Attempted murder of Soviet TV host sparks outrage Crime wave adds to national turmoil

December 14, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- In the latest blow to the frayed nerves of the Soviet public, an anti-Communist Leningrad journalist whose television exposes have made him a national cult figure was shot and seriously wounded Wednesday night.

Alexander Nevzorov, 32, the leather-jacketed host of the nightly news show "600 Seconds," was shot in the chest by a mysterious caller who lured him to a wooded area in Leningrad with a promise of secret documents.

The gunman fled, and Mr. Nevzorov was taken to a hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery. Doctors decribed his condition as satisfactory and said he was out of danger.

Mr. Nevzorov's prominence was underscored by the fact that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev expressed "deep outrage" about the shooting, according to a spokesman, and said the Kremlin would join in an aggressive investigation.

The attempted murder of Mr. Nevzorov, arguably the most popular man on Soviet television, adds to the growing public feeling of insecurity in this period of anarchic political change and economic disintegration.

At least two apparently political murders have been committed in Moscow in the past few months, and a man who said he wanted to kill the president fired a gun in Red Square Nov. 7 as Mr. Gorbachev stood about 100 yards away.

Some citizens immediately speculated that the Nevzorov shooting was carried out by reactionary forces intending to destabilize the country to prepare public opinion for a hard-line regime.

But Mr. Nevzorov, who had been feuding recently with the radical anti-Communists who dominate Leningrad's City Council, had made enemies in every political camp.

His show, broadcast from Leningrad nightly after the staid news program "Vremya," combines guerrilla-style field reporting with acid commentary in a mix that rivets the public. He reads and remarks on the day's events in a deadpan or sarcastic tone as an electronic clock counts down 600 seconds.

Mr. Nevzorov focuses on the seamy underside of life, sticking his microphone into the faces of streetwalkers, drug addicts, extortionists, bribe-takers and all manner of criminal subjects. He generally places the blame for the disasters he uncovers on the Soviet "Mafia" and the Communist Party, two villainous forces that he portrays as overlapping considerably, if not coinciding altogether.

Mr. Nevzorov's political power is unmistakable. When he reported that the former Leningrad party boss had bought a Mercedes-Benz for a suspiciously low price, nervous fellow Communists expelled the hapless big shot from the party the next day. (He was later quietly reinstated.)

Since Mr. Nevzorov began to savage the new, democratically elected City Council, the radicals' political stock has plummeted. Recent by-elections have drawn a turnout as low as 20 percent from a completely disillusioned Leningrad electorate.

From the time Josef V. Stalin consolidated power in the 1920s until recently, virtually the only political assassinations in the Soviet Union were those carried out by Stalin's henchmen. But in the past two years, against the background of a murder rate that is beginning to rival that of the United States, killings of an apparently political nature have multiplied.

A young reporter for the magazine Ogonyok who had written about organized crime and a crusading provincial reporter in Russia's autonomous republic of Chuvashia were among those killed last year. Many other reporters and editors have been beaten in apparent retribution for their work.

On Sept. 9, a well-known, independent-minded Russian Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Men, was killed with an ax on his way to services at his church near Moscow. Police have said the motive did not appear to be robbery.

On Nov. 29, Vadim I. Pergament, a Moscow democratic activist, was slain after receiving anonymous threats linked to his political activity.

Last week, in response to the Pergament killing, seven prominent democratic organizations issued a joint appeal to Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin and Moscow Mayor Gavriil K. Popov asking them to personally oversee the investigation.

"In a situation of near-hunger, [such killings] threaten incalculable consequences for the future of Russia," the appeal said. "Allegedly isolated and chance attacks on human lives will grow into pogroms and in the end into a riot whose end cannot be predicted."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.