The Soviet scientist who disappeared in the Madrid of the movida | Science

The Soviet scientist who disappeared in the Madrid of the movida | Science


It is Domingo de Ramos and the catholic virgins in procession mingle with the hangover of a Saturday night in the death throes of Madrid. It runs on March 31, 1985. One of the most important scientists of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Alexandrov, has just arrived in Madrid from Córdoba, where the City Council of the communist Julio Anguita had invited him to participate in the Second Assembly of Cities No Nuclear Alexandrov, 47, has spent three days apparently drunk in Spain. No one will see him alive again. That same night, in Madrid, it will disappear.

The Italian historian Giulia Rispoli now rescues the volatilization of the Soviet climatologist in a new book, From the Cold War to global warming, edited by Catarata. "I think Alexandrov did not defect," says the researcher, from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. The researcher had a wife and a teenage daughter in Moscow. Five other scientists consulted by this newspaper that worked with him also rule out his voluntary escape. Where is Vladimir Alexandrov?

"I believe that Alexandrov did not defected," says Italian historian Giulia Rispoli

In March 1983, the American astronomer Carl Sagan had warned of the catastrophic effects that a nuclear war would have on the climate of the entire planet. Three months later, at the Moscow Computing Center, Alexandrov's team reported: if the US and the USSR used a third of their atomic arsenals to bomb enemy cities, the pollution would cover the skies for months and the temperatures would drop to 30 Under zero grades. It would be the end of the human species.

Alexandrov became, according to Giulia Rispoli, the "Soviet spokesman for the theory of nuclear winter", a perfect hypothesis to incite the anti-nuclear movements of the United States against its own Government. The researcher of the USSR enjoyed an unusual carte blanche to travel the world. He went to the Vatican with Sagan to alert Pope John Paul II to the atomic disaster. He spoke in the US Senate. He received American scientists in his downtown Moscow home and traveled to the US to work with them on climate simulations. If it was not a spy of one of the two sides, surely it seemed.

Vladimir Alexandrov.
Vladimir Alexandrov.

When he landed in Madrid on Friday, March 29, 1985, Alexandrov was an eminence. A conductor of the City Council of Cordoba, José Moreno, went to pick him up at the Barajas airport, in the official car of Anguita, a Seat 132. a reportage of the time written by the American journalist Andrew Revkin, Alexandrov went first to the embassy of the USSR in Madrid. When he left, he asked Moreno to take him urgently to a bar. It seemed like another person.

"Alexandrov was a marvel, drunk 24 hours a day," says Margarita Ruiz Schrader, organizer of the Córdoba congress. According a chronicle of EL PAÍSOn Saturday, March 30, he gave his talk and refused to attend the press. "He lost track until the morning of Sunday, when he was seen again at the headquarters of the meeting in a state of apparent drunkenness," reported this newspaper. Two drivers from the City Council of Cordoba took him back to Madrid, to the Embassy of the USSR. On the way, Alexandrov kept repeating: "Restaurant, stop". The journalist Andrew Revkin places his last trace on the door of a bingo next to his hotel on the Paseo de La Habana.

"He was very close and I considered him a good friend", recalls the climatologist Jerry Potter. In 1983, Alexandrov visited Potter at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the only institution, apart from Los Alamos, dedicated to the design of atomic bombs in the United States. "We prepared an office for him in a building outside the restricted area and he was accompanied at all times. He stayed at my house in Benicia, California. We went to work together and at night we drank his favorite drink, tequila with slices of lemon, "recalls Potter.

Alexandrov's daughter, Olga; his wife, Alya; and his colleague Michael MacCracken, in Zagorsk (USSR) in 1984.
Alexandrov's daughter, Olga; his wife, Alya; and his colleague Michael MacCracken, in Zagorsk (USSR) in 1984.

"I suspect that the KGB decided that Alexandrov was too Americanized and comfortable with his American colleagues and could be a threat," explains the researcher, today at NASA. The Spanish historian Lino Camprubí, coordinator of the new book, highlights "the parallels" with the case of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly assassinated in the consulate of his country in Istanbul last October. At the Russian Embassy in Madrid they do not keep Alexandrov's file, since the documentation was sent to Moscow after the dissolution of the USSR, according to a spokeswoman.

"I have not been able to find out a reason why any organization would want to kill him," says climatologist Michael MacCracken

The climatologist Alan Robock, from Rutgers University, he also welcomed Alexandrov into his house. "When I showed him my waterbed, he touched it and jumped when he saw the wave on its surface," he recalls. "A scientist who used to work for General Motors told me a few years ago that, at a cocktail party in Washington, she had talked to a former KGB officer who told her that she knew another ex-agent who had killed Alexandrov," says Robock. "But who knows if this is really what happened?"

The historian Giulia Rispoli disagrees. Alexandrov traveled freely to the United States, including his family. He was a scientist spoiled by the Government of the USSR. "Why would the Soviets kill him if he could be a valuable source of information about the United States?" Asks the Italian. "I lean more for a CIA operation. The United States was much more concerned about the activities of Alexandrov than the USSR. Perhaps he was aware of top secret missions while using American computers, "Rispoli hypothesizes.

"The CIA was deeply concerned about Vladimir's access to the Cray supercomputer at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research," he agrees. Mike Wallace, today professor emeritus at the University of Washington. "I never understood exactly what they were afraid I would do." In Wallace's opinion, however, the CIA had nothing to do with the disappearance of Alexandrov in Madrid.

Judy, wife of Jerry Potter, Vladimir Alexandrov and his colleague Bob Cess, in the USA.
Judy, wife of Jerry Potter, Vladimir Alexandrov and his colleague Bob Cess, in the USA.

"I think it's more likely that he was the victim of some kind of dirty game not related to political intrigues. Maybe it was just a robbery. I know he was an alcoholic. I never saw him drunk, but I've heard friends who knew him better than he sometimes drank too much, "says Wallace. "If Vladimir was drunk that night, he would have a greater risk of being assaulted."

"The CIA seemed interested in Alexandrov's freedom of movement, but he did not seem interested in anything beyond his investigation. He did not have advanced computer skills and during his visits he wanted to go to stores to buy his wife cosmetics, lipstick for example, because apparently there was no Moscow, "the climatologist reasons Michael MacCracken, another friend of the Soviet in Livermore.

The American researcher, today director of the Climate Institute in Washington, points to another hypothesis, shared with the journalist Andrew Revkin. "Maybe there was an exaggerated reaction from the Cuban guards employed in the Soviet Embassy to their supposed drunkenness," says MacCracken. It would have been an involuntary homicide, with a corpse erased from the map to avoid a diplomatic crisis. "Honestly, I have not been able to figure out a reason why any organization would want to kill him," ditches.

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