Andrei Babitsky, a Russian journalist working in Chechnya for Radio Liberty, went missing January 15. Kremlin officials denied all knowledge of his whereabouts. Then they acknowledged that Babitsky was a prisoner of Interior Ministry forces. Then they told Radio Liberty officials that he would be brought to Moscow to face charges of consorting with the enemy. Then, on February 4, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who manages information on Chechnya for the Kremlin, said that federal forces had traded Babitsky to Chechen fighters for three Russian prisoners of war. Yastrzhembsky released a short undated video tape purportedly of the swap, in which the Chechens are unidentifiable figures in ski masks. Babitsky has still not been heard from.
Although Radio Liberty is a U.S. government-funded operation, and though State Department spokesman James Rubin had promised support for Babitsky’s release, Secretary Albright in her meetings with Acting President Putin reportedly did not mention the affair. Playing the ostrich instead of the eagle, she seemed not to want to know that in this case can-do Putin, won’t.