Chapter Six: Lietuvēns
Kostya Rodionov served up some Solyanka soup to the four Prometheans, after which he poured a glass of vodka for each one of them.
“Sobieski vodka for you, my good friends! One of Poland’s finest!”
Delta looked at Rodionov incredulously.
“I would have thought that Russian Standard was your drink. You seem to have so many empty bottles of the stuff stacked outside your back door.”
“Russian Standard? Huh!” barked Rodionov. “I will admit that I occasionally partake, but only when I can’t get hold of a decent bottle of Polish vodka. The Poles know how to make real vodka. As for Russian Standard, I mainly use it to clean my toilet. It’s an excellent antiseptic. I also use it to scare ants away and to ignite the wood in my fireplace. That’s about the only thing I normally want with that bottle of rabbit urine.”
Delta couldn’t restrain an amused and bemused grin. “You were telling us about the KGB, Mr Rodionov?”
“Oh yes. The KGB had infiltrated every aspect of life in Latvia. You should know that. Every newspaper office, radio station, television channel, and university faculty in the entire Soviet Union had members of the KGB Active Reserve watching what went on. Many Latvian government personnel were secretly working for the KGB. Our members served in the police and the army. We even had people working in Latvia’s public transport system. I can tell you that the doormen who stood outside the Intūrists hotel in Rīga were members of the Active Reserve. Come on! Surely everybody realised that? You cannot honestly kid yourselves that a group of Latvians got together to form your “Latvian Popular Front” and then they managed to dodge that bullet? It would have been impossible for that to happen. There was a significant presence of KGB Active Reserve members in the senior leadership of that pro-independence movement. It was the same in the other Baltic nations, too. Those people were secretly working for us, a small group of KGB agents in Leningrad who had managed to fall outside the watchful eye of Moscow. We had been conspiring for quite some time to take Latvia out of the Soviet Union and we knew such a move could receive widespread support from the Latvian population, because Latvians wanted freedom and self-determination. They wanted to believe in a new beginning. We also knew we could get support from many members of the Soviet elite in Moscow, because they had stolen so much money from the Soviet state that they would support anybody who was going to create a safe pigeon hole for their illegally acquired wealth. And we knew we could get the Communist moderates in Latvia to align with our plan, because they knew that independence from the USSR would allow them to turn Latvia into their own personal real estate portfolio. They’d be able to start fraudulently privatising Latvian assets to their own accounts, and who’d be able to stop them? Nobody. We certainly weren’t going to stop them. We needed them to start stealing Latvian assets so we could blackmail them. That would guarantee that our plans were protected.”
Rodionov paused for a moment.
“I’m not expecting you to like what I’m telling you, and I’m not pretending to be an angel. What we did was typical of a group of KGB agents who were looking for a little money-spinner. We saw the USSR careening towards disintegration, and we saw our jobs on the line. We wanted something bigger and better. Truth, honesty, and justice played no part in our plans. We were just trying to create a little place where some money could be funneled, and if ordinary Latvians got a bit of freedom and greater opportunities for prosperity, why not? But what your ethnic Latvian leaders did… their reason for coming on board with this process… was positively evil. It was far worse than what we did. They had no interest in fighting for freedom for Latvian people. No interest whatsoever! They were Soviet elites, for Christ’s sake! They were only interested in the opportunities they were about to get to turn themselves into multi-millionaires by stealing the fledgling nation’s assets. And they did all this in the guise of being patriotic Latvians who were bringing liberty and democracy to Latvia. Furthermore, they took a man like KGB Agent Valērijs Kapustins, gave him Latvian citizenship for no known reason, and then allowed him to become one of the richest men in Latvia. To this day, he still controls the government of this country using bribery, blackmail, and extortion, and sometimes murder… same thing with KGB Agent Aivars Lipšitzs.”
“What became of the other members of your group in Leningrad?” asked Alpha.
“Them? Yuri became a senior member of a mafia group called the Tambovskaya Bratva. He wasn’t the only one. That early project to corruptly supply petrol to Latvian buses, so they could transport the participants in the Baltic Way, turned into a larger project for him. Yuri and his associates are now pulling the strings for the petroleum monopoly in Saint Petersburg, the Petersburg Fuel Company. Yuri’s not his real name, by the way. Some of them act as proxies for Kapustins and Lipšitzs. They help those two move their money around.”
“And what about those KGB Active Reserve members who were planted in the Latvian Popular Front?”
“Dead. Various ‘accidents’ over the months that followed a new Latvian Government being formed. Some disappearances. You’d have to ask Kapustins about that.”
Rodionov took another sip of Sobieski.
“You know, that Latvian guy I told you about who carried the Latvian flag in front of that protest march in Rīga? Well, Konstantīns Pupurs came back to Latvia in 1992 and became active in Latvian politics. Now, you’d think he’d have been welcomed back like a great Latvian patriot and returning hero. What a guy! But he wasn’t. Elements within the Latvian Government were pressuring him to stay out of politics. He didn’t cease his activism and in 1994 one of Latvia’s senior ministers tried to have him assassinated. The assassination attempt was not successful, but they caused him some very nasty injuries. That’s what happens when you start campaigning against former communist politicians. They have lived all their lives as thugs and thuggery is how they do business. Pupurs had to flee to the safety of the United States after that to get medical treatment. He eventually recovered and even served as a commissioned officer in the United States Armed Forces. In 2010, he returned to Latvia and got a job as a police officer in Rīgas pašvaldības policija. He died seven years later of “natural causes”. Some people question just how natural those causes were.”
Rodionov reflected for a moment.
