The struggle between Moscow and Ekaterinburg for control of the Romanov bones began as the remains were exhumed. Indeed, from the moment in 1989 when Geli Ryabov revealed what he and Alexander Avdonin had discovered, Ekaterinburg regarded the bones as belonging to it. The exhumation in 1991 was ordered by the Sverdlovsk regional governor, Edvard Rossel, and his deputy, Alexander Blokhin. The actual digging was supervised by Deputy Investigator Volkov of the Sverdlovsk Region Office of the Public Prosecutor. With the bones laid out in the morgue, Volkov began the investigation into their identity. It was Volkov who forbade Moscow forensic expert Sergei Abramov from taking pictures of the skeletons and who, once pictures had been taken, demanded that all film and written notes be left behind in Ekaterinburg. It was Rossel who asked Secretary of State Baker for American scientific help.
Throughout this period, the Russian government never accepted the argument that the murder of a Russian emperor and the discovery of his bones was a local issue. But at the time of these events, the government’s political position was weak. President Yeltsin survived one coup attempt by Old Guard Communists and another by the leader of the elected Parliament and his own vice president. During this battle for survival in Moscow, the only central government officials concerned with the Romanov investigation were in the relatively low-level Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in the Ministry of Health. In addition, the Ekaterinburg authorities were certain that what they were doing had the unofficial support of their native son, President Yeltsin.
This belief was publicly articulated by Sverdlovsk Deputy Governor Blokhin at the July 1992 conference in Ekaterinburg. His statement came in response to a pointed question from Vladimir Soloviev of the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Russia, who was present as an observer. During the press conference, Soloviev asked: “At present, the Sverdlovsk administration has decided to appropriate the remains of the Imperial family. This discovery belongs to Russia. Has the question of burying the remains been posed to the Russian government?” Blokhin calmly replied that the regional government did not consider what it had done as “appropriation.” Sverdlovsk Region had not officially asked the Russian government for permission, but—he said to Soloviev—“you, apparently, are informed that prior to starting any investigative or exhumation work, the head of the administration phoned the Russian president Boris Nicholaevich [Yeltsin] and reported to him the fact that such work was being contemplated by the region.” Soloviev was rebuffed but not defeated. To him, it continued to seem absurd that a provincial capital should attempt to seize and profit from a significant event in Russian history. Besides, he had observed and been disgusted by the fledgling efforts to market the bones that had accompanied the 1992 scientific conference.
In August 1993, the Ekaterinburg monopoly abruptly ended, and the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Russia assumed control of the Romanov investigation. Vladimir Soloviev was assigned as chief investigating official. A Russian government commission was appointed to sit in Moscow.* Its assignment was to receive from the Russian public prosecutor all available evidence as to the validity of the bones, weigh this evidence, and then inform the government of its conclusions. If the commission ruled that the remains were legitimate, it was to make further recommendations as to where, when, and by what ritual they should be buried.
The commission worked on an ad hoc basis. There were no regularly scheduled meetings; members were summoned when there was new evidence to receive and discuss. Few members attended regularly. Edvard Rossel, still nominally on the commission, never came. Veniamin Alekseyev appeared only rarely. From Ekaterinburg, that left only Alexander Avdonin, who came to every meeting at his own expense. Sometimes, people were invited to join and then not informed about meetings. Bishop Basil Rodzianko, who is eighty and is respected throughout Russia for his twenty-five years of religious radio broadcasts from London and Washington, D.C., was officially asked by Anatoly Sobchak, said that he would be happy to come to a meeting, and then never heard from anyone again.
Vladimir Soloviev, although not a member of the commission, quietly became the pivotal figure in its work. He was the representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office assigned to provide the commission with evidence. His task was to track down scientists, historians, and archivists, locate documents, authorize tests, and gather results. He attended most of the commission’s meetings in order to answer questions or to receive requests for additional information. He had been given broad powers. When, in the summer of 1994, Alexander Avdonin asked on my behalf whether I could see the remains in Ekaterinburg, the first answer of the local authorities was no. Soon, a fax arrived from Soloviev in Moscow instructing that I was to be shown “everything.”
