mafia power play
pavel burePavel Bure:  A superstar Russian hockey player who is a national hero in Russia and now plays for the Florida Panthers.  He is a friend of Anzor Kikalishvili who, according to the FBI and Russian law enforcement, is the co-head of a Russian organized crime operation.
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How big a barrier was it for you to face the prospect of leaving Russia, coming to this whole different culture?

Was long time ago. But, yeah, it was pretty difficult, eight years ago . . . It was something which you don't do every day. Now seems so easy, you know, European players, Russians just come by ticket, sign a contract and go. And my time, when I came over, I was still a little different. Different rules, different laws. Different.

You grew up in the "evil empire," you know. Was there a big mental barrier between the two parts of the world?

 I think I would be a really bad friend, if I would have a friend and somebody would say something bad about him and I would believe the rumors, you know? That's why it was so difficult, you know, because I went to play in the NHL right when Soviet Union break down, and it was a very thin line between [emigrating to North America] legal and illegal . . . They could call it illegal movement or legal. And you know, in my case they call this legal. And, obviously, [this helps] a lot mentally to. . . know your country's still accepting you . . .

Where would the NHL be without the Russians?

Lots of European players doing really well in the NHL. . . I think nowadays you can't really separate Europeans and North American players in the NHL, because that's what the NHL is right now: All the players from all over the world come and play NHL.

What about the state of hockey in the former Soviet Union--Russia today. How badly has it sort of gone downhill since those days?

It's not best time for Russian hockey these days, because all the talent and good players wanna play the best league in the world which is NHL . . . If they could sign a contract with NHL team, obviously they're gonna move away from Russia. And, it's kind of bad for the Russian hockey, but you cannot really say just the Russia. It's all over the world, it's the same thing in Sweden and Finland or even in Germany right now. . .

What do you think about the time when there was a whole pile of money available to the hockey clubs in Russia--because of the special arrangement for liquor tax and tobacco tax and exemptions - and the crooks moved in, started taking the money away?

Well, that's the way it is, you know. What can you say? Hopefully, next time it's gonna be more honest people. And they actually gonna really care about hockey, not about themself. . .

Think that you'll live that long to see that kind of a turnaround?

Yes, I think so. I think so . . .

What about "after hockey" for Pavel Bure? I talked to your friend Anzor Kikalishvili a couple months ago in Moscow. He says you have a political future.

You know, for now, I just wanna concentrate on hockey, and that's what I love to do, that's what I've been doing all of my life, and hopefully I can do it much longer. . . I don't wanna spread out myself, you know, or think about business . . . And maybe it's not really smart of me, maybe I should think what, well, what should I do after, and tell the truth, I don't know . . .

There's been controversy about your business arrangement with Anzor. Can you tell me--what is that? What is your position in his company, 21st Century?

There's no position at all. And I think I said this to everybody like two or three years ago. I said I'm gonna play hockey for now. And that's what I've been doing. . . I can't spread out myself, you know. . .

But people keep asking you and you don't answer it. Are you an executive officer of the company?

No..

A figurehead?

No.

bure and kikalishvili on a billboard for 21st century You have nothing to do with it?

No, that's what I'm trying to explain you, that's what I said two, three years ago. I said I wanna concentrate on the hockey, and I am a hockey player.

So I guess you are a star, a friend of Anzor's, and therefore, you know, you lend your name to his enterprises, and his projects. Business, politics--

Well there's no projects at all, that's the most important. And yes, always been saying, he is my friend, and I really like him as a man. I think he's really generous. I think he helps people a lot. You know I've seen how many times he helped poor people, and singers and actors . . . I know all those rumors about him, but it's rumors . . . I have so many rumors about myself [also]. . .

Mm hm.

. . . and trust me, I have so many rumors which doesn't make sense at all. And I just said to myself I'm gonna judge people how they're treating me, how they're treating other people when I'm around them . . . A person does something bad, it's not a good person. But unless they're proven. . .

What is the source of all this? For the last couple of years, nobody can talk about Pavel, or to Pavel, without -- you talk about hockey for a little while, then you talk about Anzor and you talk about 21st Century. What started all this?

