The Ceo Who Came In From The Cold
Lugging his suitcase, Raphael Gregorian walked through Sheremetievo Airport, some 15 miles from the red-brick walls and gilded domes of the Kremlin. He had just stepped off the plane and already a stern Soviet guard was barking questions, staring at Gregorian's passport picture, then back into his tired eyes.
Gregorian approached customs with some apprehension. His American passport showed that he had been born in Stalingrad. But he had never been a citizen of the Soviet Union. Still, he knew Russians hated nothing more than a comrade who had abandoned the motherland. This 1970 visit was, in fact, his first since the age of three. After brief questioning, during which he established that he was in the country on business, he was waved on.
Riding to the hotel, Gregorian felt as anxious as any Westerner venturing behind the Iron Curtain for the first time. Everyone looked suspicious. No doubt his solemn taxi driver was an agent of the KGB. No doubt a pair of eyes followed his every move. Gregorian had hoped his return to his native land would be different, and now he was disappointed. He wasn't prepared for the grim expressions on people's faces; for the pungent small of form-aldehyde in the air, masking the filth; for the apathy that made bribery part of many transactions.
It was a feeling he would never quite get over. Fourteen years later, in 1984, he entered his Moscow hotel room and a chambermaid came running in, yelling something about soap. She motioned him to follow her into the bathroom. Continuing to scream, she turned the shower on full blast. Then she cupped her hands over her mouth and said, just loud enough for him to hear, "Don't say anything in your room. It is bugged."
The chambermaid was on to something, but there was no way she could know the extent of it. Within months, Gregorian was caught in the vortex of a superpower conflict. It embroiled him in espionage charges. It destroyed his reputation. It shattered his company. And it may cause an international incident in the months ahead. For whenever the first Aeroflot Soviet Airlines' plane lands here, resuming service to the United States, Gregorian's lawyer plans to be there. He'll have a U.S. marshall at his side. And the marshall will have a padlock for the cabin door. The marshall expects to then auction the plane to satisfy the judgment in a lawsuit Gregorian won against the Soviets.
Trading with the Russians hadn't been Gregorian's idea in the first place. In 1968, he was president of Melabs S.A., in Brussels, which was soon to become a subsidiary of SCM Corp., the New York City conglomerate. One day a Soviet official sauntered into his office. Gregorii Kalmykov was a stout foreign trade officer who wanted to drum up more business between the Soviet Union and U.S. companies. He addressed Gregorian in French. He was astounded when an answer came back in fluent, unaccented Russian. "He nearly fell on the floor," recalls Gregorian, who is 56 and was raised in a Russian-Armenian community in Iran. The two hit it off, perhaps because -- as his Russian friends would later joke -- the portly Gregorian, with his thick mustache and white temples, resembled Joseph Stalin.
Over sandwiches one day soon after they met, Kalmykov took a piece of paper from his breast pocket and slid it over to Gregorian's side of the table. "Our people in Moscow are interested in this," Kalmykov said. "Can you supply it?" The scribbles on the slip of paper from the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade asked for six identical scientific research instruments that are used to determine the size of molecules. Gregorian was shocked; because of the specialized nature of the instruments, he had never before sold more than two to a single laboratory. Now the Russians were willing to pay $50,000 for the half dozen. They sealed the deal with nothing more than a handshake.
A few days after the shipment arrived in Moscow, Gregorian and Kalmykov met at Gregorian's office for drinks. He wanted to discuss money, he told the Russian, since he was not sure exactly how the world's largest country would pay him. In rubles? With a check drawn on a Soviet bank? Kalmykov calmly hoisted his thin black briefcase onto a nearby desk. Opening it, he tilted the briefcase at an angle. Inside, $50,000 was piled in crisp $100, $50, and $20 bills. "I said, 'Let's forget about those drinks," Gregorian recalls, "and I quickly ran to the door and locked it. We spent the afternoon counting it."
In 1970, Gregorian, now with SCM, went to the Soviet Union to help his new customers adjust the instruments. During that first four-day visit, he toured the elite hospitals, with comfortable beds and modern facilities reserved for Politburo members and other apparatchik. It wasn't all work, though; accompanied by a driver, Gregorian spent time sightseeing. At night, he dined on caviar and black bread at Moscow's better restaurants. He enjoyed the Bolshoi Ballet at the ornate Palace of Soviets. At Moscow's Opera House, he was dazzled by Boris Godunov, a Mussorgsky opera based on the life of a czar who murdered the successor to the throne in order to secure it for himself.