Vladimir Nicholaevich Soloviev is a short, balding, barrel-chested man with light brown eyes and a brown beard finely trimmed in exactly the style of the beard of Nicholas II. In his deep voice, Soloviev said that when as part of his work he visited the Imperial palaces at Tsarskoe Selo outside St. Petersburg to examine the uniforms, dresses, helmets, and hats worn by the Imperial family, he found that the tsar’s measurements and his own were identical. Out of curiosity, he tried on one of Nicholas’s now-faded military tunics. It fit perfectly. Soloviev’s own day-to-day uniform was a simple brown semi-military shirt with epaulets but no insignia.
Vladimir Soloviev was born in 1950, the son of a lawyer, in the Stavropolsk region of the Russian Caucasus, near the resort towns of Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk—“Lermontov places,” he called them. He finished high school at eighteen, did odd jobs for a year, spent two years in the army, then entered the Moscow University Department of Law. When he graduated in 1976, he was sent to Taldom, a town sixty miles from Moscow, where he worked in the Prokuratura (Office of the Public Prosecutor) as one of two regional investigators. His primary duty was investigating murders, which, he recalled, “unfortunately, at that time, were quite numerous … peasants burning bodies in a stove inside a small hut … that kind of thing.” Transferred after two years to the Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Moscow Region, he worked in a branch overseeing the work of the militia, then moved on to the Moscow Region Transportation Prokuratura, where he investigated cases of violence connected with transportation: airplane crashes, train accidents and, again, “many murders, aboard trains, for example, or near railroad tracks.” Next, Soloviev returned to Moscow University as supervisor in charge of the laboratory of the Criminology Department, training students in criminological procedures. In 1990, he transferred to the Office of the General Procurator of Russia, where his title became procurator criminologist of the Office of the General Procurator of the Russian Federation. Here, too, his specialty was murder. Throughout his career, Soloviev had nothing to do with the KGB. “The Office of the Public Prosecutor does not get involved with political matters,” he said. “The two organizations have different purposes.”
Soloviev always has been interested in history and archeology. When Geli Ryabov first announced that he had found the Romanov remains in Siberia, Soloviev didn’t totally believe him, but he was interested. Once the remains were exhumed, Soloviev—because of his familiarity with the major government archive (formerly the Central Archive of the October Revolution, recently renamed the State Archive of the Russian Federation)—was asked to assist Sverdlovsk Deputy Investigator Volkov. In the archives, Soloviev located much useful material: four volumes of Sokolov’s work, photographs of Kharitonov and Trupp, materials on Yurovsky and on Grand Duke George Alexandrovich (Nicholas II’s younger brother). In doing this work, Soloviev found his interest in the Imperial family sharpened. In August 1993, his superiors handed him responsibility for conducting the Romanov investigation on behalf of the Russian government.
When Soloviev assumed control, he immediately designated the investigation of the Romanov murders and the validation of the bones as a criminal case. This definition gave him greater powers. Now he could compel testimony; no Russian could refuse to answer his questions, and the people interrogated were accountable for their replies. Turning the matter into a criminal case also broadly extended the scope of Soloviev’s investigation. In addition to establishing the specific facts of the murder, he now was required to answer the question of responsibility: essentially, if these were murders, who were the murderers? “The criminal case was resurrected in order to determine whether a murder was committed in Ekaterinburg or a legal execution by a sentence of a lawful government,” Soloviev explained. “If a man commits a crime for which he receives a lawful death sentence, then the executioners carrying out this sentence are not committing a crime. So, I must determine whether it was legal for the Ural Soviet in 1918 to pronounce the death penalty on the tsar and his family.” In this context, Soloviev had further questions: “Who was Yurovsky? Who was Sverdlov? Who was Lenin? Legally, how were they connected to these executions? Were they criminals or were they respectable people?”
Soloviev was aware that questions of this nature transformed his criminal investigation into a probing of the highest and most sensitive political and historical issues. “Yes,” he said, “I have much more to do than simply establish the identity of a skull or several skulls. That is difficult enough, but the real questions are about something else. Beneath the surface, there is a gigantic iceberg.”
Agreeing that these questions have great political and historical impact, Soloviev nodded and smiled ruefully. “Yes, but my bosses, thank the Lord, do not yet know this,” he said. “I am leading the investigation, and now, thank God, no one is stopping me from doing my job. Actually, it interests the Office of the Public Prosecutor very little. My bosses have other, more pressing problems. Their heads hurt because in Russia we have finally caught up with and surpassed America in the murder rate.”
