In February, the Investigative Committee charged seven individuals with “participation in a terrorist organization” in connection with an alleged attempted assassination of television presenter Vladimir Solovyov. The details surrounding this case remain unknown, and it is unclear whether a genuine attempt was made on Solovyov's life. However, the presenter himself admitted in December to being involved in a confrontation with criminals, claiming that he “engaged in a gunfight.” It is possible that Solovyov was telling the truth. Meanwhile, former FSB officer Sergei Astashin recounted to The Insider how Solovyov allegedly attempted to commission the murder of notorious criminal Otari Kvantrishvili.
In the early 1990s, Otari Kvantrishvili, known as “Otarik” among his friends, extorted money from numerous business owners in Russia's capital. Despite the FSB officer's refusal to act, Kvantrishvili was assassinated in 1994. The case was not solved until 12 years later, revealing that the killer was Alexei Sherstobitov, also known as “Lesha the Soldier,” a notorious hitman for the Medvedkovo gang. Meanwhile, Vladimir Solovyov's alleged attempt to hire an FSB officer as a hitman went unpunished, and his career as a TV anchor continued to flourish. According to the ex-FSB officer, the attempted assassination may have been used as a convenient excuse to recruit Solovyov.
On April 5, 1994, Otari Kvantrishvili was fatally shot at the exit of Krasnopresnensky baths. All three bullets fired hit their mark; the assassin used a small-caliber Anschutz rifle of German make that had been purchased in Estonia. Following Kvantrishvili's death, President Boris Yeltsin expressed condolences to the victim's family, and the funeral and memorial service was attended by several notable figures, including then-Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov, President of the National Sports Foundation Shamil Tarpishchev, Andrei Sidelnikov (an aide to Rutskoi), NTV owner Vladimir Gusinsky, Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, singers Alexander Rosenbaum and Bogdan Titomir, and various other prominent athletes and public figures.
Iosif Kobzon and Otari Kvantrishvili
During the early 1990s, Otari Kvantrishvili and Iosif Kobzon co-founded the Shield and Lyre Law Enforcement Assistance Foundation and the XXI Century Association. Kvantrishvili also established the “Sportsmen of Russia” political party, which consisted of Olympic champions, sambo wrestlers, and boxers. In addition to his political and social ventures, Kvantrishvili had financial interests in various industries in the capital, including casinos, banks, and oil transportation. Together with criminal mastermind Silvester, he controlled the extraction of precious metals.
The investigation into Kvantrishvili's murder was quickly classified as a “cold case” due to a lack of specific suspects and evidence, aside from a handful of cigarette butts. However, the killer had intentionally picked up the cigarette butts from bus stops in order to mislead investigators. Law enforcement agencies were plagued by ongoing leaks regarding the motives and perpetrators of the crime. Georgy Zhavoronkov, a former officer and biathlon master of sports, was named as a potential murder-for-hire client, in addition to Silvestr. Furthermore, members of the FSB's Alfa and Vympel special units, who had been involved in other contract killings, as well as St. Petersburg Chekists who sought to prevent Otarik from gaining control of the seaport, were also investigated.
A revelation by Ivan Vorontsov, a co-founder of the Russian Federal Bureau of Investigation (FSBI) and former Presidential Administration employee, caused a stir. Vorontsov, who was arrested for illegal possession of weapons, claimed that Alexander Shokhin, a Russian deputy prime minister, and his brother Gennady might have been involved in the murder-for-hire. The alleged motive was Otarik's demand for a large sum of money to be transferred to his foundation. However, during confrontations, the terrified Vorontsov did not identify anyone and was subsequently sent to a psychiatric hospital.
It was not until 12 years after the assassination of Otarik that the investigation gained momentum with the arrests of members of the Medvedkovo gang. The notorious hitman, Alexei Sherstobitov (Sharayabgetov), also known as Lesha-Soldat, who had already been charged with 12 murders and attempts, was revealed to be the killer of Kvantrishvili. During interrogation, Lesha-Soldat disclosed that Silvestr had ordered the hit because Otarik had refused to share the profits from the Tuapse oil refinery. The intermediary for the contract killing was Grigory Gusyatinsky (Grisha Severny), a former senior lieutenant of the KGB, who had become a criminal after his dismissal. Gusyatinsky, however, was shot dead by Lesha-Soldat in Kyiv in 1995 before he could be interrogated. Silvestr had also been killed before the trial. Sherstobitov testified that he had been given a three-room apartment and a model seven Zhiguli for carrying out the murder of Kvantrishvili.
Alexei Sherstobitov (Lesha-Soldat)
Could it be possible that Silvestr was not the only person who hired Lesha-Soldat for the hit on Kvantrishvili? This is a question that arises, given that Sergei Astashin, a former FSB officer, later an investigator for the prosecutor's office and now a retired lawyer, reached out to The Insider with a different claim. Astashin stated that Solovyov had asked him to find a hitman to take out Kvantrishvili.