When he returned to Brussels, Gregorian was as high as Sputnik, because of a business opportunity he had spotted. The market for medical and laboratory equipment was ripe for an American company. The Europeans, who dominated the field, were merely middlemen selling mediocre American equipment to the Russians at a 30% markup. It was no wonder American companies stayed away. Most were put off by the bureaucratic headaches. The Soviets had 40 different purchasing agencies, and finding the right one was never easy. But SCM could crack the puzzle, Gregorian argued, because its food division already had many Russian customers. Besides, he had lived with the Russians, had a master's degree in Soviet studies, and "they wouldn't be able to B.S. me," he boasted. But SCM, best known for its type-writers, answered him emphatically: nyet.
Gregorian, though, seized the opportunity and began planning his own business, confident in his knowledge of exporting and of the Russians. The way to make money in export, he knew, was to "go places where other people aren't going to go" -- in this case, the Soviet Union. He could deliver quality medical equipment for less than the Europeans and still make a margin of 20%. And once the Russians grew comfortable with him, the orders would flow as smoothly as vodka at a dacha in the Moscow countryside. "In a centralized economy, a few knowledgeable people can do a lot," explains Gregorian. "The Russians like to deal with the same person again and again. And they knew I was a guy who could understand them."
But Gregorian had to gain a toehold in the European market, which he knew better than most American businessmen. First, he drained his savings account of $30,000. Then he pitched potential investors, stressing that only about 6% of American companies were exporting. There was a huge worldwide market out there, and he had the savvy to sell to it. It took him less than a week to raise $79,000, mostly from companies that also signed on as suppliers. He launched California International Trade Corp. (CIT) in late 1970, and for the first two years, Gregorian survived by selling electronic components to Western European companies. The Soviet Union was his ultimate target. "I knew Europe, and I knew it would bring in some money," Gregorian says. "I had been to Russia only once, and I needed to develop that large market."
He started making himself known in the land of the hammer and sickle. The more often Gregorian visited the Soviet Union, the more his business there grew. He lined up about 14 medical-equipment suppliers in such areas as cardiology, oncology, and kidney dialysis. And he slowly picked up the rules of the game. "In a planned economy, you don't just try to sell a widget by saying, 'You ought to have this," he says. "You sell them what they want to buy, not what you think they need."
Soviet negotiators usually tried to wear him down. Most foreign businesspeople leave the Soviet Union for Europe on Friday, in the later afternoon or early evening. About an hour before he had to be at the airport, Gregorian's customers sometimes would demand to meet with him for final negotiations. They would pressure him to either meet their terms or miss his flight. Gregorian reached one eleventh-hour agreement at a trade show by pursuing an elusive official into a men's room.
By 1974, the Soviets were fast becoming Gregorian's biggest market. His business in Western Europe was dwindling; American companies were sending their own representatives to Europe and didn't need a middleman like Gregorian anymore. "I knew very well that I was taking a chance in putting all my eggs in one basket," he says. Working his way through the Soviet bureaucracy, Gregorian became an expert at tracing nonmilitary funds. He learned to identify who had the authority to actually purchase equipment. The head of Moscow's cardiology center, for instance, was also Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's personal physician and a member of the Central Committee and the Supreme Soviet. Gregorian pursued the powerful doctor, who always had a generous budget, and he became a regular customer.
Another way of picking up business was to travel in prominent circles. At cocktails preceding a dinner party at the Kremlin, Gregorian had a drink with David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co. As the party wore on, Brezhnev made four vodka toasts to his American friends. On his way out, the tipsy Soviet president stopped by to shake Gregorian's hand.
But Gregorian was careful not to get carried away with the socializing. His reason for being there was just business, and he didn't want it to seem like he was trying to fit in. For instance, he always wore plaid pants. "No Russian in his right mind would be caught dead in plaid pants," he says. He rarely went to operas or ballets and never visited Russian homes. "I didn't want any trouble," he adds.
