An Open Letter to President Putin
by Vladimir Sinelnikov*
Dear Mr. President,
I would imagine that most of the letters sent to you contain one or another request. But I have a different purpose: I would like to direct your attention to a recent event which reflects as in a drop of water a phenomenon that is without a doubt causing much concern in Russian society. I hope that what I set forth in the letter below will cause your assistants to bring it to your attention.
About two years ago, during the day, I was returning from a film shoot in my minivan, and as we crossed the square where not long ago there stood a monument to Dzerzhinskiy [TN: Feliks Dzerzhinskiy, the founder of the KGB; his statue stood in front of the headquarters of the KGB, now the FSB, on Lubyanka Square] my vehicle was hit broadside by a car speeding through a red light, impacting right in the spot were I was sitting in the passenger seat. I could not get out of my vehicle, because I was covered in cuts from broken glass and was in a state of shock. But my driver, who was not as badly injured, was able to get out and headed for a traffic island in the middle of the square. The driver responsible for the collision approached the traffic police posted there and told them: “Listen up: I’m an FSB officer on assignment to the Russian Presidential Administration. When you write up your report, start with that.” Then right there, at the scene of the accident, he got on his mobile phone and called two people, who arrived in 4-5 minutes and claimed they were “bystanders” to the accident. After giving their eyewitness accounts they identified themselves for the report as FSB officers (thereby explaining how they were able to get to the traffic island so quickly from their place of work).
Beginning the next day the leadership of the traffic police special cases unit became the target of unprecedented pressure from federal and Moscow city law enforcement agencies, which demanded that the FSB officer Subbotkin, who was driving the car that rammed into mine - and who loudly proclaimed at the scene of the accident that he worked for you, Mr. President - be exonerated from all responsibility for the accident. But that’s not all. Without any request whatsoever from the police, Subbotkin brought to the traffic police investigations office a videotape which, it turns out, the FSB makes 24 hours a day of the square where the accident took place. Unfortunately for him, he did not anticipate that analysis of the tape by independent experts would only further prove his responsibility for the accident. But a fact remains a fact, and the tape was entered into the case file.
Despite all the pressure that was placed on him, the traffic police investigator refused to declare that my own driver, and not Subbotkin, was responsible for the accident. The most the investigator would agree to do was write was that he could not determine who was at fault. And for that he was immediately sent into retirement. I appealed in a letter to the chief of the FSB Personal Security Directorate, General Kupryashkin, setting before him a single question: whether it was true what Subbotkin said at the scene of the accident, that he was an FSB officer. And also whether the two “bystanders” who supposedly saw the accident were FSB officers as well. (Again, they themselves gave their names and places of employment in the course of the investigation at the scene of the accident.) In a letter signed by one of Kupryashkin’s assistants, it was confirmed that they were all FSB employees. I am attaching this letter because one point is worthy of your attention: in this letter, the agency does not give an assessment of the conduct of any of its officers - neither Subbotkin, nor the false witnesses. Furthermore, while confirming their affiliation with the FSB, the respondent nonetheless did not give the officers’ last names, and confirmed their involvement in the affair only as anonymous figures. But instead he assured me that they (“they” who? the witnesses?) had “not threatened” me, although I never said a single word about this, and never even saw the witnesses.
After this I wrote a letter to the chief of your administration, Mr. Sobyanin, in which I asked him to confirm or disconfirm that Subbotkin is an FSB officer on assignment to the Presidential Administration. I received an official reply, delivered to me by state courier, signed receipt required, which said that Subbotkin is in fact an employee of your administration.
Then I turned to the courts, and here, Mr President, several additional circumstances came to light that are worthy of your attention. The judge demanded that I state Subbotkin’s place of residence - i.e., provide his certificate of domicile - even though in the accident report he wrote his address in his own hand, and it was accurate enough that a telegram sent there to determine the damage he inflicted on my car reached him. It turns out, Mr. President, that Mr. Subbotkin’s place of residence is not at the address given by him, but another: Bolshaya Lubyanka, Bldg 1/3. I know that you once worked at this address, as does Mr. Patrushev [the current head of the FSB], and that this is the location of the KGB’s prison, but I cannot imagine where in this vicinity Subbotkin might be residing. I can’t help but ask: for what purpose would we have a regulation, written or unwritten, that gives intelligence officers the right to register as their domicile their place of work? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to change such a law, if it exists, or extend it to all organizations, including my television company?
I do not know why - I do not want to imagine why - but the court lost my case file on two separate occasions, and was not even able to tell me the date on which the court supposedly returned my documents to me. So twice I had to start all over again, pull together all the necessary documents, and again pay the court fees. And then, just after my story appeared on the website of the Russian organization “For Human Rights” (Za Prava Cheloveka), the judge who twice lost my case file suddenly disappeared, and the whole process had to begin again from a blank piece of paper. In this way, Mr. President, my story proceeded for two years. And then, just when the my case was finally going to court, who should appear but Mr Subbotkin (I should note that he never once appeared in court these two years, but suddenly he turned up, as soon the court found him responsible in absentia and ordered him to pay for damages to my vehicle). And here occurs the main turn of events that is worthy of your attention. Subbotkin filed a retaliatory suit, alleging that my driver was responsible for the accident.