Soloviev began as any criminal investigator anywhere in the world would begin: by retrieving and examining the weapons said to have been used in the killings. He took the pistols, which had been given to museums, and had ballistic experts fire them to see whether the newly fired bullets had characteristics similar to those of the bullets found in the grave. Unfortunately, the bullets from the grave were badly corroded, and the tiny details studied to establish identification had been obliterated. In addition, Soloviev had noted grimly, these particular pistols had been fired many times over many years and any unique characteristics of their barrels had disappeared. Nevertheless, he said, “While there was no proof that these bullets were fired from these guns, there also was no contradiction. These bullets could have been fired from these pistols.”
Next, Soloviev tried to provide the commission with final verification of the identities of the skeletal remains. Although he, personally, accepts the universal verdict of Russian, English, German, and American scientists that these are the Romanovs, he discovered that some senior officials of the Russian Orthodox Church—both the Patriarchal Church in Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad—still had doubts. Both churches continued to be bothered by the heteroplasmy found by Gill and Ivanov in Nicholas II’s DNA. Subsequently, Soloviev and the Russian government commission were told unofficially that Dr. King and Dr. Ginther in Berkeley, using the teeth brought to America by Dr. Maples, had confirmed the findings of Gill and Ivanov in England, including the heteroplasmy. But, officially, the commission has received no report from Berkeley. Therefore, the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church, which is considering the canonization of the Imperial family, insisted on further testing and hinted that it would withdraw its representative, Metropolitan Euvenaly, from the government commission unless its request was granted. The commission relented. Investigator Soloviev thereupon reactivated Pavel Ivanov’s earlier proposal that the remains of Nicholas II’s younger brother Grand Duke George be exhumed from the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg and the DNA of the two brothers be compared.
George’s exhumation took place between July 6 and July 13, 1994. There was difficulty lifting the marble plate over the coffin, but once that was done, the body inside was found undisturbed. The upper part of the body was still dressed in superbly preserved clothing; the lower part lay in six inches of water (a reminder that St. Petersburg was built on a swamp where water is never far beneath the surface of the ground). The scientists removed a piece of the top of the grand duke’s skull and a part of a leg bone for DNA testing. Originally, Soloviev had intended to send these fragments to Dr. Gill in England, but when word of this plan leaked out, there was, in Soloviev’s words, “a lot of yelling and screaming in our Russian newspapers that Gill had falsified something.” The result was a protracted series of negotiations with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which eventually agreed to perform the tests without charge. “So, now we can say that we are handing this examination over to people who are totally independent of us,” Soloviev said. “Although our specialist Dr. Ivanov will be there, too.”
Pavel Ivanov arrived at the gleaming new Armed Forces Institute of Pathology DNA laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, on June 5, 1995, bringing with him a section of the femur of Grand Duke George. His mission was to reinforce the certainty that Body No. 4 in the Ekaterinburg morgue belonged to Nicholas II. “In Peter Gill’s laboratory two years ago, we obtained a probability of 98.5 percent,” Ivanov explained. “Now, in this new laboratory, using new approaches and more advanced technology, we may be able to go to 99.5 percent or 99.7 percent. In order to make it easier for our Russian government commission to make its decision, we want to get as close as possible to 100 percent.”
Ivanov also brought with him from Moscow two other potentially useful pieces of evidence. One was the bloodstained handkerchief originally obtained in Japan and from which no usable DNA could be extracted in Gill’s laboratory. In the AFIP laboratories, with their special air locks and air-purifying systems designed to reduce laboratory contamination to a minimum, and with the latest equipment for enhancing degraded DNA, Ivanov intended to try again. He also brought with him a strand of Nicholas II’s hair, cut when the tsar was a child of three, preserved in a locket in a St. Petersburg palace, discovered there by Soloviev and given by him to Ivanov. “There is no follicle attached and cut hair has very little DNA,” Ivanov said, “but AFIP has enormously powerful amplification equipment. We will do our best.”
These DNA tests—on Nicholas II’s brother, Nicholas II’s blood, and Nicholas II’s hair—were to be completed in the autumn of 1995.
The whereabouts of the remains of the two children missing from the grave also baffled the investigator and the commission. Avdonin, attending every meeting, continually urged on his fellow members, “If we could find these two bodies, then everything would be clear, everything would be concluded, the story would be complete.” Soloviev agreed. “Unless we find them,” the investigator said—and here he supplied a Russian proverb: “In the depths of every soul exists a snake”—“then in the hearts of the scientists and all of us connected with the investigation, there always will be doubt.”
