A Russian general who collects money to send Bibles to Russia by telling his story of a battlefield conversion to Christianity appears to have survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan as he claims.
But several experts on the Russian Army and its Afghan War said many of the rest of the claims of Vyacheslav Ivanovich Borisov -- who was arrested Dec. 8 on a shoplifting charge in Kentucky -- appear to be exaggerations.
Borisov spoke at Villa Hills Assembly of God church near Belleville on Nov. 12, raising about $1,300 with his story of how he became a Christian after he survived being shot down in 1984.
Revival Fires International, the West Branson, Mo., organization that claims the general has raised more than $750,000 for its Bibles for Russia program since 1992, still is considering whether to provide basic financial reports first requested by the Belleville News-Democrat more than four weeks ago.
``My financial reports, my financial statements, are part of this office and are released to people who are contributors. Outside of that, they have to be approved by my board of trustees to be released,'' Rev. Cecil Todd, founder and head of Revival Fires, said. ``I will certainly take it up with the trustees.''
Todd said his ministry has provided 1.5 million Bibles to Russian troops, as well as to schools and private individuals.
On Dec. 10, Todd said the shoplifting arrest was a misunderstanding and that Borisov would be cleared. He also denied there was any intention to deceive police by his son, Jon, who posted $200 bail for Borisov but didn't clear up a confusion over his name.
On Nov. 22, the News-Democrat detailed the problems confirming Borisov's
claims about his service, including that he was second-in-command
of all Russian troops in
Afghanistan, that the CIA once had a $1.5 million bounty on his head and that he spoke to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon a few years ago.
Two weeks ago, a package arrived from Todd with
documents and photographs he said would prove Borisov is who he claims to be.
But experts said most of the documents prove little.
George Hudson, a political science professor at Wittenberg University in Ohio, is an authority on Russia and its use of military power who has been an adviser to the Department of Defense, a consultant to the National Security Council and a visiting professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He examined photocopies of a 1984 military ID card, a 1999 ID showing Borisov is a disabled veteran and a 1988 certificate honoring Borisov for his service in Afghanistan that Revival Fires said was personally presented to the general by then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Hudson said the ID cards mean little.
``Both of these documents can be bought in Moscow -- you can buy a T-72 tank, if you want,'' he said. ``The bottom line is, there's no way you can conclude from these documents that this person is who he says he is. They don't disconfirm it, either.''
As for the certificate from Gorbachev, Hudson said it appears to be signed by a machine or a stamp, and he noted that Borisov's name is hand-written on the certificate, indicating it was a mass-produced item.
``This is like something you and I would get for successful completion of a software course learning Windows or something,'' he said. ``It just says he served in Afghanistan.''
Natalie Garrity, a Russian woman who works for an American company in New Jersey, once served in the Russian embassy in Vietnam and has close ties to a Russian association of Afghanistan veterans. She also examined the documents and agreed with Hudson.
``That award from Gorbachev is standard issue to Afghanistan veterans,'' she said.
Revival Fires has maintained that the strongest proof of Borisov's bona fides is a massive history of the Afghan War, ``Tragedy and Courage in Afghanistan,'' by Russian general Alexander Lyakhovsky.
But Garrity and a U.S. defense analyst who examined the history said the only references are a mention of a V.I. Borisov in a list of officers who planned and directed operations of units and subunits in Afghanistan and a single sentence in a section about casualties that a one-star general V. Borisov survived a helicopter crash.
The Nov. 22 article also raised questions about whether Borisov might be using the name of another Gen. Vyacheslav Borisov who is currently on active duty in the Russian Army.
Borisov the fund-raiser denied any knowledge of the other general, something the experts considered possible but unlikely.
Todd said the Borisov working with him is the only one with the Ivanovich name, as it appears on the documents. He also sent photographs and photocopies of photographs showing Borisov with other senior Russian officers.
Todd said he first met Borisov in 1992, when he visited the military base outside Moscow that Borisov commanded.
``I immediately picked up on Gen. Borisov's credentials by the people around him,'' Todd said. ``Because he is a Russian general, he is able to talk to the commanders of these bases. That's how we've been able to get on these bases to distribute Bibles.''
Orignally Published, December 20,1999, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1999, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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