A Sinister Force

Once they embodied Soviet power, now the Spetsnaz elite troops reflect Russia's dangerous chaos

When Alexei reads about a sensational contract killing--for example, the opposition Deputy Galina Starovoitova gunned down on the stairs of her apartment building last fall, or the St. Petersburg politician Mikhail Manevich hit five times at long range as his car sped down a busy street in August 1997, or the mafia leader felled by a sniper's single bullet as he left a steam bath--he has an eerie feeling. He wonders whether he trained the hit man. At times, he says, he imagines himself sitting next to the killer, checking his technique as he carries out the hit. Alexei--a pseudonym--is still...

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