On January 9, Kenneth (Kenny) Gluck, age 38, an American citizen working for the North Caucasus mission of the Nobel-prize winning humanitarian organization Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF–Doctors without Borders) was kidnapped by three heavily armed masked men near the Chechen village of Starye Atagi as he was traveling in a four-vehicle convoy moving in a southwest direction from the city of Gudermes. Another American riding in a different car, Jonathan Little of Action Against Hunger, managed to escape the kidnappers, while sustaining a minor head wound (see the Monitor, January 16).
The Russian media have been replete with speculation concerning what group or organization kidnapped the unfortunate Gluck. According to General Baranov, commander of the Combined Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya, the most likely culprits were “the band of Akhmadov,” a well-known Chechen Wahhabi group known for their widespread practice of kidnapping (Gazeta.ru, January 10; Krasnaya zvezda, January 11). As noted in a previous issue of this publication, representatives of the Russian military have claimed that the Akhmadov group is in secret league with the FSB, which allegedly provides them with identity papers so that they can pass through Russian military and police checkpoints.
The press service of President Maskhadov of Chechnya stated his view that “the Russian special services and forces controlled by them” had in fact conducted the kidnapping.
Employees of MSF unofficially told journalists that they believed that “the kidnapping of Gluck was planned and carried out by the Russian army in order to establish control over humanitarian organizations working in Chechnya and to dissuade Western journalists from making trips to the North Caucasus” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 12). MSF spokesmen refuted charges General Ivan Babichev, the military commandant of Chechnya, and by others made that MSF was itself partially responsible for the kidnapping. “We never act without the approval of the [Russian] authorities,” MSF spokeswoman Rian van de Braak emphasized, “They are aware of everything we do-they know where we go, and in which cars, and with which people” (Agence France Presse, January 10).
The brutal kidnapping of Kenneth Gluck has resulted in both MSF and the Danish Refugee Council–which provides much of the food made available to Chechen refugees–completely withdrawing their operations from Chechnya. This means, among other things, that Chechen civilians, already threatened in some locations with the specters of hunger and serious illness, are to receive significantly less food and considerably less medical attention. If nature is permitted to “take its course,” then large numbers of refugees could perish this winter from the cold, from inadequate nourishment, and from an absence of medical attention. Of perhaps equal concern, the Gluck kidnapping has, at least temporarily, removed key Western “eyes” and “ears” from Chechnya, thereby leaving an estimated 800,000 Chechens alone, face-to-face with a Russian military and MVD obsessed, according to press reports, with taking bitter revenge against all ethnic Chechens.