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Former Kremlin Digger Dishes the Dirt

Published: November 18, 2003 (Issue # 920)



  • Yelena Tregubova, 30, holding a copy of her new book, "Tales of a Kremlin Digger."
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

MOSCOW - In her book "Tales of a Kremlin Digger," former Kremlin correspondent Yelena Tregubova shares her experience of dealing with presidential officials, whom she calls "mutants," and lashes out against what she says is a Putin campaign to curb freedom of speech.

With chapters titled "One Night with Alexander Stalyevich [Voloshin]" or "How Putin Was Recruiting Me" and a detailed account of a private dinner in 1998 with then-FSB director Vladimir Putin at a Japanese restaurant where she addressed him by the more intimate name "Volodya," the book may appear to be a tabloid look at behind-the-scene Kremlin intrigues. But Tregubova insists it is not.

Drawing on four years of covering the Kremlin for a number of leading Russian newspapers, including Kommersant, the book is a clarion cry that freedom of speech has all but evaporated in Russia, she said.

"The public wouldn't be interested in reading a book about the plight of journalists and the problem of a free press in Russia," Tregubova, 30, said in a recent interview. "So I spiced it up as much as I could with intriguing stories about Kremlin officials so that it would look almost 'yellow' and people would buy it and read it.

"But once they swallow this pill, which is sweet on the outside, they will taste the bitter essence of what has happened in the country.

"There is hardly a single publication left these days with an editor-in-chief who won't change or simply pull an article after a call from the Kremlin - or, worse still, replace an opposing journalist with a loyal one," she said.

As if to confirm Tregubova's words, state-controlled NTV television pulled the plug on a report about the new book just hours before it was to air Sunday night. NTV ran advertising spots for the segment on its 9 p.m. news magazine "Namedni" throughout the day and allowed it to air in the Far East, which is seven time zones ahead of Moscow, before canning it.

"This is the reaction of the Kremlin," Tregubova said Sunday night.

"Several hours before 'Namedni' was to be shown in Moscow, I got a call from Lyonya [program host Leonid Parfyonov], who told me the segment wouldn't be aired. He told me: 'I am not going to lie that somebody spilled Coke on the tape. The report was called off.'"

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