Russia: Who is “Maria Ivanova”?

On March 11, the Sunday Times ran a piece by Sarah Baxter and Anna Voutsen on the recent attacks against critics of Vladimir Putin's regime. It opened with the story of a Russian journalist who has allegedly received political asylum in the United States following several attempts on her life, including two cases of severe poisoning. She is described as “the award-winning journalist, an expert on the Caucasus region” and is assigned a fictitious name in the piece, Maria Ivanova:

Ivanova is not the journalist’s real name. Until she leaves Russia she will not feel safe enough to be identified. “I live in fear,” she said in her first interview about her illness. “I feel trapped and constantly threatened by the security services.”

Needless to say, the Russian media and a number of Russian bloggers became eager to find out who was being concealed behind the pseudonym, and this, unfortunately, seems to have hurt an innocent person.

Timur Aliev – LJ user timur_aliev, editor-in-chief of The Chechen Society newspaper, the Chechnya editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) – has devoted four posts (RUS) to this issue:

March 11, 2007

I'm looking through [what my LJ friends are writing]. Many are feverish to learn who this mysterious Maria Ivanova is.


Everyone's guessing whether it's [journalist Yulia Latynina], or [Marina Litvinovich, LJ user abstract2001, editor-in-chief of the Truth of Beslan – – website], or some other person. All assume this must be someone from Moscow. And I think this is very typical and says a lot on how little people in Russia know about the Caucasus. No, of course, there is Chechnya and Kadyrov, there's the tragedy of Beslan and the siege of Nalchik – everyone knows about these topics. But even our journalistic colleagues in Moscow do not know about the problems their colleagues in the Caucasus are facing.

I guess I know this journalist. But I'm not going to make my guess public here. The Brits must have had their reasons to rename her – what if publicity hurts her.


sorex: And now the poor one will have to [live a quiet, miserable life] together with [Meskhetian Turks] and other outcasts. Meanwhile, everyone in the civilized world knows that the FSB has got long hands. They can pour polonium into her tea in the USA, too.

timur_aliev: She's an active person and is definitely not going to live quietly… But it's true that she'll have to be careful while drinking her tea…

hippy55: Your sarcasm would've been appropriate if the journalist's life was under minimal threat. They were laughing at Politkovskaya's tea poisoning, too, until that very polonium became a reality. Poor country, if journalists are fleeing it.

sorex: Is it only the journalists that are fleeing this poor country? There are plenty of economic refugees as well. Many of them pretend to be political.

Anonymous: If journalists work for foreign intelligence, and do harm to their country in every way possible, do everything for the sake of the salaries paid by their foreign sponsors, then they should be jailed for a long time.

hippy55: I'm not arguing. As long as there're facts and a trial has occurred. [A fair trial.]


gray_weasel: […] If the journalist is for real, I don't think she needs a pseudonym, because there are enough details in the story that make it possible to find out her real name. Especially, if we are talking of the secret service or others who can do harm. :))) […]

timur_aliev: Her departure is convenient for the “secret service” – because this is a way to keep her from writing – but it has to happen quietly… And if a scandal breaks out, it won't be convenient for the secret service…

gray_weasel: It's not quiet already, if she has given an interview, or do you think the “secret service” folks don't remember which of the journalists they recently poisoned twice? :) To my mind, there's an obvious contradiction between the journalist's anonymity and the set of real-life details. […]

timur_aliev: What happened is the Brits simply did [a disservice] to her…


nav74: Kommersant [newsparer] writes that “Maria Ivanova” is [Fatima Tlisova, editor of the Regnum news agency’s North Caucasus service]. Is this the one you were thinking of? […] In an interview with Kommersant, Tlisova denies it all, but a Google search definitely points at her.

timur_aliev: Actually, no, she's not the one I meant…

March 12, 2007

Yesterday's attempts to guess who “Maria Ivanova” is have led to a few media piece today.


