Sep 11, 2015 ยท 18 minutes

MOSCOW: It was the kind of jaw-dropping news story that Hollywood has staged a thousand times, but could never happen in real life. Except in Putin’s Russia.

A supermodel covergirl-turned-ninja-bodyguard-to-the-billionaires killed on the mean streets of Moscow, in a high-speed mortal struggle with professional mobsters carjacking her $150,000 Porsche Cayenne. 

Every detail of her epic action-pic death seemed lifted from a producer’s slush pile. Carjacking thieves from a notorious Azerbaijani gang cut our young heroine off at a stoplight on the edge of Moscow. One forces open her door, punches her in the face, grabs her and throws her onto the frozen asphalt… but just as the carjacker puts his foot to the Cayenne’s pedal to make his getaway, the heroine leaps to her feet — she’s trained for extreme situations like this — grabs the car door, and tries to take the car back from the mobster… CUE: the Die Hard high-speed finale, as the model-ninja clings to the Porsche door handle as it tears down a dark Moscow side street at over 50 miles per hour, dragging the heroine as she fights to hang on. 

But then comes the shocking ending, when the Hollywood action film quickly turns into brutal Russian vérité, the depressing finale that would’ve bombed with audience focus groups and power-lunching producers. As the heroine holds fast to her Cayenne’s door handle, her clothes tearing from her model-perfect body, shredding her skin and breaking her bones, her hand still clinging with a death-strength to the handle, the carjacker jerks and whips the Porsche, knocking the ninja-model loose and catapulting her at high speed headfirst into the curb’s edge, crushing her skull. Anna Loginova died before the ambulance arrived. 

Only a few months before her death, the 28-year-old beauty recounted how she’d fought off a previous carjacking attempt: “I walked out of a shopping center on Leningradsky Prospekt and had just opened my car door when a guy ran up, grabbed my hand and tried taking my keys away. My first reflex was to throw a jujitsu move on him: I bent back his hand and elbowed him in the face. He clearly didn’t expect it — even I was surprised how well it worked. He went flying into the rear window of the car. I grabbed my pistol, whipped it out and aimed it. Right then a Honda pulled up, he jumped in, and they split.” 

Anna Loginova was equal parts sex and bomb, telling one magazine that big breasts are a potential weapon in the female bodyguard’s arsenal: “They help demoralize your opponent. He can easily get distracted looking at the breasts and completely forget that he’d come there to shoot the guy whom she’s protecting.” And, when asked about her sexual tastes, she replied, “I sometimes prefer rough sex, in unusual places, that sense of danger.” 

Hollywood has spent decades churning out an endless supply of glamorous she-assassins in jumpsuits, locked in mortal combat with criminals and villains — “Charlie’s Angels,” “Kill Bill,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” and just about anything starring Milla Jovovich to name a few. But it was always understood that this fantasy had about as much a chance of going “life imitates art” as “Godzilla.” 

That all changed at the end of January 2008, when images of the slain Russian beauty were beamed to drooling consumers all across the globe, photos revealing a superhero’s double-life: by day, posing for the cameras in nothing but scanty black panties and a pink tittie-pouch top, frowning icily from the pages of the Russian-language Maxim (or Glamour or BMW ads or Chanel ads…); by night, zipped up to her neck in a sleek black ninja jumpsuit, her dark hair pulled back so tightly that it seemed as if her cheeks might bleed, transforming her icy covergirl frown into a look so severe and intimidating that, to an audience conditioned on years of Hollywood films, Anna Loginova’s incredible life and death became instantly recognizable, and therefore believable. 

When news first broke of the supermodel-bodyguard’s murder, the American media, from CNN to Drudge, was awestruck. But Russia and supermodels are officially bad these days… and there was something deeply offensive about the contrast between Anna Loginova’s epic life and death versus the average American’s flat, uneventful reality — where obesity is the norm, fashion is confined to Casual Fridays, danger comes in the form of health insurance waivers for pre-existing conditions, and the greatest fear of all is looking stupid. The initial awe gave way to sneers: Anna Loginova appeared on, while Gawker mocked her death with, “Hot Russian Lady Killer Dead In Carjack,” describing “the inordinately beautiful Russian bodyguard Anna Loginova who was killed trying to prevent her Porsche from being carjacked. She didn’t succeed.” Yukyuk- yuk. 