“Why are you contacting us now?”
“I would have forgotten this story long ago, but one day I saw Solovyov on a TV show and he started saying, 'I used to run a business, I never paid anyone, and if we were attacked, my guys and I would grab assault rifles.” It made me so angry: what a bitch you are! If I get a chance, I'll remind you of assault rifles.”
“How did you meet Solovyov?”
“In November 1993, when I was a student in the military counterintelligence department at the Academy of the Russian Ministry of Security (now FSB Academy), Kirill Raikov approached me. He was a courier for Solovyov, who was in the business of delivering goods. Raikov and I were close friends, and he asked me to check for bugs in Solovyov's office. I took the equipment and found bugs; they were small and did not require batteries. They were plugged into the phone cable in the switchboard and the room. While I was working, Solovyov was wearing a long black cashmere coat and a Swiss watch. He looked at my watch and commented that it was cheap. That watch was given to me and four other employees as a reward. Solovyov paid me $200 for my services.
“Who put the bugs in?”
“Whoever Solovyov rented the premises from. The owner was bugging him. They were having some kind of a row about money. Solovyov was angry afterwards and said: “I suspected it”.
“In an interview with KP, Solovyov said that he was a wealthy man when he began working for TV. He had owned factories in both Russia and the Philippines and had been selling disco equipment all over the world.”
“Yes, that was how he and his friends in the Jewish organization operated their business. However, the sale of liquor, nuts, and cashews was solely his business. He used to import groceries and Keglevich vodka from Israel, which he was the first to bring to Moscow, and it turned out to be a profitable venture.”
Solovyov and friends
Solovyov in Israel
“What happened next after you found the bugs?”
“After three or four days, Kirill Raikov asked me to meet Solovyov again. We met in his office and then went to a park and sat on a bench, as it was already a bit cold with snow on the ground. Solovyov asked me personally to find a hitman, but initially, he did not reveal the identity of the target. I said, “Why don't you approach the gangsters who could quickly do it for money?” I had a long talk with him. I finally found out that the person Solovyov wanted to eliminate was Otarik Kvantrishvili. Solovyov had sought help from his friends in the Jewish organization to deal with the situation, but they refused to help and advised him to solve the problem himself in a radical manner, promising to cover for him if need be. I listened to him and returned to the academy, where I wrote a detailed report to the head of the course, since there were no computers at that time. The report was then sent to the security service of the academy, and subsequently to the Moscow and Regional Directorate.”
“And how much did Solovyov offer for the murder of Otarik?”
“Twenty grand for the shooter. He offered ten at first, and I said to him, “Are you f*cking kidding me? Not only cops will be looking for him, but criminal bosses as well. The man has to do it and disappear.” He said ten again. Then I said, “All right, but you take care of all the expenses. The clean car, the gun. Where and how you get it, that's your problem.” He said right away: “I'm not getting involved in this”.”
“Twenty thousand dollars?”
“Yes. And he said the money was nor his own, but rather designated for that purpose. I remember that very well.”
“And how did your superiors respond?”
“I submitted the report personally to the head of the course, Vyacheslav Kabanov. At first he was flabbergasted and talked to me for a long time. Then I was summoned by the Academy's security service.”
“What happened next?”
“Kirill Raikov used to bring me Keglevich vodka from Solovyov, but one day it suddenly stopped. I ordered a few bottles for the New Year, but Kirill told me that Solovyov had gone to Israel after visiting the “office” <the FSB>. After the visit he came home in a terrible state and told Kirill he was packing his things and leaving. Sometime later, Kirill visited me and said, “Vladimir is back, doing well, and there are new and larger batches of Keglevich vodka available”.”
“I wonder how Solovyov solved his problems with the FSB? Was he recruited?”
“The fact that the office could have recruited him is one hundred percent true. You'd have to be a complete idiot to pass up a chance like that. Look at how many bright stars there were on TV at the time. Where are they now? And he's still going strong.”
“Have you seen Solovyov since his return from Israel?”
“Solovyov never met with me again. When I found out that Kvantrishvili had been killed in the spring, I went to the head of the course. They scolded me and told me: “Get out of here. Forget all about it. It's none of your business”.”
“Are you ready to corroborate your testimony in court?”
“Sure, it's not a problem at all. I'm willing to take a [lie] detector test, I know it was all true.”
Astashin claims that a detailed report of the meeting with Solovyov is stored in his personal file at the FSB Academy. Vladimir Solovyov did not respond to The Insider's attempts to contact him, and Kirill Raikov could not be reached either. The Insider is willing to publish Solovyov's comments if he chooses to respond.