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I chose an old woman, an ethnic Khakassian schoolteacher, and a dozy young Tuvan man in the front seat. At first, the woman refused to go and was curtly told, that since this was an FSB search, she was legally obliged to comply. We were taken back inside. Two armed men came in, then drifted back outside. One of their rifles had jammed. They tried firing it without bullets in fits of laughter. 

I was sat down again on the low stool. My interrogator ordered me to write in my broken Russian the answer to each question. Then we both signed it. So did the witnesses. Suddenly the Khakassian woman screwed up her eyes behind her glasses and shrieked: "I remember this time perfectly clearly! Do not do this to this young man! Do not force him to make a confession. I remember this time perfectly clearly!"

The FSB agent shouted back: "This is the Federal Security Services of the Russian Federation. Without hysterics you are required to observe as a witness that we are not beating this man, that we are not forcing this man to make a confession."

It was only then I began to see how terrified the locals were. He looked at me closely and wrote down the next "question": "List the names of every single friend or person you have met in the Russian Federation." 

"In the war, you would have been a member of the Gestapo," shouted the Khakassian woman. 

I love war films, and this was a scene when the British officer, my childhood hero, now captured, is told to betray the Resistance. I realised to my horror I was probably a coward. All it would take was one punch, maybe not even that. Then I had a stroke of genius. I began shouting out the names of senior officials I knew. 

The FSB man looked at the armed guards hovering by the door. They nodded. "That will be fine. Lots of . . . interesting people." 

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February 28th, 2013
8:02 PM
"The Putin years have seen a boom in quack healers" Not true - if anything, they've seen a decline. The final years of the Soviet Union saw a mass explosion of psychic healers, etc. The trend continued steadily through the Yeltsin era.

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