Her epic death brought out the collective malice of every thwarted no-lifer, transforming Anna Loginova’s murder into a nasty morality tale: ye who forsake our bleak, physically-repulsive Dilbert lives, shall meet a violent and humiliating death, and ye shall suffer the worst indignity of all — the whole world laughing at your stupid dead body. 

But this was nothing compared to the savaging that Loginova took in her home country. Before her body was identified, the daily newspaper Novaya Izvestia ran a story on January 28 headlined, “Girl Couldn’t Save Her Stolen Car If Her Life Depended On It,” while the popular online news site Gazeta.Ru quipped: “The Porsche Corpse.” Later that day, after the body was identified as the covergirl celebrity Anna Loginova, Gazeta.Ru taunted, “Model Couldn’t Hold On To Her Porsche,” while Izvestia, one of Russia’s largest and oldest dailies, condemned her like a cruel priest standing over her grave: “Was a Porsche Cayenne Really Worth A Sex Symbol’s Life?”. Even the Kremlin-backed English-language television station Russia Today joined in public hectoring over her corpse, headlining their story, “All For A Porsche.” 

To understand why there was so much malice in the Russian media towards a murdered covergirl-bodyguard, you’d have to have lived here, to have experienced and felt in your guts the stunning gap between rich and poor, which is more of an abstraction in America than in Moscow, where inequality assaults your every waking minute. That inequality was at its most grotesque when Anna Loginova died in early 2008 — official Gini index ratings placed Moscow’s inequality on a scale with that of Mexico and Brazil, far above the rest of Russia and in a different league from the rest of Europe. Picture Moscow in 2008, just before Putin’s temporary power handoff to Dmitry Medvedev, before the financial crisis and crash, before it all came back full circle this year with Putin’s return, before Pussy Riot replaced chess champion Garry Kasparov as the West’s cause célèbre: Moscow had the distinction of being home to the world’s largest concentration of billionaires, with the world’s highest priced real estate, hotels and luxury goods — living sideby- side with the city’s millions of residents stuck in abject poverty, and millions more, the “emerging middle-class” earning just enough to whet their ambitions, and their resentment. In 2008, the average Muscovite’s monthly salary was roughly $1,250 per month (now it’s $1,500). 

Inequality assaults you on Moscow’s traffic-clogged streets, where sixfigure Mercedes CL 600s and Porsche Cayennes roll over barely functioning Ladas and Volgas; the six-figure cars go by their own set of laws, driving wherever they please depending on their needs rather than on the rules — straight into the opposite lane if traffic’s too heavy, ignoring stoplights and speed limits, running through pedestrian crosswalks at will… while a more humble set of rules applies to the Russian-manufactured wrecks, queued up like refugees in some of the world’s worst traffic, Zhigulis or Sputniks held together by twisted coat hangars and pins, their cabins reeking of sour down-market cigarettes and foot cheese, clashing with air fresheners that smell like airline toilets… and below the lowest automobile-owner strata, the public transportation dregs, “the masses,” all seven million of them who ride the Moscow Metro each day. 

As one Russian writer trying to explain the social structure put it, Russia isn’t so much divided between the super-rich and the rest, as between “gods” and humans — except here there is no Olympus club to keep it all private — here, the humans can see the gods at play. There is no avoiding it. And everyone’s the worse for it. Once you leave Moscow’s Outer Ring Road freeway, everything gets exponentially worse; the standard of living falls off a cliff, with average salaries as little as one-third to one-tenth of Moscow’s, and GDP in some regions as little as one-thirtieth of the capital’s. 

No matter how fast this region or that starts to grow, it always falls further behind Moscow. It isn’t just that Moscow’s haves have so much more than the rest; it’s that there’s no sense of discretion about it. Discretion? Who am I kidding? Just typing that sentence makes me burst out laughing — Moscow’s rich don’t just flaunt their wealth, they waterboard with their riches, as if the only way they can enjoy their fast-won millions is by shoving it in everyone’s faces and huffing their envy like a chaser. Except that “everyone” doesn’t have a face to the Moscow elite — I mean that literally, because “face control” has been a very serious business in Moscow ever since it got its confidence back. 