To reach end-users, Gregorian displayed his wares at trade shows. The exhibitions were grueling work. Each lasted two weeks, but it took another four weeks to set up and dismantle CIT's booth. There were also hidden expenses: Gregorian spent hundreds of dollars on food and foreign liquor, which he was expected to give to any visitors.
The trade shows served another purpose: publicity. The Soviet media, impressed with his frequent presence in the country, dubbed Gregorian "importer of health." TASS, the Soviet news agency, often published strong statements in which Gregorian reaffirmed his support for Soviet trade. At the "Cardiology-82" show in 1982, a Russian radio reporter observed that CIT's booth "reminds one of a miniature medical/scientific center because of the abundance of new U.S. medical scientific products." CIT's suppliers, said the reporter, were "outstanding firms in the medical field."
The Soviet government embraced Gregorian with a bear hug. During Moscow's World Biochemistry Congress in June 1984 -- the last show that Gregorian would be allowed to attend, as it turned out -- CIT received 5 diplomas of distinction "for its excellence in organizing and displaying the latest U.S.-manufactured equipment at its stand." That brought the firm's total number of diplomas to almost 70. "Russia was always looked upon as a backward country by most businessmen," Gregorian says. "But we took the Russian market very seriously."
Gregorian had one cardinal rule as firmly planted in his mind as were the Marxist slogans plastered on Moscow's downtown buildings: never let politics interfere. Most American companies stayed away from the Soviet Union just after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. CIT, though, went to a scheduled trade show and found itself alone in the section reserved for U.S. companies, dwarfed beneath a huge American flag. But Gregorian never defied the U.S. government. In 1981, when the President ordered all U.S. suppliers to abandon the Soviet-European natural-gas pipeline, he quietly obeyed. It cost him a $14-million contract. "Discuss politics, and your business will be out," he says. "I was delivering good products, and they were paying me on time. The Russians didn't do me any special favors."
Not any, at least, compared with the one they finally did him in the fall of 1982. During the previous year -- his best ever, with sales hitting $10 million -- his Russian contacts had been encouraging Gregorian to apply for the highest honor the Soviets can bestow on an American company: accreditation. Such indirect encouragement is rarely given unless Soviet trade officials are planning to act favorably. Gregorian spent $45,000 and 18 months on the application. On December 10, 1982, CIT became the smallest company ever to join an elite group of U.S. companies accredited to operate in the Soviet Union.
The honor meant Gregorian no longer had to work out of expensive hotel rooms during his frequent visits, which could last 45 days. CIT would get a branch office with such "propaganda tools" as a telex and a copying machine. It could buy a car and hire assigned Soviet employees. About 25 companies had accreditation, including IBM Corp. and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. The Soviets usually required minimum sales of $40 million to qualify for accreditation, but they waived that rule for CIT because of its high-quality equipment. The company moved into a 1,200-square-foot office on Kutuzov Prospekt, a prestigious avenue of diplomats. CIT's new digs also included a full kitchen, along with a chef who could help keep the customers returning. "If people come to do business and you don't feed them, they won't come back again," says Gregorian.
With CIT now a valued Russian supplier, Gregorian was told that his customer list would soon grow longer than the lines inside GUM, Moscow's huge department store. His Soviet partners suggested he prepare himself for the expansion and start looking like a businessman worthy of such a high Soviet honor. Over the next year and a half, he moved CIT's nearly two dozen U.S. employees into more spacious quarters in Palo Alto, Calif., and spent $250,000 sprucing up the place. He opened up an East Coast office in New Jersey. He added to his collection of costly lacquer boxes. Gregorian even felt he had good enough prospects -- two especially big contracts were pending -- to think about expanding into such countries as China and India.
The pile of telexes he shuffled through each morning in his Palo Alto office attested to his growing success. But on November 10, 1984 -- nearly two years after CIT's accreditation -- one in particular caught Gregorian's eye. The return address was the Protocol Administration of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade. The Protocol Administration? He knew it wasn't a customer. All of his Russian-speaking workers were away, so no one else had been able to read it. Calmly, he tore it off the telex machine, brought it into his office, and read it twice. The curt telex informed him that "the Ministry of Foreign Trade has decided to discontinue the activities of the firm's representatives in the Soviet Union." The message: you have 90 days to get out of the USSR. Period.