What started? I don't know. I don't know what started. I think it even started before I even met [Anzor]. When I was playing Vancouver and one day I got like twenty phone calls from all over the world and people were asking, Are you alright? And I'm just like, Yeah, I'm okay. And they said, Well, it's like everywhere your car got blown up. You know, I was like, which car? . . . The story goes, I went out in Vancouver and asked my friend to bring my car from the parking lot and I give him the key. So he went there to the parking lot, start the car, and the car blew up. And I just got lucky because I didn't actually went to the parking lot myself. And, after that, I think [such rumors] just, you know, start to build up and I guess 'til now it's still going. But you know it doesn't bother me at all because I know myself, I didn't do anything wrong and I don't have intention to do anything wrong . . .

The rumor is that the mafia blew up your car?

Right. I remember this particular article, like on the front page of the newspaper like -- BURE TARGET OF RUSSIAN MAFIA. It's like huge letters on front page: 'Read the last page.' So you turn to the last page and there was like little article about some guy, I think it was Zhitnik, had some problem in Kiev. But there was nothing even about me. But, there's like, you know, people get on the front page and they remember those big letters what it said . . . I don't know what to answer. Like if I'm gonna deny it like royally, you know, I'm gonna go on TV all the time or newspaper: No, it's not true. People are gonna say: Yes, it is true. It's kind of a strange situation because no matter what you do, you got no-win situation. . .

The FBI has asked you about this?

FBI never asked. . . They can ask me any kind of questions, but I got no answers, you know. . . When this all started -- I know lots of people in Moscow-- and I asked the Internal Minister and chief of -- it used to be KGB -- and I asked them, I said, you know, it's some people accusing me, can you give me like piece of paper which says I'm not a mafia, I'm not a gangster? It's like, Well, we don't give those kind of papers. . .

There's been a suggestion that Russian hockey players are in danger of things like extortion and pressures --

Ah, yeah, well, you know, it just make me laugh. For you to understand, you have to born in Soviet Union, in Russia, to understand whole society, whole mentality of the people -- which you never will. I can explain you, but it never would make sense to you.

Well, try. I've been there four or five times. . . Tell me about the krysha, tell me what you understand by the notion of krysha, which is part of the mentality that you're talking about.

About what?

Krysha. The roof.

The roof?

The protection.

Protection from who?

That's the point.

I can't really explain that, because I don't have a roof. I don't need a roof, you know, so I don't have it. . . You can't really explain it. It's total different society, it's total different mentality, and it's like black and white, you have to be there and you have to be born there. . . After you live for so many years you start to understand. . . So, I don't think anybody can judge what's wrong in Russia or what's good in Russia. You can't judge, that's the way it is. . . If you take whole [Russian] history, like five, ten centuries ago: Today you're President, tomorrow you're criminal. Day after, you're President again. It's just total different society. . .

But, you know, people in law enforcement circles are looking at you critically. And people like Slava Fetisov, you know--you guys are famous and you're respectable and you're very great athletes. But they're looking at you very skeptically because of some of the friendships you have. What can you say to them?

I can tell you one thing: I choose my friends. . . People can say whatever they want about that person, and I'm gonna ignore it because I'm judging people how they're treating me. And I think I would be a really bad friend, if I would have a friend and somebody would say something bad about him and I would believe the rumors, you know -- I can't be friends with you because somebody's saying something bad about you. I think that I would be traitor.

What if it threatened your visa? What if it threatened your status in the United States?

Well we'll deal with it, I don't know . . . I don't think it's gonna happen -- oh, actually, it could. But I'll deal with it, I don't know. . .

Has the league ever spoken to you about your friendship with a controversial-- Anzor?

Uh, yeah, was long time ago, yeah was probably five years ago I had a talk [with] General Manager and President that time in Vancouver. . . He called me up and he said it's no good here to hang around with [Anzori], and I just told him exactly what I said to you. I said, you know, I can't betray my friends just because of the rumors . . . If you can prove it, and, obviously, if I would know for sure he had do something bad, I'm not gonna hang around with him.

Anzor Kikalishvili is very concerned that the police say that they are inquiring about you, that they talk to you about your association. What do you tell Anzori to reassure him?

. . . Actually the police doesn't ask me any questions. . . Most of the time it's the media obviously. I understand that you don't ask for yourself, you're asking for the people, for fans. And I understand I'm talking through you to the fans. . . I think you should support your friends when they going through the hard time. And you have to get behind them, if you think and you believe they innocent. That's my answer.

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