labor scribbler. The'seekers of truth' had been sent to the editor in chief with the explanation: only management can change the text which would be broadcast. Ido not think that they even went anywhere. The journalist assisting them understood that their act would not result in anything except for overbearing irritation.

Their third approach was the decisive one. Theybegan to threaten. Ididn't take part in the skirmish. I still had to finish writing. Thethought that Icould call security, which had let in those people with their all-powerful covers, was somehow a bit awkward. Anda row from me sat this apathetic tele-reviewer, whose surname often concluded the best news reports, and he rushed toward the here sat through a number from me and thus far like the apathetic tele-reviewer, with surname of which concluded the best news reporting, rushed toward the pestering trinity, clearly with martial intentions. Hewas a short, puny, and nervously began to twist a cigarette in his hands. Helooked like he was going to beat them. Butthe impact of a word can carry be a knock-out blow in any fight. After a tense pause he asked the Alpha-team members in a distinct voice: You understand that they killed their own comrade? No, they weren't ready for this turn of events. Nevertheless, they left the building through a differentexit.

About two years later, during a broadcast of 'Independent Investigation', Colonel Savelyev's widow showed a form concerning the death of her husband. It became clear that colleagues from the special services had come not just to me. Theline indicating the reason for death was crossed out.

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