“As for me, well, there was a secret investigation into our group by one of Russia’s internal security agencies a little while after the USSR turned into rotten cabbage. Kapustins ended pointing the finger at me, even though I had barely been little more than his private secretary during the entire charade. I was going to be held entirely to blame for a conspiracy to assist Latvia in gaining it’s independence from Moscow. What’s more, those little rewards that Kapustins promised me… huh! I got nothing from him. Have a look at where I’m living? I have this little cottage here in Skrunda. Kapustins lives like the Emir of Kuwait. Anyway, I was arrested and questioned for a long time. During that time, I was flogged with rubber cut from a tractor tyre, they put my feet into scalding hot water, they immersed me upside down into a rain water tank until I almost drowned, and they threatened to burn my testicles with an oxyacetylene torch. It is a small mercy that they didn’t carry out that particular threat. I denied everything and they let me go. But I knew they’d come back for me. In order to escape more torture and likely murder in a Russian prison, I fled to Latvia and chose this little town to live a simple life as a locksmith. In the end, the nation I helped to free from the USSR for entirely nefarious reasons would become my savior. I kept a low profile, and Kapustins completely forgot about me. I haven’t seen that lump of shit for decades.”
Alpha seemed confused by some aspects of Rodionov’s allegations.
“Okay, so a lot of men were unduly enriched by Latvia’s withdrawal from the Soviet Union. They must have realised from the outset that this can’t last forever. Surely they realised that sooner or later the past would catch up with them. I mean, you say Kapustins has a lot of them blackmailed with his secret ledger. Well, Kapustins is destined to die one day, by whatever means. Then that ledger is going to be made public and all these rich, powerful kleptocrats are going to have to face lengthy prison sentences. They must have realised in the beginning that this would be their destiny one day. Why would anybody set themselves up for an inevitable future in a Latvian prison, even it if does mean they get to live like kings for part of their life?”
Rodionov got up, walked over to a bookshelf and dusted off an old book that he selected from his large collection.
“There’s an interesting story that illustrates this error in human thinking. It’s the story of Dr Faust. Actually, there’s probably over one hundred thousand different versions of Faust’s story, but this is the one that I like the best. The story tells that Dr Faust was a medieval scholar who lived a life of modest means and commanded the respect of his peers. But he gradually became disenchanted with his life and wished for something better. Overhearing his prayers to God for a better, richer life, the Devil sent his messenger, Mephistopheles, to tempt Dr Faust. Mephistopheles offered Faust the seductively desirable chance to live for twenty four years in complete and total luxury. He would never become ill, he could not die, and he would be able to instantly have anything he desired. He would possess magical powers, unlimited knowledge, and be surrounded by beautiful women who could satisfy his every sexual desire. But, in return for being granted this hedonistic lifestyle, after twenty four years the Devil could claim his soul. It’s a natural human weakness that we don’t think very far into the future. Twenty four years seems an eternity away, as it seemed to Faust. But the thought of living such an idyllic life of unrestrained pleasure smashed Faust’s moral fibre and he agreed to the unholy pact. Faust lived very well for twenty four years, but that time passed faster than he expected. The day before his time was due to expire, his heart was filled with regret. He realised all the fun was coming to an end and he faced a hopeless eternity burning in the flames of the Devil’s abode. He summoned Mephistopheles and pleaded with the Devil’s messenger to forgive him and abolish the deal. But Mephistopheles, like the Devil, took the harsh view that a deal is a deal. The next day, Faust made another impassioned plea to Mephistopheles to reconsider the deal. He promised he would devote himself to acts of altruism ever after. But Mephistopheles could not be convinced to change his mind. Finally, as the twenty four year period came to an absolute end, a band of demons arrived and Dr Faust, whose life of sheer pleasure was now over, was dragged screaming through the Gates of Hell. Maybe our friend Kapustins is all too much like Dr Faust?”
You could have just about heard a pin drop in Rodionov’s cottage that night and, in a strange kind of way, Delta was starting to warm to Rodionov.
“Kostya, just how prevalent are former KGB members in the Latvian Government?”
“The are as common as gutter rats. Of course, the KGB is gone now. But the old network still exists. What can I say? It never really left Latvia. There are Deputies of the Saeima who are former KGB agents. Some of them have held ministerial positions over the years.”
“Any presidents? Prime Ministers?” asked Delta.
“Yes. There have been.” replied Kostya with a solemn tone.
“Quite a lot of Latvia’s most powerful businessmen were part of it, too. The whole system here has evolved to protect the richest and most powerful scoundrels in the country from ever facing justice for their frauds and thefts, while outwardly creating the appearance of being a democratic Rule of Law member of the European Union, and a NATO ally. Sickening, isn’t it? But that’s the system. It’s the system that Latvians must rectify if they are ever to get true freedom and true prosperity.”
Delta looked intently at Rodionov.
“Kostya, do you hope it happens?”
“It would be nice, but it’s not the most important thing to me. I’m not Latvian so I don’t get all misty about things like that. I’m resigned to my life here in Skrunda. It’s nice, you know. Here I have peace and quiet. I can read my books and see beautiful green trees under blue summer skies.”
Delta asked, “Well, you were the one who asked us to meet with you here. What do you want from us?”
Rodionov’s eyes dilated with surprise.
“What do I want? Ha! I’ll tell you exactly what I want, my friend…”
Rodionov took another sip of vodka, wiped his lips, stared at Delta and the other four for a moment, and then smiled.
“I want to see Valērijs Kapustins dragged screaming through the Gates of Hell!”
(to be continued Sunday 12th August, 2018)