“Feis kontrol’” ensures that only those with “faces” are allowed into the elite’s favorite nightclubs and restaurants. Even Moscow’s bowling alleys enforce “feis kontrol.” Muscovites never bother to visit the rest of their country — they’re fiercely patriotic about an abstract Russia, but embarrassed by the real thing — preferring any other five-sixths of earth’s landmass to their godforsaken one-sixth (Moscow excepted). As they say here with pride, “Moscow is an island, a different country, from the rest of Russia.” A blood-sucking colonial fortress is more like it: armed checkpoints, ruthless cops prowling for out-of-towners to shake down, and an illegal Moscow registration policy (despite a constitutional law enshrining freedom of movement) all are designed to keep the 130 million provincials from entering the capital city. 

There’s a word Muscovites use for non-Muscovites that perfectly captures their contempt: “limitchiki,” old Sovietera slang for outof- towners who’d been given permission to live and work in Moscow for a limited time, to enjoy its well-stocked stores for a limited time, before they were forced to return to their bleak corners of the communist empire. By calling out-of-towners limitchiki today, Muscovites are letting them know that even though the country’s name has changed, Moscow’s attitude hasn’t: they were shit before, and they’re shit today. They exist not only in a contemptible land and in contemptible deprivation, but in a contemptible era, and thus are worthy of nothing more than a kitsch Soviet put-down. Moscow doesn’t want the limitchiki — it just wants to feed on the natural riches that their lands produce. Like some Slave Coast colony outpost, Moscow exploits and strips away most of Russia’s wealth for itself, at one time hoarding an estimated 80 percent of the country’s capital, spiriting off most of those riches to the West, leaving the provinces and their limitichiki inhabitants in even worse straits. 

So when the story appeared of supermodel-bodyguard Anna Loginova and her dear Porsche Cayenne, most people in Moscow, myself included, had a kneejerk schadenfreude reaction. It was easy to just assume she was one of the loathsome elite who despised everyone and everything but her Porsche; and that she clung to the door handle of her Porsche out of reptilian materialism, like a crocodile’s jaws would clamp shut. Shortly after news of her incredible death struggle reached the West, I started getting emails and phone calls from magazines to file a story on what happened. At first, I wasn’t interested. I’d had enough of vile Putin-era materialism and death by that point. It wasn’t a novelty, it wasn’t funny — it was just poison, and it was everywhere. 

Right around that time, an ex-girlfriend of mine named Nadya called me in hysterics because her childhood sweetheart had just been sentenced to five years’ hard labor in a Urals prison camp for embezzling from his company, and using the stolen money to buy himself used Nissan Almera. “It’s true, he did steal some money — well, about 14,000 dollars total, to buy that Nissan. But he’s not a criminal, Mark! He’s not some Tadjik churka, he is a professional, a manager. He’s never been convicted of anything before in his life — why would the judge give him the maximum?! Five years, the maximum penalty, just for stealing 14,000 dollars?” In the Russian tradition of the martyred lover of the Decembrist condemned to Siberia, Nadya vowed melodramatically that she’d never abandon him: “You don’t understand, Mark, I can’t just forget about him while he’s suffering, he needs me now.” I reminded Nadya that her prisoner ex-boyfriend used to beat her, that he’d once broken Nadya’s jaw, which she partly blamed herself for: “I was driving him crazy,” Nadya had told me. 

I’d met her jailed ex-boyfriend only once — a huge, sullen mass of indifference originally from Odessa — Nadya had him meet us at a restaurant and act as our driver, which he didn’t seem to mind. He picked us up in his beloved Nissan Almera, and drove us back to my apartment in the old Kitai Gorod district, techno music blasting. I invited him to join Nadya and me for a drink inside, but he just grunted sullenly, turned up the techno, and sped away. A week after he was sentenced, Nadya called me again: “You were right about my ex, he’s sick. The judge offered him a deal to reduce his sentence to one year plus probation if he’d sell his Nissan and pay all the stolen money back. But he refused! And you know why? He wants to keep the car. He told me he’d rather spend five years in a labor camp and come out still owning the Nissan, rather than get out in a year owning nothing. He’s fucking sick, sick in the head!” She wasn’t one to talk. 

The same week that Anna Loginova was killed, Nadya bought her first Western car, a lime VW sub-compact, and insisted that I go for a ride with her. “I love this car, it has literally changed my life,” she told me. “It’s the best thing in my life. Isn’t it great?” I was deep in a Vicodin-induced stupor, when she picked me up, doing my best to keep from puking all over her dashboard as she tore around the streets like a stock car racer, blathering about her career and her vacation plans and how well her VW handled the tight turns. 

