Thousands Mourn Russian Reporter

October 21, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW — investigative reporter whose funeral yesterday attracted thousands, has, in a single stroke, brought corruption to the center of national attention here and deeply shaken the Russian government.

Sickened by the violence and flagrant abuse of office that have fallen upon their country, an overflow crowd turned out to grieve for Mr. Kholodov and to deliver a rebuke to those who killed him with a bomb planted in a briefcase.

Demonstrators at his funeral, who included many leaders of the democratic reform movement, called for the ouster of Gen. Pavel Grachev, the defense minister.

General Grachev had been one of the targets of Mr. Kholodov's investigations, and he now stands accused by Mr. Kholodov's newspaper, Moskovsky Komosomolets, of being behind the murder.

The demonstrators ridiculed General Grachev's suggestion that Mr. Kholodov had been killed by his own explosives.

'No one is punished'

"People are here because they can no longer bear all this corruption and crime, and the fact that no one is punished for it," said Pavel Gutiontov, head of the Committee for Journalists' Rights.

While just a week ago Russians were only despairing about crooked officeholders and their often violent tactics, yesterday they were demanding change.

"Someone should start a genuine struggle against all these terrible things," said one mourner, Lyudmila Mazurina.

For months, his articles, which focused particularly on financial chicanery among high Russian officers in Germany, had been brushed aside by the government.

Last month President Boris N. Yeltsin said that there was no evidence to support the accusations.

But now that Mr. Kholodov is dead, the government is under genuine pressure for the first time to come up with some real answers.

Mr. Kholodov's newspaper published an article about General Grachev yesterday under the headline, "A thief should sit in prison -- and not be minister of defense."

It alleged that General Grachev had ordered the diversion of more than $200,000 in German marks that was supposed to be used for army housing.

Instead, the article said, it was spent on two Mercedes, one of which became the general's personal car.

Yeltsin backs Grachev

Mr. Yeltsin, who was in St. Petersburg with Queen Elizabeth II, said he fully supported his defense minister -- who earlier this week denied that he had ordered the murder.

But the president's spokesman, Vycheslav Kostikov, who was one of Mr. Kholodov's honorary pallbearers, said it was up to the general to defend himself, in court if need be.

"Now is the time of trial for democracy," Mr. Kostikov said. "Russia's future depends on the courage of people who tell the truth."

Thousands came to pay their last respects yesterday, though many had never heard of the 27-year-old reporter before Monday.

They stood quietly waiting in the cold and light snow, some for hours, for a chance to file past the bier at the Palace of Youth.

It was here five years ago that many of these same people had waited for a last viewing of Andrei Sakharov, the prominent scientist and dissident.

Hundreds brought roses or carnations yesterday, which they left beside the bier until it was heaped with flowers. A few held candles. Many crossed themselves, then bowed to Mr. Kholodov's family. Under the hot television lights, the pine wreaths poured out their aroma.

His face was draped with a light cloth, because the bomb that killed him had done so much damage.

'Just unbelievable'

"Who would dare commit such a murder?" asked Mrs. Mazurina. "I can guess, but for me it doesn't matter who did it -- someone from the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Defense -- I'm just worried that there exist people who could be capable of this. This death is just unbelievable."

Mr. Kholodov, a graduate of a physics institute, was remembered by a colleague as a "strange journalist -- he didn't smoke, he didn't drink, he didn't swear."

"No matter how strong the authorities are, there's always some one who can fight them," said his mother Zoya, after he had been buried at Troyekurov Cemetery.

"And one of those people is my son."

It took five trucks to bring all the flowers to the graveyard. A military band played dirges.

As the snow thickened, a priest said a prayer, the casket was lowered into the ground, family and colleagues threw handfuls of dirt after it, and then four workers moved in with shovels to finish the job.

"He will not be the last victim, for sure," said his sister, Natasha. "But my brother's death will make people think.

"When Grachev dies, there will not be so many people or so many flowers."

Reporter had been lured

Moskovsky Komosomolets said yesterday that Mr. Kholodov had been lured into retrieving the fatal briefcase by a source he had dealt with before at the Federal Counterintelligence Service, a successor to the KGB.

Mr. Kholodov was looking into allegations that the Russian army had agreed to train mafia enforcers at a secret base.

The source, perhaps not aware himself of the ruse, told Mr. Kholodov that a military intelligence officer had stashed the briefcase, with incriminating documents in it, in the Kazan Railway Terminal baggage checkroom.

When Mr. Kholodov opened the briefcase back in his office, he detonated nearly half a pound of explosives.

He died a short while later.

"In the heroic Soviet army there is no officer who would dare to come forward and expose these secrets," said a sarcastic Vil Mirzayanov, the dissident chemist who exposed Russia's secret chemical weapons program.

"So this young journalist had to do it and be killed. All the heroes hid behind the back of this young man."

"The corruption accusations are just hanging in the air," said Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Ostankino television center. "The prosecutors don't deal with it. Either they are corrupt themselves, or they are afraid to deal with corrupt people."

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