The task of finding the missing bodies was immensely complicated when, in the spring of 1993—that is, before the Moscow public prosecutor had taken control of the investigation—an Ekaterinburg academic, Professor V. V. Alekseyev of the Urals Institute of History and Archeology, descended with tractors and agricultural plows on the area around the open grave site. A bitter enemy of Avdonin, Alekseyev hoped to locate the missing bodies in time to present his findings to the July 1993 conference in Ekaterinburg. Alekseyev found nothing, but when he left, the earth was churned into large, rough furrows. Dr. William Maples, arriving in Ekaterinburg that summer, was incensed by what Alekseyev had done. Maples had arranged to bring to Ekaterinburg a sensitive, mobile machine the size of a lawn mower which sends sound waves into the ground and records any disturbance in the normal pattern of the upper layers of the earth. Maples had seen this used to locate buried bodies in America, and he thought it had promise for finding the missing Romanov children. When he saw what Alekseyev had done, his face darkened. “There’s no hope now,” he said. “It’s absolutely ruined!”
Soloviev admits that hope of finding the two bodies is growing dim. “Too much time has passed,” he said. “The soil has been moved. A cable has been laid through the area.” Nevertheless, he believes that a faint chance still exists. “Yurovsky says that two bodies were burned,” he said. “Sokolov found a place where there were fires. He found bones and congealed fat. Sokolov believed that all the bodies were burned on this spot. Sokolov also wrote that, in his day, no methods existed to establish whether these were human or animal bones. Now, these methods exist. If only we could find these bones.”
Ryabov, like Soloviev, believed in Yurovsky’s note and, therefore, that the remains of two bodies were buried under a bonfire. If they were there, and still are there, they can be found, but the search would cost, by Ryabov’s estimate, somewhere between $5 million and $20 million. Even then, Soloviev worried that the bones, being near the surface, might be in much worse condition than the remains found in the protective clay of the mass grave. The missing bones might be there, he feared, but still not have survived.
In his effort to locate the two missing bodies or, at least, to determine what had happened to them, Soloviev would dearly love to get his hands on one collection of evidence which so far has been denied to him. This is the contents of the box brought from Ekaterinburg to Europe in 1920 by Investigator Nicholas Sokolov in the wake of the White Army defeat in Siberia.
Fleeing the victorious Bolsheviks, Sokolov traveled across Siberia, clinging to this box, whose contents he referred to as the “Great National Sacred Relics.” From Vladivostok, he and his wife sailed for Europe with a White officer, Colonel Cyril Naryshkine, and Naryshkine’s wife aboard the French ship André le Bon. During the voyage, the box traveled eight thousand miles under Mme. Naryshkina’s shipboard bunk. The connection between Sokolov and the Naryshkines was long-standing. Before the First World War, Sokolov had been a magistrate in the town of Penza, west of Moscow, where he became a friend of General Sergei Rozanov, commander of the local army regiment. Frequently, Rozanov and Sokolov hunted together on Rozanov’s estate. When the Russian Civil War began, Rozanov became chief of staff to Admiral Kolchak, the White “Supreme Ruler” in Siberia. When Ekaterinburg fell to the Whites, Rozanov and his future son-in-law Naryshkine were the first two White officers to rush to the Ipatiev House, break through the surrounding palisade, and enter the deserted mansion. A few months later, Nicholas Sokolov appeared at Kolchak’s headquarters, having made his way through the Bolshevik lines on foot. It was on Rozanov’s recommendation that Sokolov was appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Romanovs.
When the André le Bon arrived in Venice, Sokolov and Naryshkine went together to the French Riviera to present the box to Nicholas II’s cousin Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich, former commander in chief of the Russian Imperial Army, whom most Russians in emigration regarded as the most suitable successor to the Russian throne. To Sokolov’s dismay, the grand duke, not wishing to offend the Dowager Empress Marie, who still believed her son and his family were alive, refused to accept the box. Sokolov and Rozanov then traveled to England and attempted to present the box to Nicholas II’s first cousin King George V. The king also did not want it. Eventually, Sokolov gave the box for safekeeping to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
For many years, the Church Abroad has guarded the box. Until the exhumation of the bones near Ekaterinburg, the box was believed to contain the only surviving relics of the vanished Imperial family. Still deeply suspicious of the Russian government, bitterly antagonistic to the Moscow Patriarchal Church, whose patriarch and senior clergy they accuse of being former agents of the KGB, the metropolitan and bishops of the Church Abroad refuse to release the box to anyone for examination and testing of its contents. Even the location of the box is a secret, although everyone knows that it is kept in the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Job in Memory of the Martyred Tsar Nicholas II and His Family in Brussels. The contents of the box have been described by witnesses, but the church will not endorse their reports.
