Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 157

Agents of a special brigade set up by President Maskhadov to coordinate the fight against kidnapping arrived in Moscow on August 25 to investigate claims that ransoms were paid for the Russian journalists released in Chechnya last week. Djohar-gala has said that the money will be returned if the kidnappers are apprehended and it does turn out that ransoms were paid. (RTR, August 25) According to Chechnya’s prosecutor general, Khovazh Serbiev, the Chechen security forces had taken all the steps necessary to free the journalists, and "the only thing left to do was to organize the final assault in such a way as to ensure that the hostages were freed unharmed." At that point, Serbiev claims, news was received that ransom had been paid and the journalists released. (RTR, August 25)

This version of what happened differs substantially not only from Moscow’s but also from earlier versions presented by Chechen officials. Originally, Djohar-gala denied that ransom had been paid and claimed that the journalists had been freed by the efforts of the republic’s law-enforcement agencies. (See Monitor, August 20) The commander of Chechnya’s anti-kidnapping brigade, Magomed Magomedov, said that two of his men had been killed and another two wounded during the operation to free the hostages. (Russian agencies, August 20)

The Chechen investigators are likely to come away empty-handed. Russian Security Council deputy secretary Boris Berezovsky and NTV president Igor Malashenko (the two people who made the ransom claims) have both refused to meet them. NTV officials say they suspect Djohar-gala wants to find out what information the television company possesses substantiating Malashenko’s claim that Chechen government ministers are actively involved in hostage-taking. "Maskhadov is clearly nervous. But we aren’t going to put all our cards on the table right away, and we certainly don’t intend to be interrogated," an NTV manager was quoted as saying. (Kommersant-daily, August 23)

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