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Theory: Working Backwards

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Thank you for your comments, both of you!

I know this theory is flawed and I welcome thoughts about it.

I do feel like it's almost obvious that Zolotaryov was a plant.

If he was a plant, is there any compelling evidence that he muscled his way into the tour? I would certainly think that things would have proceeded with more deliberation if it were a plot. I think there would have been a gun. I think corpses would be hidden. What a mystery this is!

The text says

--- Quote ---Bienko as a student was summoned to the Komsomol committee, where he was questioned what he had done during the last summer and winter holidays, when his comrades and fellow students helped the national economy on labor fronts - on state farms, timber industry enterprises and at construction sites in the country. It turned out that Vladislav had spent all his holidays on mountain hikes! Well, if so, then the Komsomol member Bienko was immediately awarded a ticket to the "Udarnik" timber industry enterprise, and no higher school administration could help him escape this fate.
- Even our head of the department, Professor Pal Zakharych Petukhov, could not help me, - recalls Vladislav Bienko, - with whom I had very good relations. I had to give my share of equipment and food to Semyon Zolotaryov, who replaced me, an instructor at the Kourovka tour base. And when the time came for the group to leave for the North, all I could do was help my comrades load heavy backpacks on the train.
– It turns out that Semyon Zolotaryov took your place in the group?
– Yes, because my place vacated.
– Maybe the Komsomol specifically sent you to the timber industry camp in order to make room for Zolotaryov?
– No I do not think so. In those days, everything was much more honest.
--- End quote ---

This is one of the place where my ignorance of the Russian systems comes into play. According to the above quote, the Komsomol Committee was the body that coordinated the removal of Bienko and the insertion of Zolotaryov. Who was the superior of the Komsomol Committee? These are things I don't know, but should be known somewhere.

My subjective opinion is that Zolotaryov was a plant, by the Party, or rather, its local branch.

Not for any espionage or military purposes, but to ensure that this innocent skiing trip is exactly that and nothing else. To make sure this group that includes some geology students aren't clandestinely looking for the Ural gold. Or that they don't secretly head south instead of north and try to emigrate via the mountains there, to Pakistan or Iran or another "Western-aligned" (at the time) country.

Manti, that is an interesting take. Zolotaryov may have been a plant, but let's follow the money. What evidence can we produce to show he was paid? I thought he was in the expedition to increase his qualification for employment. A master of sport, I think it was. Wasn't it Zina who was the dyed in the wool Communist? Surely she would not be a party to defection. She might like a bit of gold, but I do not recall them having any, nor panning equipment. Since they wanted to travel over frozen streams to aid their trek,  panning would not be much of an option in February. Hmmm.

Since the thread is about working backwards, I think the Soviet authorities would conclude that the hikers died tragically due to an unfortunate natural disaster. Then, they would cast about to find someone they can assign blame to in order to appease the families of the deceased. Case closed. All this business of relocating a tent and other conspiracy scenarios are totally unnecessary. Bad things happen to good hikers.


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