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The Guardian (UK)
31 December 2001
Colonel commands share in post-Soviet prosperity
After a decade of upheaval, officers are among winners
Ian Traynor in Moscow

Seeking respite from a bitter, snow-bound Moscow on a Thai beach over the New Year holiday, Lieutenant-Colonel Viktor Grigorov can only marvel at how sweet life can be.

His 150,000 flat in one of Moscow's better areas is stuffed with electronic goodies, smart furniture, and a fancy "Swedish sauna". The Toyota Landcruiser sits downstairs. His two teenage sons are at good schools. Foreign holidays several times a year have become routine.

"Never in my wildest dreams," he smiles, "would I have imagined I would have all this."

Ten years ago Viktor Grigorov was a small-town police officer earning 200 roubles a month, the son of a poor factory hand. His only glimpse of life beyond the Soviet Union had been as a young communist on a trip to Finland where he was astounded by the tidiness of Helsinki graveyards.

"My life itself is a mark of the transformation of Russia. The main thing I got from these 10 years has been freedom of choice. I can go where I want, I can buy what I want, I can read what I want."

Ten years ago last week the Soviet superpower expired when President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, the communist red flag was hauled down from the Kremlin, and Boris Yeltsin's Russia embarked on a high-risk course towards in dependence, democracy, and free markets.

It has been a decade of huge upheaval, national decline, massive opportunity, and great corruption - a time of promise and trouble that turned lives upside down.

Lieut-Col Grigorov, now 48, recalls big rows with his father. "He believed fervently in Stalin and Lenin and was so proud of the victory in the second world war. But he couldn't understand anything any more. His whole life was a waste - his youth, his passion, his love, everything. That generation, they were all involved, willy-nilly, in the system. I told him, look dad, look what's happened to this country. No one could go anywhere. We were all locked up and deprived of all chances."

Viktor is well named: he is a winner. In the vicious post-Soviet lottery, he seized his chances after a humdrum 20-year career as a criminal detective in the small town of Serpukhov 50 miles south of Moscow where he was CID chief and head of the Communist party committee.

"You had to be a party member to get on. And I was a Soviet man. Now I don't need to be a member of any party and there are no consequences."

The great awakening came with the eruption of freedoms under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 80s. The CID chief started reading voraciously, quit the party, and bitterly concluded that Bolshevism was "a great lie, an experiment on the Russian people intended to destroy it".

His disgust deepened, however, with the ascent of Boris Yeltsin and the accompanying power struggles.

"Any man bearing a weapon and wearing epaulettes - the army, the police, the judges, the procurators - we all became tools in the power struggle, under orders to take sides. It was almost a civil war. I refused. I decided I will not do this. So I was forced to remake my life entirely."

His first marriage broke up. He quit the police, moved to Moscow, and fell in with some Serbian business types trading in and out of Yugoslavia during the international sanctions of the mid-90s.

That proved lucrative. They formed a building firm at Pancevo outside Belgrade where Viktor Grigorov lived for three years. He also invested in a restaurant owned by the family of his second wife on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro.

Back in Moscow by the late 90s, he also went into the booming "legal trade", taking advantage of contacts in the security services to advise clients in business and politics and doing private detective work.

He was not alone. Former army officers, KGB veterans, and policemen have been some of the greatest beneficiaries of the Russian free-for-all, moving into banking, business, and the booming "private army" sector of the security trade.

They have also flourished in politics under President Vladimir Putin. As the chaos of the Yeltsin years recedes, it is the Grigorov generation with security service backgrounds who are running Russia now.

Lieut-Col Grigorov is Mr Putin's age and, like him, a non-smoking, non-drinking fitness fanatic wedded to visions of restoring Russian greatness.'

"It was shaming for me to watch Yeltsin on television, to see him drunk, to listen to him. But now when I see Putin on TV my heart rises in pride."

Such has been Mr Putin's impact that Lieut-Col Grigorov has come full circle. When he gets back from his Thai holiday next week, he is hoping to hear he has landed a job back in the police, in an elite unit combatting organised crime.

With his separate income, the low pay is not a concern: "I want to rejoin the police because things are different now," he says. "They are changing because of Putin."

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