Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 22

On January 29, officials of the Volgograd Oblast branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) detailed what they claimed was a failed attempt by Chechen rebels to blow up a dam. The authorities held a press conference in which they presented Vasily Kalinkin, a former lieutenant with the Russian army’s 20th motorized division, who claimed that he had been ordered by Chechen field commanders to blow up the dam. The Russian special services said that, thanks to Kalinkin’s testimony, they were able to detain several terrorist units and thereby prevent a series of bombings in the region (Russian agencies, January 29-30).

Kalinkin claims that in 1991, under the influence of a fellow serviceman who was Chechen, he deserted his post and went to Chechnya, where he converted to Islam and changed his name to Vasily na Vakhid. In the summer of 1993, Kalinkin and fifteen Chechen fighters–including Shamil Basaev, who would later become the now well-known field commander–flew to Pakistan. They were trained in a guerrilla training camp near the town of Peshawar, close to the Afghan border. Kalinkin claims that he and the other “trainees” penetrated 30 kilometers into Afghanistan, where they killed Afghan peasants as a “training exercise.” After completing the training course, Kalinkin returned to Chechnya and then, in 1994, went to Volgograd Oblast, where–while awaiting orders from the Chechen rebels–he enlisted in the Russian army’s 20th motorized division and became a lieutenant. Last summer, representatives of the Chechen rebel field commander Arbi Baraev came to Kalinkin with orders to carry out a terrorist attack on the Volgograd electric station. However, in November he gave himself up to the 20th motorized division’s counterintelligence unit. Several days later, the authorities arrested a group of saboteurs who had planning to blow up the Volga dam over the New Year’s holiday (Izvestia, January 29; Kommersant, January 30).

The story of Lieutenant Kalinkin so obviously comes off like a popular novel about the lives of spies that it raises suspicions that at least part of it was fabricated. It seems as if the FSB up until the last minute could not decide which “legend” Kalinkin should present to the public. It is significant that on January 29, the day of Kalinkin’s press conference, Izvestia published a detailed exposition of his story. This is particularly significant given that Izvestia actually printed the item the evening before it hit the newsstands–meaning that Yevgeny Krutikov, author of the article on Kalinkin and someone who has on previous occasions used disinformation in his work, received information about Kalinkin from the FSB at least a day before Kalinkin’s press conference. Krutikov’s article on the whole matched the account Kalinkin would give in the press conference, with one big difference. Krutikov claimed that Kalinkin was trained in the Peshawar camp by an American named Bill. In addition, the Izvestia article claimed that Kalinkin signed a contract with American special services and was subordinated mainly to them, not to the Chechen separatists. However, not a word was mentioned about the putative American connection during Kalinkin’s press conference. It is quite possible that the FSB simply decided it was unwise to push an improbable storyline (Izvestia, January 29).