Did the book change anything in Russia’s attitude towards your husband?
“It certainly did. If you look at what happened to the people who took part in its writing, in the gathering of the material - they’re not around any more, some have been killed, one person died in unexplained circumstances, another - in prison. But I was glad that Sasha was writing - in addition to the books, he wrote many articles, and he didn’t hide, didn’t disguise himself, he always signed them with his own name. I even used to tell him that it had probably been worthwhile leaving Russia, so he could discover himself in a new capacity. Yes, he was a good operative, but he had this kind of social circle there, they were all a bit abnormal… It was simply that in their system there wasn’t any room for people who were different. But here [in London] completely different people appeared. One of those people was Vladimir Bukovsky. A dissident and a former FSB man - those would seem to be incompatible concepts, but I can hardly remember an evening when they didn’t talk on the telephone. Sasha was like a child who had to learn to understand everything all over again, and I am so grateful to Volodya for always being open for us. I saw this regeneration, this rethinking in Sasha. And their friendship with Akhmed Zakayev… He would say: ‘Marina, just think, there will come a moment when the Russians will have to start talks with the Chechens; proper talks - and they won’t be able to find a single Russian person whom the Chechens will trust. But they’ll trust me.’”
“It’s clear that the Chechens who are now in charge are the ones who are advantageous to Russia, but among those who have dispersed around the world, Zakayev as before has very great authority - for the Chechnya which they really consider theirs, not the one in which portraits of Putin are hung up - the man who is up to his elbows in their blood.”
Did he sense any danger during the last months?
“The first signal was in July, when Russia said it will use force where it considers it necessary, and against whom it considers it necessary. I asked Sasha why he thought this was serious. He said, it means they will kill those whom they consider a danger to them, those who criticize them. It was just then that Blair went to the G8 meeting in St Petersburg, and Bukovsky and Gordievsky published the open letter in the British newspaper saying that no one should go, and that Putin should not be allowed to head the G8 for a whole year. And nevertheless the G8 summit took place - well, it means that gas and oil have more value than human life, and nothing can stop them.
When Anya Politkovskaya was murdered, that was the second very serious signal. I knew her a little bit, and Sasha was very close to her. He was very concerned, was always telling her: “Anya, come to Britain”, even tried to give her some instructions about self-defence - what to do when you enter a doorway. He herself was aware of the danger, he often talked about it. When he persuaded her to leave Russia, she said: “All these people - if I leave, who will they go to complain to?” Like Sasha, she understood that if she didn’t do it, then who would? Sasha believed she was murdered because she was a living witness of the crimes that had been committed in Chechnya. For him this was a very fundamental question - to understand who had done it, and why. Of course, he couldn’t a proper investigation, since he was in London. But he had some contacts, some understanding of the situation, and he clearly did something for that.
After Anya’s death he again started thinking about the existence of that hit list, he would say: I’m on that list, Berezovsky is on that list, and Zakayev, too…’ But even so, he spent more time thinking about Zakayev and Berezovsky, about the best way to guard Akhmed’s house… Even more so after we got British citizenship - he was so happy, it this seemed to him like a guarantee of his personal safety. He said: ‘They can’t kill a British subject on British soil.’ And he was wrong.”
You weren’t afraid that at some point the British would say: “We’re fed up with these Russian quarrels of yours, and now there’s radiation into the bargain”?
“That is a very serious point and we did have such fears, but it wasn’t seen as a ‘Russian’ quarrel at all. The British took it very seriously.
Sasha loved England very much, he had a British flag on all his denim jackets, it was almost comical… There were British flags hung up throughout the entire house. He was really very proud of it and very grateful. When he was in the hospital, we got so many letters of support - from ordinary British people whom we didn’t know at all. And the parents of the children at the school where our son is a pupil. After Sasha’s death, on 4 December, when we celebrated Sasha’s birthday with his father at a restaurant, we received the present of a portrait of him - it was standing on the table. A person we didn’t know approached, and he said: 'If you are that family - please accept my deepest condolences - we are with you.'"
(End of Part I)
See also: Conversation
Conversation - II
Conversation - III
Conversation - IV
Conversation - V
Conversation - VI
Conversation - VII