Died in suspicious circumstances: Anton Surikov, a member of the Russian military intelligence (far right)
I knew as I dialled his number that Anton Surikov was a member of Russian military intelligence, that he had commanded detachments of Georgian rebels, rubbed shoulders with Islamic terrorists and organised secret gatherings between Chechen separatists and the Kremlin's agents. I knew he was a shareholder of a shadowy arms consultancy and that the French secret service kept tabs on him.
But as the dial tone hummed I had no idea he would meet me or that in less than two months time he would be found dead. In very suspicious circumstances.
It was a calm voice. He spoke very slowly. "Meet me at seven o'clock under the Victory Arch besides the memorial park to the fallen from the Great Patriotic War."
Surikov was well known to western journalists and widely respected in Russia as an outstanding expert in military affairs and the treacherous politics of the Caucasus.
I wasn't late. In fact I was early and nervous.
"You're waiting for me."
Surikov had a heavy handshake, an unattended crew-cut and clad in a white string vest complete with a cigarette dripping from his mouth, was the perfect picture of a Slavic thug.
"Follow me. I really like this cafe."
Two months later rumours began to circulate that he had been liquidated. Rebellious Chechen mouthpieces claimed he had been poisoned in the same manner that the rogue agent Alexander Litvinenko had been radioactively terminated in London. Some speculated that rivalries within his ‘consultancy' might have taken him down. But nobody seemed to think Surikov died naturally.
He was forty-eight and as he settled down in front of me in one of Russia's knock-off versions of Starbucks, he looked pretty healthy if ever so slightly distant. Surikov had the stare of the old solider. Like the eyes of a drug addict, his pupils had seen more than I could possibly imagine.
"To tell you the truth...all Russian politicians are bandits from St. Petersburg."
He had ordered an extremely creamy cake, from which he carefully began to shave off the chocolate sauce with a teaspoon. He was soon really enjoying it. After concentrated eating he began what was almost certainly his last major analysis on the contours of Russian politics for the western media.
Surikov paused from the cake and lit up another cigarette, exhaling and explaining the latest line-up of power.
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