Here is what Fatima [Tlisova] responded on Regnum:

“[…] I did not have contact with the Sunday Times journalists. I do indeed plan to spend time at a U.S. university in the nearest future […]. But the only place where I can imagine my further work is the Caucasus. Who and what stands behind the Sunday Times publication and the persistent attempts to tie it to my name, I do not know.”

And they were surprised at the U.S. embassy as well:

The U.S. Embassy has no information on the Russian journalist seeking political asylum in the United States. “We at the embassy were perplexed by information published in the British newspaper the Sunday Times,” RIA Novosti were told at the press service of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

I did write yesterday that I think I know the identity [of Maria Ivanova], but I wouldn't want to reveal her name because it might hurt her.

And it did happen in the end, even though I was thinking about a different journalist, not Tlisova. Still, this story is going to harm Fatima. I think they'll be giving her real hard time with check-ups now.

Today, I've a feeling that even the journalist I was thinking about has nothing to do with it. And the publication is aimed against Tlisova. It's hard to say who organized it, but still.

Because if you think logically, the British had to understand that after such a publication, this journalist – whoever she is – who is not in the States yet, but in Russia, will not be able to get out of the country. And this is why she couldn't have asked to publish what they did, because it would prevent her from leaving.


lisa_dv: How true are these details, Timur?

“Police and secret service officers called Tlisova “a terrorist accomplice” and put out cigarettes on her fingers…”
“After publishing an article on one corrupted officer, a kidnapper of children, this officer came to the newsroom with flowers – and dragged a gun out of the bouquet. The guards managed to prevent the worst from happening.”

timur_aliev: Fatima used to tell lots of horrors about her work – so I think this is 100 percent true…

March 13, 2007, 13:22

The yellow press has started a new thread on Maria Ivanova's case – this time it's the Izvestia newspaper (it hurts to call this newspaper [yellow press], but I have to).

According to their version, “Maria Ivanova” is [Elina Ersenoyeva, a Chechen journalist and activist who was abducted last year and who was reported to have been “a secret bride of Shamil Basayev”].


The journalist's imagination is enviable. He discards some versions, builds others, without basing them on anything solid. I'd like to see this imaginative guy when Elina's mother was fainting in front of me, begging to help her abducted daughter in some way.


March 13, 2007, 13:50

What jerks these journalists are. Stringer is writing on “Maria Ivanova – Elina Ersenoyeva” as well:

According to rumors, Elina Ersenoyeva has inherited big money from Basayev, and she can put them to good use in the West, and do her favorite thing at the same time – propaganda against the “bloody regime.”

Indeed, how simple it all was: most likely, when she reaches the West, Elina Ersenoyeva will be telling what a wonderful person Basayev was, how he was teaching her to cook borscht, and how she loved him. And Hollywood would buy the rights for a sentimental screenplay on the terrorist's last love affair.



pumchik: I read about Elina in your journal, a long time ago… Please tell me, has she been found?

timur_aliev: Are you kidding?

bratanishe: And where is her mother?

timur_aliev: Disappeared in early October…


Anna Voutsen (LJ user voutsen, the Moscow-based co-author of the Sunday Times piece, ended up issuing this “official statement” (RUS) on her blog:

[…] I do not know Maria Ivanova's real name.

But I do know that this person exists for real. And this person's words were quoted with his permission.

Update: Some theater of absurd this is. It has been noted clearly that the “name is not real.” If they had brains at least the size of a chicken's ass, they'd guess why. I've no idea why [the hell] Russian journalists had to do all the public guessing of this person's identity. A game of who is better at drowning the other or what?

And in comments to another blogger's post, voutsen wrote this (RUS):

[…] I did not talk to this person, unfortunately, so I can't make any statements.

Still, I know that the conversation was meant to be quoted. On certain conditions, like no names, etc. The person said what he considered necessary and possible. What we obtained – we quoted.

As for the mass guessing out loud whether it's Klava or Fyokla, or maybe even Pyotr Petrovich, I don't get it. [This is mean.] I think that the person who agreed to talk to us definitely didn't expect such meanness from colleagues. […]

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