That car changed everything about Nadya, from her hurried affectation to her “serious” grown-up hairstyle and stylish Euro-spectacles. She’d left behind the world of the carless, the faceless masses, and was moving on to bigger and better things in life. I wasn’t much fun as a passenger, but I got the point. Nadya dropped me off, I stumbled upstairs to vomit in peace, and never heard from her again. By now, her ex- should be getting out of prison, reunited with this Nissan Almera. 

But Anna Loginova wasn’t from that Moscow world I’ve described. After declining to take the story, I decided, one day during a lull, to go back and re-read the old press reports. When I read a description of Loginova as “a girl from Vladimir,” I understood right away that I’d been wrong about her, and I regretted all of my assumptions. Vladimir, her hometown, is just 120 miles east of Moscow, but it may as well be in another continent. How did she manage to rise up so high in the cruelest rat-race on earth? A lowermiddle- class girl who moves from bumfuck to Moscow is doomed no matter what path she takes, meat for the grinder; but Anna had risen up on the most difficult and corpse-littered pathway of all: as a struggling model in a city already overflowing with the world’s largest surplus of female beauty, where a looker like Anna barely rated an eight. Moreover, she got her start late, at age 23, when most models’ careers were long over — in fact, most Russians will tell you that if a woman isn’t married by 23, she’s already a doomed spinster, and she may as well kill herself. As more details emerged — Anna had a six-year old boy whom she left behind with her mother in Vladimir, yet no mention of a husband or a father in any of the media — it all started to become depressingly familiar. 

Usually the story goes like this: gorgeous provincial bimbo comes to Moscow and sets to work trapping a rich suitor while she’s still got her beauty; as soon as horny suitor hears the word “pregnant” come out of her mouth, he switches to a new cellphone provider, and they never cross paths again; provincial bimbo returns to bumfuck with a swollen stomach, just long enough to dump the baby off with her mother, then heads back to Moscow for another go, bouncing from nightclub to nightclub, settling for the easy thrills and lovers’ gifts, as the dream of landing a suitor fades along with her feelings for her abandoned child. And then wear and tear suddenly accelerates, hardening and aging her — wrinkles sprout, flesh sags… and that’s where only the truly brave journalist dares to venture… 

It was hard to square the banal, depressing fate of so many provincial beauties with Anna Loginova’s seemingly impossible achievements, rocketing from nothing to the reigning queen of Moscow’s modeling and bodyguarding worlds, and the world of oligarch-gods, in just five years. It seemed, in fact, impossible — a Russian romantic fairytale, as fantastic in their culture as the beautiful action-hero fairytale in America’s. 

And that is exactly what I was told when I met with Oleg Litavrin, who heads the Moscow bodyguard club/lobbying group, Gray Shadows, part of the National Association of Bodyguards. When Bill Gates came to Moscow, the Gray Shadows were in charge of protecting him. Litavrin described Gates as “a very good client” because, unlike a lot of wealthy clients they’re hired to protect, “Mr. Gates did what we asked him to without making a fuss.” 

I asked Litavrin what he knew about Anna Loginova’s model-ninjas. “The bodyguard world is rather tight in Moscow,” he explained, “and between the Gray Shadows and the larger National Association of Bodyguards, which has about 350 members in this city, no one had ever heard of Anna Loginova until she died. It’s just about impossible to believe that she could have seriously worked in this profession and not one single person from our associations would have known about it.” He also noted, with some pride, that in all their years, only one member of their association had died in the line of duty — and it was “his fault.” 

In fact, the legend of Anna Loginova, bodyguard-babe, was born almost by accident, during a 2006 photo shoot she did with boxing star Kostya Tszyu. Anna was hired to help promote the junior welterweight champion’s new action film, and for the roll-out, they put Anna in ninja costume and gave her a samurai sword to tease the photographers with. Anna had been dressed by the movie’s promotions people to look like Kostya Tszyu’s ninja babe, but her genius was quickly grasping the possibilities. She realized from the public’s reaction to her during that shoot that playing the model-bodyguard could be the big career boost she’d been looking for. To pull it off successfully, she’d have to come up with a believable story, a believable persona which fed into the public’s well-conditioned fantasies. She’d have to lie, and lie well — to push the fantasy as close to reality as possible — or the whole thing would come crashing down. 

Next: Part Two


Editor's Note: This article also appears in NSFWCORP: A Long Fucking Story, an oral history of NSFWCORP including interviews with former writers and previously out of print long-form features.