What makes the church’s refusal to permit examination of the box particularly frustrating is reports as to what it contains. Prince Alexis Scherbatow, the octogenarian president of the Russian Nobility Association in America, visited Brussels in the summer of 1994 and, thanks to family connections with important members of the clergy, was told that the box contained the scooped-up remnants of a fire in which bodies were consumed: “little pieces of bone, a lot of earth full of blood, two little bottles of [congealed] fat from the bodies, and several bullets.” And—Prince Scherbatow was unwilling to say who told him this or how anyone would know—but he added, “Yes, yes, absolutely. It was from two bodies.”
Nevertheless, in April 1995, the Church Abroad continued to adamantly refuse to release the box. Neither Soloviev nor any qualified Western investigator may examine its contents to help determine what happened to the two missing children. Soloviev can do nothing but wait. “If someday this box appears,” he said, “I think many questions will be solved. If there are whole bones, then a scientist like Maples might be able to tell whether they came from a young woman or a fourteen-year-old boy. A DNA test could match the bones with the DNA of the mother and daughters already found. DNA cannot tell which of the daughters it is, but we would know that this was the fourth daughter. We would not know which was which, but all four would be accounted for.”
In the West as well as in Russia, the findings of Avdonin and Ryabov, and the investigative efforts of Soloviev, were aggressively challenged. The Russian emigre community contains men and women who have spent a lifetime hating the doctrines, personalities, and administrative paraphernalia of the Communist state. Their hostility goes deeper than ideology; members of their families were slaughtered in one of the Red Terrors; their possessions were stripped away and redesignated as property of the state. For seventy-five years, they watched Soviet historians lie about the past and Soviet politicians, newspapers, radio, and television lie about the present. During this time, they developed suspicions not easily eradicated. Therefore, in 1989, when Geli Ryabov announced to the world that he had located the bones of the Imperial family, many Russians in emigration were skeptical. One group, calling itself the Expert Commission of Russians Abroad, appointed itself to monitor everything said and done inside Russia in connection with the remains. The chairman of this group was a Connecticut engineer named Peter Koltypin. The vice chairman was Prince Alexis Scherbatow. The secretary was a former CIA officer named Eugene Magerovsky. In the collective view of this commission, Ryabov’s story was bogus and the discovery of the remains in the grave a clever hoax arranged by a still-active KGB.
Alexander Avdonin first encountered Koltypin and Scherbatow in March 1992 in St. Petersburg at the burial of Grand Duke Vladimir, the pretender to the Russian throne. Avdonin, by then, was well known among Russian emigres for his role in the discovery of the grave in Ekaterinburg. After the service, people wanted to ask him questions, and he suggested gathering so he could speak to everyone simultaneously. He spoke for an hour, after which most of the audience applauded. Then he was questioned by Koltypin and Scherbatow. “I understood that they did not believe me, not for one minute,” Avdonin says. “What they were really saying with their provocative questions was that the murder of the tsar had been thoroughly investigated by Sokolov and that they deemed his investigation sufficient. They believed that the heads were cut off and taken away and the rest of the bodies burned. They believed that everything I was telling them had been set up by the KGB.” When Avdonin told them that Russian and Ukrainian scientists were testing the remains, Koltypin and Scherbatow declared that no one would believe these scientists. When Avdonin said that American scientists had been invited to participate, Koltypin and Scherbatow laughed: “So you have sold yourself to the Americans.” “Then,” Avdonin proposed, “you choose competent people and send them to us.” “No,” Koltypin said, “you will still cheat.” “In that case”—Avdonin shrugged—“we will never be able to prove the truth to you.” “No, there is one way,” Koltypin said. “It is DNA. But you in Russia don’t know how to do it.” Avdonin asked who did know. “In England,” Koltypin replied.