Gregorian didn't panic. The Russians had been tough on him before, but they had always managed to work things out. He had been away from Russia for four months, his longest spell since starting CIT. The Soviets relied on personal contact -- his first deal, he recalled, had been sealed with a handshake -- so much that he had spent a total of four years there since 1970. They could certainly iron this out face-to-face.
He dashed off telexes to his Russian colleagues, seeking an explanation. Silence. "For 14 years, they did their job and we did ours," says Gregorian. "Then, bingo, I became a nonperson."
When the Russians did respond, it was with the delicacy of a Stalinist purge. The government newspaper Izvestia published an article whose headline summed it up: "Duplicitous Negotiator: a Story About a U.S. Firm and an Abuse of Trust." According to a wire-service translation, the story accused Gregorian of bribery. It said that he sold "secondhand or already obsolete equipment," and that he smuggled "antiques and valuables" out of the country.
But one charge landed like a grenade in his lap. The Soviets said that he was active "in establishing contacts with specialists from different Soviet institutes that are traditionally of interest to U.S. intelligence organs." Or as his local newspaper put it in a headline splashed across the front page: "U.S. Firm Accused of Spying." Several other U.S. newspapers picked up the story, and Gregorian's friends in Europe heard it on the radio. "I realized then that everything was finished," he says.
There was one last plan he thought might work. Gregorian hopped a plane to Switzerland, having offered to meet with the Russians on neutral ground. "You should have talked to me before starting this scandal," he admonished the chief of the Protocol Administration in a telex. "I am sure that you must know this incident will not die out and that I will do everything within the limits of the law to clear my name and prove you wrong." Again, there was silence.
When he returned to Palo Alto, more bad news awaited him. His suppliers were deserting him. They didn't want to be tainted by association. Varian Associates Inc. canceled its agreement. Then Applied Biosystems Inc. Then Del Mar Avionics. There was no end to it. New cancellations came every day. CIT was ruined.
For a couple of months, Gregorian withdrew. He rarely left his Palo Alto house. When he did, it was usually to march into the office and lay off more workers. He eventually slashed the staff from 22 to 7, including his wife and himself. On top of the spy accusation, it enraged him that about $300,000 worth of CIT equipment was still sitting, unpaid for, in Soviet hospitals. This time, he couldn't expect Gregorii Kalmykov to walk in with a suitcase full of cash. "You basically have no recourse as an American company," Gregorian declares. "They take your equipment, they don't pay you for it, and what do you do?In this country, there are collection agencies and courts.Over there, you are completely in their power."
Gregorian was still stewing when a friend suggested he visit Gerald Kroll, a 35-year-old civil lawyer in Los Angeles. Kroll himself had been in the newspaper of late, having won a $1-million award in what was probably the biggest settlement ever of an individual civil rights case. He was eager to hear Gregorian's story. After a few talks, the compact, energetic lawyer and his new client emerged with a bold plan: they would sue the Soviets for libel and breach of contract. It would be the first suit of its kind. "After all, you have to draw the line somewhere," says Kroll, who mentions the Gregorian affair in the same breath as the Soviet downing of a Korean civilian airliner in 1983. "The Soviets act with impunity all around the world."
The U.S. government was already trying to rescue Gregorian through its own shrouded diplomatic channels. The government's interest goes beyond CIT. More than 100 U.S. companies exported goods worth an estimated $2.6 billion to the Soviets in 1985. In January, as Gregorian considered filing a lawsuit, his company's name came up at the first U.S.-Soviet trade talks in six years. Lionel Olmer, then the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, discussed CIT with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Sushkov. "The Soviets ran through their charges and would not go into detail," says Jack Brougher, director of the USSR division of the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration. Brougher, who was in the room, says that the Russian delegation "refused to get into a substantive discussion about it." Afterward, Olmer, unaware that a lawsuit was about to be served, warned that the Russians had sent "a potentially bad signal to other American companies." At a later meeting, headed by Commerce secretary Malcolm Baldrige, the Soviets again turned a shoulder as cold as Siberia.
