Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 2

Chechen separatist officials sent a letter to the European Parliament on January 9 charging that Russian special forces had kidnapped relatives of separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, MosNews reported on January 10. According to the letter, Maskhadov’s sister and two brothers, aged 70 to 76, were kidnapped last week. The veteran human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalev said such kidnappings were in keeping with methods used by Ramzan Kadyrov. “We know very well that Kadyrov Jr. recruited some rebels who switched sides and joined the forces of the present Chechen administration in the following simple way: he seized their relatives and then the rebels came over to set them free,” Kovalev said.

Chechen officials, however, denied the charges. “I can with complete responsibility say that neither the law-enforcement organs of the Chechen Republic nor the federal forces have detained the brothers and sister of Aslan Maskhadov,” an official in the Chechen prosecutor’s office told Interfax on January 9. The official added that there was no need to detain and incarcerate Maskhadov’s relatives. Likewise, Chechen Interior Ministry officials were quoted as insisting that they do not resort to such tactics “even in relation to the relatives of known terrorists who organized and carried out large-scale terrorist attacks, if they do not have any direct connection to the actions of the terrorists,” Newsru.com reported on January 9.

Meanwhile, a Kavkazky Uzel website correspondent, Sultan Abubakarov, reported on January 10 that Maskhadov’s relatives were kidnapped not last week but more than a month ago, and that their fate remains unknown. According to Abubakarov, Maskhadov’s sister, who lives in the village of Krasnaya Turbina in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district, was abducted in the middle of the night by a group of armed persons in masks and camouflage uniforms. At around the same time, other armed persons kidnapped Maskhadov’s two brothers from their homes. “I knew one of Aslan Maskhadov’s brothers, Lema,” a resident of the Groznensky district village of Pervomaiskaya told Abubakarov. “He was already 70 years old. One time he was kidnapped, it seems, by Russian soldiers, but then released. From then on he was in a state of constant anxiety, fearing possible persecution and abduction. He was an ordinary slogger who was not interested in politics or any of his brother’s affairs.”

According to Abubakarov, residents of Chechnya believe that the kidnapping of Maskhadov’s relatives was organized by Ramzan Kadyrov’s presidential security service and aimed at forcing the rebel leader to surrender. However, the Kavkazky Uzel correspondent cited reports that Maskhadov has vowed he will not give up under any circumstances, even if the authorities kidnap all of his relatives and his entire clan.

The letter to the European Parliament claimed that kidnappings of women, children and elderly people in Chechnya by the Russian special services and Ramzan Kadyrov’s men in Grozny have reached “unbelievable” proportions in recent weeks and that the upsurge in kidnapping is a result of Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov’s suggestion that relatives of terrorists be detained. The letter asked the European Parliament to do everything in its power to guarantee the security of Aslan Maskhadov’s relatives and all other “hostages.” According to Kavkazky Uzel, it also demanded that President Vladimir Putin immediately free all kidnapped citizens, including Maskhadov’s relatives.

The Associated Press reported on January 10 that back in September, a brother-in-law of Maskhadov, Shirvani Semiev, said federal forces briefly detained him and up to 50 other relatives of Maskhadov and rebel warlord Shamil Basaev on September 3, the final day of the rebel raid in Beslan.