Andre Bulatov reached out, looking for help with his situation. I am doing the same. I want to help him tell his story and I ask that others out there will do the same and help share this. I am reaching out for help in writing this article. What I am presenting is what was told to me through letters from Andre Bulatov and Mikhail Bulatov. Not all the details are currently available, but we will look at what Andre had to say about his situation. His first messages reflected his pain and fear for the lives of himself and his loved ones. Some details provided seem to find support in a leaked Wikileaks cable. Troubles increased for them after 9/11 with the changes in immigration in the United States.
Andre migrated to the United States with his mother in 1995 when he was 11 years old seeking asylum. He and his family have been fighting to get a green card and citizenship since then. They face more violence, corruption and death in Kazakhstan. Andre states that he and his family does not care about all they lost in Kazakhstan as long as they can stay in the United States.
Andre Bultov and his family are Russian Jews by birth who faced persecution in their home country. He came over while his father Mikhail Bulatov stayed behind to finish dealing with his business which was central in his troubles that led him to flee to the United States for safety. Mikhail started a construction firm in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstanin 1988. And around 1992 or 1993 at an open government auction he purchased a shopping complex consisting of four large stores. After purchasing the stores he faced troubles with local criminal gangs which at that time outnumbered legitimate businesses. They began to visit him and offer “friendship” and “protection” from trouble. In his 2010 letter for asylum Mikhail writes:
I always told them that I have no problems and that I don’t need any protection. My response was met with threats to myself and my family. My car was burned twice, the windows in my largest store were broken, and I was beaten up and, at a later incident, stabbed in the chest with a knife. Going to the police did not stop the threats or the violence and I was finally forced to pay “protection” money to one of the criminal organizations. After this the situation improved, but not for long.
The different gangs started warring with one another for influence and I started receiving visits, again, from representatives of different outfits who threatened me and demanded money. Each one of them told me that they do not care whom I’m currently paying the protection money to and that I should give the money to them. After these visits, the gang that was collecting money from me would somehow resolve the situation with the new gang and I was able to continue working and even expand my business. I kept hoping that, eventually, the situation in my country would improve and the law enforcement would clean up the criminal element. However, as the time went on, the desired safety and stability did not materialize.
Finally, in 1995, I made the decision to send my family to the United States. I did this, primarily, to ensure my family’s safety. Additionally I wanted my family to live in a normal country, where my children can get a good education and have some opportunities in life. In Kazakhstan my children would not have much of a future because we are not Kazakhs but foreign Russo-Jewish family and after the breakup of USSR, in this country everything is based on ethnic and tribal basis.
The troubles did not stop there for Mikhail. He would soon be facing persecution in Kazakhstan from the government also. He would eventually be imprisoned and tortured. Government corruption is a big problem in Kazakhstan. When the Kazakhstani authorities recently launched a well-publicized anti-corruption campaign that resulted in the arrest of several high-ranking individuals according to released cables turned it turned out to be nothing more than a power struggle between elites.
Political analysts and civil society leaders remain skeptical, however, that the government’s clean-up efforts will bring permanent results. Most see the campaign simply as evidence of a power struggle among elite groups within the Kazakhstani government and doubt that any of the “biggest fish” will be affected. -source
In 1997, representatives of the regional administration persuaded him to make further business investments he was not initially comfortable in making. Around that time Mikhail was approached by a man named Hussein Saleh about renting warehouse space to store cigarettes. The contracts were signed and Hussein was given use of the property. It turned out Hussein was involved in even more criminal activity, much of which was unclear. Mikhail received constant threats and unwanted visits from the who Mikhail identified as members of the brothers Yermolaev gang. The men began to demand that he “share” his company with them. Eventually Hussein and others involved with him turned up dead. It later came out, during investigation, that Hussein came to an agreement with the Customs officials to open the warehouse, take out the cigarettes and illegally sell the cigarettes in Russia and Kazakhstan. The situation of corruption and gangs in the country was getting worse . The criminal groups that survived “gang wars” were either eliminated or controlled by the police. Several days after the murder Mikhail was detained for suspicion of collaborating with Hussein in the illegal sale of cigarettes.