But that’s not the main thing. Subbotkin also demanded that I be held responsible for tarnishing his image and honor as an FSB officer, referring to the fact that the above story, word for word, appeared on the website of the “For Human Rights” organization. He does not deny that he presented himself at the accident site as an FSB officer; does not deny that he personally delivered to the traffic police a videotape produced by the intelligence services; and he does not deny that he called his FSB colleagues to serve as false witnesses. But he accuses me of taking the liberty of drawing to public attention the fact that he is a member of the intelligence services. [TN: Emphasis in the original.]
Yes, I knowingly passed this information to the respected organization’s website. And I will say further: this story became the subject of an hour-long program on the radio station “Svoboda” (Freedom), in which I was joined by the recently-elected Russian Duma deputy and retired FSB General Kandaurov. On the program, Kandaurov gave his unambiguous assessment of Subbotkin’s conduct. At the end of the program I asked him to answer a question for me. “I thought,” I told him and the program’s listeners, “that this story would end approximately as follows: I would be invited to FSB headquarters, where they would admit their involvement in what happened, and tell me that Subbotkin would not be able to discuss the matter with me because he was fulfilling his duties in a garrison somewhere near Chita [TN: city in eastern Siberia]. Or will they instead just send the tax inspector to visit my television company?” I asked. Kandaurov smiled and answered, “After the website affair, and now this hour-long program on ‘Svoboda’, they will first apologize... And then they will send the tax inspector.”
Kandaurov was halfway wrong, but also turned out to be halfway right. No one has apologized, and Subbotkin is not in
In court Subbotkin begged for the mercy of the court, requesting he be allowed to pay the court fees in installments (the same court fees that I had to pay twice), because he was living in poverty. Nonetheless, he had two lawyers accompanying him to court. It would be interesting to know who paid the not insignificant sum for their fees - Subbotkin, or the agency that shares in his injury at having their honor and dignity tarnished?
Dear Mr. President, I will get to the point. The story of my automobile accident is an everyday occurrence in our lives; it is a matter for the courts, experts, etc. But what worries me, and not only me, is something different: this story has been dragging on for two years; official letters from the FSB and the Presidential Administration convince me that these authoritative organizations know very well who works for them and why I asked for their answers. Now, as Subbotkin is filing his retaliatory suit regarding the offending of his dignity as an FSB officer, it has become clear that there is no talk of his being sent to
My friends and colleagues urged me not to send this letter to you. Yes, yes, Mr. President, alas, everyone is thinking about this nowadays, fear is in the air. But I have behind me films about Chernobyl, Sakharov, and the interrelationships between the people and the authorities, and I have those ten days in the life of Yuri Lyubimov, which the Politburo of the USSR allowed him to spend in his Motherland to reproduce his performance of “Boris Godunov” at the Taganka Theater.
On your decree, Mr. President, I was awarded the Order of Valor for the film “The Bell of Chernobyl” , which was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for being shown in every country of the world having television. This was the last “unreleasable film” (полочная картина) of the Soviet era, having been released to viewers in the new era. Military men, with whom I am nowadays working on upcoming films, tell me that this is the only medal that cannot be earned while serving “on the parquet” [in the rear]. I am proud of this medal and remember it now, as I grow depressed while shooting a series on international terrorism in places that would make one envy
I have nothing to share with Subbotkin. But the manner in which they relate to him in his place of work is a very important sign, of the most profound sort. Especially now, on the eve of the presidential elections. This is my first letter to you and, probably, it will be my last. Letters to presidents - they’re not my genre. But I want to tell you one thing, having now taken up my pen: it seems like there is a plan being worked out today to cause society to completely condemn the 1990’s. But from those years we got not only the oligarchs who robbed
Mr. President, my story is not about a personal offense, but about my fear for the society in which I live, along with you, and your children, and mine.
General Director and Artistic Manager
Television Studio “Kloto”
*Here is a brief biographical statement on the author, from a 2005 interview published in the Russian-American newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo:
Vladimir Lvovich Sinelnikov founded one of the first independent television stations in
, “Channel 31”, and is currently the owner and artistic director of the television studio “Kloto”. He has written screenplays for approximately one hundred documentaries, and has been awarded numerous prizes at national and international film festivals. Among the films and television serials based on his screenplays: the four-part series “The Russia Bellof ” ; “The Academic Sakharov - A Man for all Time”; “Mirages and Hopes” ; “Memories of the Present”; and “The Final Myth” . His current project, a series on international terrorism, is being partly financed by the Ukrainian businessman and patron of the arts Vadim Shulman.) Chernobyl
For readers of Russian, the full text of Sinelnikov’s correspondence with the FSB related to his traffic accident with Subbotkin can be found on the website of the organization “For Human Rights”, at: http://www.zaprava.ru/content/view/921/