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Putin's Old Nemesis Speaks Out After Decade Of Silence

By Anastasia Kirilenko
Prominent Putin Critic Dies At 77i
X
March 05, 2010
Russian activist Marina Salye, who had been a thorn in Vladimir Putin's side for nearly two decades, died of a heart attack on March 21 at the age of 77. Salye, a local lawmaker in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, pushed for Putin's resignation as the city's deputy mayor after implicating him in a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme. She revived those allegations in 2000, backed up with material from her legislative investigation, just as Putin was assuming the Russian presidency. In this interview with RFE/RL in 2010, Salye revealed that she went into hiding in 2000 because she feared for her life.


WATCH: Marina Salye has been a periodic thorn in Vladimir Putin's side for nearly two decades. Salye resurfaced again this week, telling RFE/RL's Russian Service in an interview that she went into hiding 10 years ago because she feared for her life.

PSKOV OBLAST, Russia -- Marina Salye has been a small but persistent thorn in Vladimir Putin's side for nearly two decades.

As a local lawmaker in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, she pushed for Putin's resignation as the city's deputy mayor after implicating him in a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme. Years later, as Putin was assuming the presidency in early 2000, Salye made international headlines when she revived those allegations, documenting them with material from her legislative investigation.

And then, suddenly, she went silent, disappearing from public view and retiring to a remote house in the country.

Salye resurfaced again this week, telling RFE/RL's Russian Service in an interview at her modest dacha in Russia's western Pskov Oblast that she went into hiding 10 years ago because she feared for her life.

"I have everything in my files," Salye says, adding that she thought to herself, "'They're going to kill me.' [My sister] Natasha was very frightened about this."

'Metals For Food'


A fierce, feisty, and plain-speaking veteran of the perestroika-era democracy movement, Salye, who is now 75 years old, began her investigation into Putin back in 1992, when St. Petersburg was reeling from the economic shocks of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Food production had completely broken down, store shelves were empty, rationing was in effect, and there were legitimate fears of widespread hunger in Russia's second city, where memories of the Nazi blockade of the city in World War II were still strongly felt.

Marina Salye speaks at the ninth congress of Russian Federation People's Deputies in Moscow, March 1, 1993.
As deputy mayor in charge of foreign investment and trade, Putin came up with a scheme to ship $122 million in raw materials, including rare and precious metals, abroad in exchange for food. To carry out the plan, Putin signed deals with 19 companies to act as middlemen. Salye says the deals looked shady from the start, and in the end did nothing to alleviate the food shortage:

"Agreements were concluded with God knows what kind of companies," Salye says. "These companies were clearly set up for temporary, one-off purposes. And licenses were given to these companies by the St. Petersburg Committee for External Economic Relations, which was headed by Putin. Either he or his deputy signed the licenses. They had no right to give out those licenses. The metals then were shipped abroad. And the food never arrived."

Somebody clearly got rich off the scheme. And a famished city grew hungrier, and lost tens of millions of dollars in the process.

At the time, Salye chaired a committee in the local legislature responsible for food distribution, leading friends and allies to affectionately refer to her as "Baba Yeda," or "the Food Lady." When she got wind of what was soon dubbed the "metals-for-food scandal," she launched an investigation that concluded Putin acted illegally and called for his ouster.

A Rising Star

But Putin was neither fired nor prosecuted. The outcry eventually fizzled out, and Putin's career flourished. He took a series of jobs in President Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin, and was named head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1998. In August 1999, Yeltsin appointed Putin as prime minister -- and anointed him as his chosen successor to the presidency.

The St. Petersburg corruption allegations were long forgotten by this time. But just one day before Yeltsin would shock the world by resigning the presidency on New Year's Eve -- catapulting Putin into the Kremlin -- a journalist came knocking on Salye's door.

"A correspondent from NTV came to my office on December 30 and started asking me questions about the [metals-for-food] case," Salye says. "This was December 30, 1999. And on December 31, when Yeltsin made his announcement, I understood what was going on."

At the time, NTV was a privately owned television station and a staunch opponent of Putin. They aired a report about the eight-year-old scandal featuring their interview with Salye. Soon thereafter, foreign journalists began calling on her. Suddenly, Salye recalls, her once-obscure investigation into Russia's newly minted head of state had won a global audience.