Before serving the papers on the Soviets, Kroll decided to make his own pilgrimage to the USSR in February. He drew up a list of options that would end the dispute quickly. The Russians could, for instance, quietly reinstate Gregorian's accreditation and promise to direct a minimum level of business his way. Kroll obtained his visa in one day, a sign he interpreted as hopeful.
But it was wishful thinking on his part. Kroll spent a week holed up at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, trading disheartening communications with Soviet officials. The top brass of Izvestia was on vacation, he was informed, even though it was the head of winter. And a deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Trade sent a terse note that ended with the lame excuse: "You need only to read the papers and look at TV to see how busy we are this week."
Kroll returned to the States even more resolved to carry out his plan.He notes, "I didn't expect to get a response from them saying, 'Nice to hear from you, Jerry. Come and spend a weekend at the palace in Moscow.' But we have approached this very positively and optimistically." After penning one last appeal to new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Kroll got the suit translated into Russian for $3,500. He forwarded it to the State Department, which sent it to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow via diplomatic pouch. From there, an official carried the documents to the doorstep of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade.
In a suit seeking more than $400 million in damages, Ralph Gregorian charged Izvestia with libel for calling him a spy. The Ministry of Foreign Trade and two Soviet subministries were co-defendants, as was Catalyst Research Corp., an American supplier that Gregorian says conspired with the Russians to ruin him. Theodore Andersen, a finance professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Management, values the company at $10 million, and the Soviets owe him about $300,000 for his equipment. The rest, says Kroll, is to punish the Soviets for "ruining Ralph's career. We wanted to make it enough to hurt."
Before 1976, Gregorian would have had little opportunity for recourse. But that year Congress enacted The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which permits lawsuits against foreign countries in which commercial losses, not political acts, are involved. In July, a federal district court judge ruled that Gregorian's case could be tried in the United States. The Soviets never publicly responded. "That's the opinion of an American judge, and it is contradictory to international law," says Oleg Tishchenko, consul and commercial counselor at the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. "We do not recognize it." Throughout the case, the Soviet government has wrapped itself in the silence of the Urals.
The suit appears to have undermined any subtler efforts the government was making on Gregorian's behalf. And it irked some bureaucrats. "Mr. Gregorian did not level with the government," says one State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous."It is conceivable that we could have been able to work out an agreement with the Soviets that would have met everyone's needs. He is privileged to take the legal route, but it is an element that we should have been informed of." For his part, Gregorian says he was unaware that the State Department was even trying to help. After all, both countries have bigger sturgeon to fry than Ralph Gregorian -- like, say, arms control. "The consensus among businessmen I talked to was that the State Department basically does not do very much for its citizens," he says flatly. "Besides, the State Department is a political organization, and this is a commercial case."
The suit may have alienated the government, but others hesitate to come to Gregorian's aid, because they are skeptical about his claim of innocence. In the early 1970s, when Gregorian was starting out, U.S. intelligence groups routinely debriefed American businessmen who went to the Soviet Union. Because the United States had a shortage of sources there, the government was hungry for any tidbits it could piece together into a picture of Soviet progress. By knowing the kind of medical equipment the Soviets needed, for instance, U.S. officials might have been able to make some deductions about the state of certain technologies there.
Gregorian steadfastly maintains that he was never approached by any intelligence group about Soviet trade. "The CIA was never interested in me," he says. William Colby, director of the CIA from 1973 to 1976, is noncommittal. "We didn't debrief every U.S. businessman," he says. "It is possible that we just didn't run into him."
Some observers find it hard to believe that the Soviets' charges against Gregorian are completely groundless. "The Soviets don't arbitrarily throw people out," says Leo Welt, president of Welt International, which has advised companies on exporting to the USSR for 18 years. "If you stick to business and don't get involved in anything else, you won't have any trouble." The Soviets, while not supplying details, maintain that Gregorian was doing more there than just exporting. "His actions contradicted his status as a businessman," says Tishchenko. "He was involved in some other activities." Both the CIA and the State Department refuse to comment on whether Gregorian is a spy. "What really burns my ass is that my government will not come out and say, 'He is not a spy," says Gregorian. "How can I prove that I am not a spy?"
If he is innocent, then why did the Soviets throw him out? Gregorian has a handful of ideas. One is the tit-for-tat theory. About a month before he was ejected, two Soviet emigres and an FBI agent were arrested in California for espionage. "They always retaliate when their people are involved," Gregorian says. "They believe in reciprocity for everything."