The next meeting between Avdonin and the emigre Expert Commission took place in February 1993, in Nyack, New York. Avdonin and his wife had flown to Boston as guests of William Maples so that Avdonin could present a paper on finding the Romanovs at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Avdonin gave another talk in Nyack and afterward retreated into a library for private discussions. Koltypin and Scherbatow were there, joined this time by Magerovsky. As in St. Petersburg, the emigres attacked Avdonin. “I may be an old White Russian so-and-so,” Magerovsky told him, “but I just don’t believe you.” “I don’t like Avdonin,” Scherbatow said later. “He was lying. He’s a real, old Communist.”
The attack from outside Russia became formal on December 25, 1993, when the Expert Commission of Russians Abroad wrote to Yuri Yarov, deputy premier of Russia and chairman of the Russian government commission examining evidence on the Romanov remains. The emigre commissioners began by warning Yarov to beware of information coming from anyone ever connected with “the Communist Party, the KGB, or the Procurator’s Office [i.e., Soloviev].” They declared that “some facts of Geli Ryabov’s biography are rather doubtful … he was connected with the KGB … his getting acquainted with A. N. Avdonin causes suspicion.” The Expert Commission rejected the authenticity of the Yurovsky note, declaring that “it is a known fact that the head of the last emperor was brought to Moscow.” Therefore, the commission hypothesized, if it was Nicholas II’s skull that Ryabov found in the Ekaterinburg grave, the skull must have been put there later “under someone else’s direction.” Finally, the emigre commissioners announced, “We suppose the other bones were put there in 1979 so that it was possible to fake the recovery of the remains in July 1991.”
Vladimir Soloviev read the emigre letter and vigorously refuted the charges against Ryabov and Avdonin. “There is talk, especially abroad, that this grave was not the grave of the tsar’s family; that this burial was ‘fixed’ or arranged by the KGB or the Cheka or one of the other ‘organs’ of olden days,” he said. “They say that Ryabov was and is an agent of the KGB. The fact is that we now have access to the KGB files, and I have officially checked this allegation against both Avdonin and Ryabov. Prior to 1989, there are no documents on either man in the KGB records. Once Ryabov published his interview and article in Moscow News and Rodina, surveillance on both Ryabov and Avdonin was established. And the KGB began trying to find out where the grave site was. In fact, there was a thick file on previous KGB efforts to find this grave. So, all of the rumors that this discovery was an action of the KGB or other special organs is ridiculous. I give you my word of honor, knowing those times and those circumstances, that if this grave site had been known to either the KGB or the Party, it would have existed for exactly the amount of time necessary to gather up a crowd of soldiers and get them to that site.”
In dealing with their attack, Soloviev has tried to understand the emigre point of view. “You know, people have stereotypes,” he said. “As they get older, it is difficult to change them. For many years, they had no reason to trust what was said here. But now, the investigations we have done and the conclusions we have produced in this case would be sufficient for any other criminal case. There would be no doubts of any kind, not in the courtroom, not from anyone. But in this case, we must do five or six times more than has already been done. So there will be no doubts. They [Koltypin, Scherbatow, and Magerovsky] do not believe anything we say. In their view, I am a scoundrel, Ryabov and Avdonin are scoundrels, everyone is a scoundrel. Only Koltypin knows the truth. He should come here himself and see everything. But he has not done that.”
Soloviev was talking about the absence of any serious research by the emigre Expert Commission. “When I come into the archives,” he said, “I see the list of documents pulled and I see the names of those who have looked at them. There is the signature of Avdonin, there is Geli Ryabov, there is a third, a fourth, a fifth, and so on. With this circle of people, I can have discussions. These are people who have actually familiarized themselves with firsthand sources and are able to say something meaningful. Whereas, the others do not want to see anything, do not want to learn anything, do not want to know anything.”
The emigres, Soloviev believed, attacked him because they had pinned all of their faith on Sokolov’s findings of seventy-five years ago. “It is often written,” Soloviev said, “that I am leading the investigation without knowing Sokolov’s material, am not interested in it, and do not accept Sokolov as a prominent investigator. This is not true. The fact is that Sokolov made a mistake, but this mistake could have been made by any investigator in his place. His mistake was to believe that the corpses were totally burned and destroyed. At that time, the evidence supported that theory. Now, we have more evidence. However, in my opinion, this was Sokolov’s only mistake.”