"After this I became a world media star," Salye says. "It was very serious. After New Year's and throughout January, people from the world's leading media organizations were hounding me."

A Frightening Sight

But with the exposure came danger. Salye says she was never directly threatened. And she denied widespread rumors that she received an ominous telegram from Putin wishing her "good health and the opportunity to use it."

Salye says, however, that she decided she needed to lie low after receiving a fright while visiting a colleague, State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, with whom she was hoping to forge a political alliance in the early part of 2000.

"We were going to cooperate politically. I always had good relations with Sergei Nikolayevich," Salye says. "When I came to his office, I saw a person there who I didn't want to see anytime, anyplace, under any circumstances. I'm not going to reveal his name. But I then understood it was time to go. And Sergei Nikolayevich was soon killed."

Yushenkov, who later would investigate a suspicious series of apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities in the autumn of 1999, was shot and killed in April 2003. Critics allege that the bombings, which the Kremlin blamed on Chechen rebels, were used by the Kremlin as a pretext to invade the rebel region.

Salye would not elaborate on why the unidentified person she saw in Yushenkov's office frightened her so much. But it has been enough to cause her to remain sequestered in a remote village in the Pskov region for the past 10 years.

RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore contributed to this report from Prague
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Michael from: Brussels
March 06, 2010 00:09
It was Berezvoski in the office, not Putin. Berezovski put Putin in the hot seat, thinking that Putin would carry out his orders. Putin turned out to be a patriot and not a mossad/Cia/usa oil firm guy.

by: Frederick from: Alexandria
March 07, 2010 12:02
Well, Michael, you seem to know something Salye won't even tell...I wonder how. You also seem quite willing to forgive Putin for (alleged) criminality that (allegedly) made him rich and which includes (alleged) murder. You apparently also look upon the Mossad and the CIA as bad. My question is, given all the murders of journalists in Putin's Russia over the years, had Salye not hidden herself in an innocuous village in the country, would her fate also have been so sealed?

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 08, 2010 20:20
During the interview on Radio Svoboda, Ms. Salye implies that Putin may have had a role in the death of Sobchack. Does anyone else have info that his death was 'unnatural'?

by: Anonymous
March 08, 2010 21:33
Well, Frederick, the article above is a diarrhea of rumors and facts put together. Typical US propaganda: low on facts, but coin names in questions asked.

Proof? Re-read this: But with the exposure came danger. Salye says she was never directly threatened. And she denied widespread rumors that she received an ominous telegram from Putin wishing her "good health and the opportunity to use it."

She says she was never directly threatened... And she DENIED what FRE tries to coin.

Salye says, however, that she decided she needed to lie low after receiving a fright while visiting a colleague, State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, with whom she was hoping to forge a political alliance in the early part of 2000.

She had good relations with the guy...

"We were going to cooperate politically. I always had good relations with Sergei Nikolayevich," Salye says. "When I came to his office, I saw a person there who I didn't want to see anytime, anyplace, under any circumstances. I'm not going to reveal his name. But I then understood it was time to go. And Sergei Nikolayevich was soon killed."

The article is about Putin. So idiots like you make the assumption that it was Putin in the office. And i am telling you it was Berezovski. One of the worst killers (job done by hitmen) of the 90's.

He managed to get the status of a political refugee in the UK, god knows how.

Please put your energy in solving the mess you guys created in Irak. You guys are BADLY neede there.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 09, 2010 18:12
RAY:

Sobchak fled the country to avoid prosecution. Given that Putin was his right-hand man, it's safe to assume Putin could have been drawn into that investigation, and if so that he profited enormously from Sobchak being silenced. Given the allegations in this report, and many others regarding Putin's personal corruption (including even the pilfering of a PhD through plagiarism), the circumstances are clearly right for an "unnatural" passing. Since there was no investigation at the time, we won't get as much of a smoking gun as we got with Litvinenko, whose killers are being protected by the Kremlin.

So the question I'd ask you is: Do you have any evidence Sobchak's demise wasn't unnatural? To presume the KGB innocent until proved guilty is a fool's errand, to say the least.

by: Vic from: Ottawa
March 15, 2010 22:19
Did she see the ghost of Yezhov or Yagoda? At all events, I hope that she has placed this and all other sensitive information in a safe place, from where it can be made public after her death (hopefully, not for a long while yet).

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