The only other accredited companies from California are giants like Hewlett-Packard, Occidental Petroleum, and Bank-America. "They are not going to throw out Armand Hammer [the 87-year-old Occidental chairman and CEO]," says Kroll. "After all, the man spent an hour with Lenin. Ralph is small fry." But such retaliation may be an unlikely motive. "Usually, it's diplomats they throw out," says one State Department source. "I don't think the Soviet Union has ever clamped down on a businessman because of that kind of arrest."
Another possibility is that the Soviets, whose treasury has been strained by grain purchases, simply eliminated Gregorian as part of a belt-tightening measure. "They were frustrated by the fact that he was a middleman," offers Kroll. "They thought they could make better money by going direct." Catalyst Research, the U.S. supplier named in the suit, signed two agreements with the Soviets through CIT, Gregorian says. When CIT was stripped of its accreditation, Catalyst turned around and signed directly with the Soviets. CIT's commission on those deals could have amounted to as much as $7 million, according to Gregorian. Catalyst refuses to comment on his charges that it conspired with the Soviets. The case will be heard in court later this year.
Gregorian may have been caught unwittingly in a wider disciplinary action, according to one source who was kicked out of the Soviet Union for spying some years ago."In the Soviet Union, there are a lot of crackdowns and people who are made example of," he says. "There were several people at the Ministry of Foreign Trade who had been arrested for improper activities. Maybe he got caught up in it, or somebody mentioned his name."
Soviet standards of conduct are radically different. Says former CIA chief Colby, "Sometimes, what's seen as perfectly normal behavior here can be seen as suspicious to the Soviets." Whatever their reasons, the Soviets are unlikely to make peace with Gregorian. "I am not very hopeful," says Jack Brougher, of the Commerce Department. "On the basis of our information, we see no reason why the company could not have had its accreditation continued. It's always possible that there are things we don't know."
It is also possible that Gregorian will never collect even a kopeck in damages, although every judicial decision brings him more good news. In October, U.S. district judge David Kenyon ruled that Izvestia had libeled Gregorian and that the Soviets owe him about $300,000 for medical equipment already delivered. But he also ruled that the Soviets were within their rights in canceling Gregorian's accreditation, and rejected Gregorian's claim that they caused him "intentional emotional suffering." Kenyon asked for additional documentation, leaving open the possibility that he might award more damages.
Kroll hopes the libel ruling -- which he calls the first of its kind -- will smoke the Soviets out, and they will come forth with a settlement offer at least equal to CIT's $10-million value. If they don't, he says he will initiate the process of seizing Soviet assets in the United States to satisfy the claim, as the law permits. Any asset Kroll freezes must be connected with an agency named in the suit. One obvious target, he notes, are Aeroflot planes. The typewriters in Izvestia's Washington, D.C., office are another. And there is also Amtorg, a Soviet government-owned trading corporation in New York City. "We'll systematically hit a new target every week," says Kroll. "We are prepared to spend years on it."
But they still may come up empty-handed. "The problem is getting at the assets," notes Ronald Brand, who teaches international business at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. "If the Soviets were afraid, I think they would have appeared earlier. They have probably removed any substantial assets they have here." Most Soviet assets here may be untouchable. "They'll have a hard time," says Colby. "You can't, after all, attach an embassy."
Gregorian also faces political pressures. The State Department may not let CIT tag a "for sale" sign on an Aeroflot airliner just as arms-reduction talks reach an important phase. Nor will Washington like it if the Soviets retaliate by threatening U.S. holdings. "It would start a tit-for-tat game that there would be no end of, and the State Department would step in and stop them," says Alexander Dallin, a professor of history and political science at Stanford University. "If in fact it was possible to collect damages, there would be lots of libel suits by lots of people who have been libeled by foreign countries."
Gregorian would rather it didn't come to that. The Soviet Union is, after all, his birthplace, and he feels a kinship with its people. Around New Year's Day 1984, Gregorian received 300 cards from his Russian associates. Last year, he got one.
He picks up a thick album of his visits there, and begins thumbing through it. "They know they wronged me, but the problem is the whole Soviet system," he says. "They cannot be wrong."