One charge made by Koltypin’s Expert Commission was true: it was that not every Russian archive had been completely opened. Soloviev admitted this, saying that he had been given access to all the archives “except the Presidential Archive,” the archive of the Politburo. Naturally, this restriction inflamed the suspicions of Russian emigres that important facts still were being hidden. One able to help in this matter was Edvard Radzinsky, who was a member of the government commission and, independently, was writing a biography of Stalin. “It is true that Soloviev can’t get permission to work in the Presidential Archive,” Radzinsky said, “but I have permission. The chief of administration of the Office of the President personally permitted me to work there on materials concerning Stalin. When I became a member of the government commission, I asked to expand my research to the Romanovs. Now I have a special pass to check all papers regarding the Imperial family in the Presidential Archive. Everyone agrees that it makes sense for me to do this work.”
Radzinsky believed, based on his experience, that the reason no materials on the Romanovs were turning up was not that they had been deliberately concealed or withheld but that they were unfindable. The Presidential Archive, he explained, was still active; it contained secret diplomatic documents not only of the Soviet Union but of the current Russian state. “When I started working there,” Radzinsky said, “I realized that it is impossible for them, at this stage, to separate historical documents from active state secrets. They said to me, ‘We will show you the papers from this period to this period. We can’t let you just go in and rummage around.’ Also, everything is mixed up. They have only just begun to sort and classify documents. Files are mislabeled or unlabeled. In my book, I printed material from the archives which they didn’t know they had. When they read it in my book, they asked me, ‘Where in our archive did you find this?’ ”
Radzinsky did find one document that offered additional proof of Lenin’s cynical mendacity in regard to the survival of the empress and her daughters. It was the memoirs of Adolf Ioffe, a Soviet diplomat serving in Berlin at the time of the murders. Curious about the official story that only Nicholas had been killed, Ioffe later asked Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka. Dzerzhinsky admitted that the entire family was dead, adding that Lenin had categorically forbidden that Ioffe be told. “Better if Ioffe knows nothing,” Lenin had said. “It will be easier for him to lie.”
This document did not surprise Soloviev. “Let me give you another example of Lenin’s thinking,” he said. “In 1912 or 1913, there was a terrorist attack on a minor member of the Spanish royal family. Lenin was contemptuous. ‘We must not be concerned with individual terror,’ he said. ‘If one must eliminate, one must eliminate the whole dynasty, not hunt down one person.’ Again, in 1918, the fact that they did not immediately announce that they had killed everyone was not connected to any moral criteria. Officially, they said that they had executed only Nicholas for a good reason. Let us imagine that they had announced that they had eliminated everyone. In monarchist circles there immediately would have arisen the question of a new tsar. Lenin did not want opposition to crystallize around a single successor to Nicholas. So he allowed everyone to wonder who was alive and who was dead. And where those still living might be. During the Civil War, the White Army leaders of monarchist persuasion did not know on whom they should focus. So Lenin operated on two fronts: he killed all the members of the Imperial family and many other Romanovs, but he also dangled the idea that some of the immediate family remained alive. Later, when Soviet power had gained strength, when the possibility of a monarchist or any other kind of counter-revolution had disappeared, the Communists felt free to announce what they actually had done. Not only announce, but boast about the fact that they had killed children.”
These matters were beyond the charge of the government commission on validation and burial of the Romanov remains. But they are to remain under investigation by the Office of the Russian Public Prosecutor. “When I have finished my investigation,” promised Vladimir Soloviev, “I will present my findings.”
* The appointees made up what Americans call a blue ribbon commission. Its twenty-two permanent members represented a wide spectrum of Russian political, scientific, historical, and cultural institutions. The chairman was Yuri Yarov, vice premier of Russia, and meetings were held in Yarov’s office in the Moscow White House. The vice chairman was Anatoly Sobchak, mayor of Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg. The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by Metropolitan Euvenaly. The commission also included the deputy minister of foreign affairs, the deputy minister of culture, the deputy minister of health, and Vladislav Plaksin, the chief medical examiner. Also, a historian, a painter, the president of Moscow’s Nobility Society, and the playwright-biographer Edvard Radzinsky. From Ekaterinburg, three members originally were listed: Edvard Rossel, the former governor, Veniamin Alekseyev, director of the Institute of History and Archeology in Ekaterinburg, and Alexander Avdonin.