Yevgeny Loginov, director of international projects for Interenergoservis, said yesterday (May 13) that the company would evacuate all 340 of its employees working in Iraq if the fate of two of its employees recently kidnapped there is not determined in the immediate future (RIA Novosti, May 13). The two employees, Aleksandr Gordienko and Andrei Meshcheryakov, who were working on a project to repair a power plant at El-Musayeb, 50 kilometers south of Baghdad, were kidnapped on May 10 when several gunman attacked a car taking them from work back to their residences in Baghdad. Another Interenergoservis employee, Aleksei Konorev, was killed and an Iraqi guard wounded in the attack (MosNews, May 11). Unnamed Iraqi security service experts were quoted as saying it was “a miracle” that all of the passengers in the car were not killed, given that the attack left the vehicle with 30-40 bullet holes (NEWSru.com, May 12).
Interenergoservis had indicated it hoped Gordienko and Meshcheryakov would be released on May 13 as the result of talks that the company and Russia’s embassy in Baghdad were holding with Iraqi religious leaders apparently acting as intermediaries with the kidnappers. Interenergoservis’ general director, Alexander Abramov, said the company had received “encouraging evidence” that the two kidnapped employees were “alive and well.” The hoped-for release of the hostages, however, did not take place. A diplomatic source in Baghdad told RIA Novosti on May 13 that members of influential political and social groups, including top religious leaders, were involved in trying to free the hostages, but that the situation remained unchanged. A leader of one of Iraq’s political movements told the news agency that the kidnapping of the Russian workers had cast a shadow “on the friendly relations between both countries that has existed for a long time.” He added: “Our duty, therefore, is to do everything to free the Russians as quickly as possible.” In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said diplomats were doing everything possible to free the kidnapped Russians, but would not provide any details about these efforts or predict their outcome (Lenta.ru, May 13).
No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Arkam Khazam, Moscow bureau chief for the Qatari satellite television channel Al-Jazeera, said that “mafia structures” rather than a political group or “radical organization” are probably holding the two Interenergoservis employees, given that no demands have been put forward (Ekho Moskvy, May 12). This is not the first time Interenergoservis employees have been kidnapped in Iraq: Eight were taken hostage on April 12, but released unharmed within hours. Following that incident, 500 Russian workers, including 77 Interenergoservis employees, left Iraq. However, 300 other workers from Russia and former Soviet republics chose not to join the evacuation after signing a Russian Embassy waiver saying they fully recognized the dangers of remaining in Iraq (Moscow Times, May 12). And despite the latest kidnapping, only about 100 of the 340 Interenergoservis employees remaining in Iraq have said that they want to return to Russia (they are scheduled to leave on May 17).
Indeed, both the remaining employees and the company’s management have strong financial incentives to remain in Iraq, despite the dangers. Following the April 12 kidnapping, Interenergoservis raised salaries for its staff in Iraq by 10-20 percent, to US$1,400 a month or more (Gazeta, May 14). Given such salaries, it is not surprising that, as Ekho Moskvy reported on May 13, the telephones in Interenergoservis’ Moscow offices “never stop ringing” thanks to people calling to inquire about jobs with company in Iraq. Interenergoservis has a contract worth approximately US$30 million to repair four power plants in Iraq by no later than June 15. An unnamed official of the company was quoted its saying that this contract and future ones could be jeopardized if its employees are evacuated (Gazeta, May 13).
On May 12, Russia’s State Duma overwhelmingly passed a resolution holding the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq largely to blame for the kidnapping and murder of the Interenergoservis employees. “It is obvious that the new provocative act was possible by virtue of the fact that the structures responsible for upholding law and order in Iraq, above all, the powers occupying it, did not take all the necessary measures to prevent an escalation of military actions or establish a dialogue with all interested parties,” the resolution stated. It also said the situation in Iraq is developing according to “the worst-case scenario,” adding that “the suppression of popular unrest by military means cannot serve as an acceptable and effective means of resolving the Iraqi conflict and provokes murder, the taking of hostages and…harm to civilians, including foreigners.” The Duma also called on Russian companies working in Iraq to “immediately and responsibly examine the advisability” of their workers remaining there (Interfax, May 12; Vremya Novostei, May 13).