The story Mikhail tells starts to sound like something out of a film once he is placed in prison. While in prison Mikhail tells how he was taken by prison guards to visit members of the brothers Yermolaev gang. The brothers Yermolaev told him that he would be visited by a “very important man.” He was then taken to solitary confinement. The next day he received a visit from someone he calls “Colonel Nurgaliev.” It is not clear from the letter from amnesty, but it sounds likely that he is refering to Colonel-General Rashid Nurgaliev the minister of the interior. Normally something like this would seem strange and hard to grasp, but what I found in the cable highlighting corruption was that there were many at these levels who were busted for similar offenses. Regarding the anti-corruption task force the cable mentioned earlier states: Civil society activist XXXXXXXXXXXX also describes the discredited officials as “the weak links in the chain” and believes that the “real sharks” are continuing to operate with impunity. Taking the Wikileaks leaked cable we begin to see support for Mikhail’s story. His letter for amnesty pre-dates the release of the information within the Wikileaks cable. Mikhail describes the interaction with “Colonel Nurgaliev” in his letter for amnesty:
He told me that he is aware that I was not actually involved in either the illegal business with the cigarettes or the murder, but that doesn’t matter, I will be convicted or released only based on my “behavior” and “clear-mindedness.” He told me that I’m a good businessman but a bad politician, that I’ve made many mistakes. Nurgaliev declared that no-one except Kazakhs can be an owner in this country that the influence of the Jews, who organized the revolution, and who occupied Kazakhstan, with the Russians in the past decades came to an end, that I didn’t understand the situation and was foolish enough to assist the Russian movement fighting for the rights of Russians in Kazakhstan and for joining of the East Kazakhstan Region with Russia. He told me that all of this is known to him, as well as that I not only offered financial assistance to the movement but also shared their political ideas. Nurgaliev said that I must stop that activity and that the movement will be shut down. He told me that I have no other choice, except to work for them, that the question about me and my business was decided upon a long time ago. That they could have killed me a long time ago but it would have made me a hero freedom fighter or the victim of the regime, instead they will make a criminal out of me and that the Arabs were of great help in this because they “acted inappropriately.” ”They, the Arabs, also thought that they can dictate their own conditions and started their game, but these things,” as Nurgaliev stated, will not go over with him, since they were able to solve two problems with one hit, with both me and the Arabs. If I don’t agree to his demands the murder of the Arabs will be “hung” on me. However, he told me that right now he has one more question for me and that my own future and that of my family will depend on my answer to that question as well as the compliance with other demands. He told me that there are people in power—he among them—who are interested in treasure left over from the Czar’s rule. In particular they are interested in the treasure that was hidden by Cherkashin Fedor Konstantinovich, my grandmother’s brother. He stated that he and his associates were pleasantly surprised when they found out that I have information on the location of the treasure and that after this the only question was creating “favorable” conditions for a conversation” with me. He implied that my current incarceration was the work of his associates and himself. He told me that since he is sure that I’m not stupid he is hoping that I’ll make a proper assessment of the current situation, come to the correct conclusions and share all the information I have on the location of the treasure. I told him I don’t have any information or documents, except for a story told to me by my grandmother, and that I’m not even sure if the treasure exists. He stated that he has no doubts that the treasure is real as well as that I know where it is located. He told me that if I don’t transfer my business to them, start working for them and disclose the information to them that not only can I forget about my business but I should seriously worry about the consequences to me and my family. He told me that neither I nor my family will be able to hide from them. He said, “You, yourself, know that no one could hide even from the communists and KGB and they were considered enemies of the world and were universally hated. We, on the other hand, are democratic, we have friends everywhere, and everyone helps us. We can now do more than the communists and KGB ever could. So, as far as you and your Jewish family are concerned we can get you even on the moon, let alone a country such as the United States.” He said that the Russo-Jewish rule has come to an end, that Jews and Russians will never rule and be owners in Kazakhstan and other countries, especially Muslim countries, that everyone is tired of watching Jews hoard all the money and although the Jews were still tolerated and everyone still stood on their knees in front of them [the Jews], it won’t last. He said “Israel already started to be dealt with: and, at least in this country, they plan to set things in order. He added before leaving, “For now, to help you come to the proper conclusion, we will work on you.”
Mikhail then talks of his “special punishment cell” and the torture he endured. He was placed in a sick ward with tuberculosis patients. The guards put cigarettes out on his body and was told it was a brand for his body like an animal so he knew who his master wa. In the night he was handcuffed to a radiator and beat with ‘burlap sacks filled with rubber sticks” until he spit up blood. Mikhail received verbal abuse the whole time, being called a “zhid” which is a negative racial term for a Jew, as well as being called a “Russian Jew” and “Occupier”. The accounts of torture reveal different atrocities when listening to both Mikhail and Andre speak of them. Andre says that much of it his father does not like to talk about.
once again at night, the guards came after me again. I was once again taken to some room, but this time they tide me to a chair. I tried to resist but that only enraged them. They were swearing and yelling that they will show me “slona” (an elephant). Apparently showing me an elephant means putting the full gas mask (it is made out of rubber, covers the whole head front to back and with a long hose) over my head and then covering the hose inlet so that I couldn’t breathe. When I started to suffocate one of the guards blew cigarette smoke into the hose and then closed it again. They did this a few times until I lost consciousness. I’m not sure how long I was unconscious. The whole time while I was being tortured, I was screaming and asking them what they wanted from me. Those animals told me that they didn’t want anything from me and that the only reason they are doing this is to teach me that despite all of my money I’m nothing and that they can do anything they want to me. I lost consciousness again and when I came to my senses they dragged me back to the cell.
After Mikhail left prison, everything he had built up was confiscated and he was given permission to immigrate to Israel. He instead left for Russia where he was once again tracked down and reminded that he would be found wherever he went. the full account can be read in his 2010 letter for amnesty I have posted here.
Mikhail finally made it to the United States with his family. On April 2nd, at 4:30 am his house was invaded by FBI agents with shot guns. Andre recounts the terror:
a dozen+ FBI agents and US marshals busted through our apartment door with giant 12-guage shotguns in our faces, screaming “GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!” “Huh?” I said in a sleepy daze, “Who are yo… ” “GET THE FUCK DOWN ON THE GROUND! NOW, ON YOUR FACE!”
Two conflicting warrants were issued. The details in both clashed. The initial warrant was from Kazakhstan, the second was from InterPol under the direction of Kazakhstan. Many more details to the story can be found in Mikhail’s letter for amnesty. More may be found in the leaked cable. They are currently in desperate need of legal support and much more.
The family is facing deportation to a hostile country they were seeking amnesty from. I urge others to further research the information and attempt to verify details. This facts presented here are from Mikhail’s letter and information his son relayed.