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BBC Newsnight's James Malllett
The last word on a Russian legend?
 real 28k

Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 16:25 GMT
Rasputin myth 'debunked'

Rasputin's corpse was dragged from under the ice
Few characters in Russian history and folklore are as colourful as the semi-literate monk, Grigory Rasputin.

Cartoons mocked Rasputin, and the place he occupied in the Romanov household
The lascivious mystic - whose powers to cure the Tsarevich's haemophilia earned him a special place in the Tsarina's heart - was believed to be indestructible.

But a book that draws on previously unearthed Soviet documents casts new light on the man, his murder, and the myths that surround him.

Perhaps most importantly, it argues that stories of his supernatural powers were spread by the Bolsheviks to discredit Nicholas and Alexandra, the last tsar and tsarina of Russia.

The lost file

The book is said to be based on a 500-page secret file on Rasputin, compiled by the Bolsheviks soon after his assassination in 1916.

I sacrifice my husband and my heart to you

Telegram from Tsarina to Rasputin
The file then went missing - only resurfacing at a Sotheby's auction five years ago, where it was said to have been bought by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

He then passed the papers to the historian and playwright, Edvard Radzinsky, the author of the new book, Rasputin: The Last Word.

However, neither Mr Rostropovich nor Sotheby's have been able to trace the source of the papers.

Rising from the dead

One of the most enduring myths about Rasputin is the story of his murder, which was allegedly witnessed by numerous people.

This previously unpublished photo shows Rasputin with Tsarina and children
The principle assassin, Prince Yussupov, shot Rasputin in the chest at point-blank range after wine and cakes, heavily laced with potassium cyanide, failed to kill the monk, say the history books.

Then, as the prince bent over to look at the body, the formerly lifeless corpse rose and grabbed the prince in an unbreakable grip - or so the story goes.

But Radzinsky's book says that Yussupov may have deliberately fluffed the murder, because the transvestite prince was in love with the monk.

He then invented the story of Rasputin rising from the dead to cover his tracks, and make himself look more heroic.

Tsarina's 'darling'

The book also contains a lot of new information about Rasputin's sexual conquests, including intimate telegrams between the "mad monk" and Tsarina Alexandra, the great granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

One telegram from her to him says: "I sacrifice my husband and my heart to you. Pray and bless. Love and kisses - darling".

Although it has long been suspected, Radzinsky believes that he has come as near as is possible to establishing that they were having a sexual affair.

He also provides fresh details about the worrying influence that Rasputin wielded over the tsar during Russia's disastrous war against Germany.

The Last Word by Edvard Radzinsky is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 16 March 2000.
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15 Jul 98 | Romanov
Death of a dynasty
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