Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 222

In Djohar, formerly Grozny, a scandalous version of the freeing of Valentin Vlasov, Russia’s political representative to Chechnya, is making the rounds. According to this version, Russia’s special services paid a large amount of money for Vlasov’s release. Some Chechen officials say they can document this. Sharpuddin Tasuev, deputy head of the republic’s antikidnapping directorate, claimed both that US$5 million was paid for Vlasov’s release and that Vlasov was not held on Chechen territory. Tasuev claims that the Chechen authorities have a videocassette which records Vlasov’s ransom being paid out in the village of Chermen, on the border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia. The Chechen authorities are vigorously playing up the scandal: Tasuev, for example, demanded that representatives of Russia’s Interior Ministry be thrown out of Chechnya (NTV, November 28). Such statements from the Chechen authorities were predictable. Immediately after Vlasov’s release, official Djohar announced that neither Russia’s interior minister nor its special services had conducted a special operation on Chechen territory to free Vlasov and that Vlasov had actually been held outside Chechnya.

Prior to Vlasov’s release, when Russian hostages, most of them servicemen, were freed, the Chechen authorities claimed that they were fake hostages who had in fact never been on Chechen territory. The negative reaction of the Chechen authorities to the liberation of the hostages stems from the fact that they have played no role in the freeing of any kidnapping victims over the last six months, which has demonstrated that the Russian authorities have been able to win the release of hostages without the Chechen government’s help. Thus the negative statements coming out of Djohar can be seen as an attempt to save face. As NTV noted, the Chechen authorities have refused to show journalists the videocassette allegedly showing the payment of a ransom for Vlasov (NTV, November 28). It is possible, however, that Vlasov was released in the village of Chermen, where half the population is Ingush, a people closely related to Chechens. Criminal groups specializing in kidnapping in the North Caucasus often work together: In Dagestan and Ingushetia, victims are generally kidnapped by local criminal groups and then transferred for “safekeeping” to Chechnya. It is possible that that the search for Vlasov took place exclusively on Chechen territory, and that his captors moved him outside the republic to throw off the law enforcement organs.