Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 35

Aleksandr Yevtushenko, Chechen correspondent for a Russian newspaper, claimed in an article published today that Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky is being held in the southern Chechen village of Duba-Yurt (near the Argun Gorge) by rebel field commander Rivan Chitigov. According to Yevtushenko, Chitigov holds American citizenship, has been involved in the business of holding hostages and prisoners for ransom, and may soon demand a ransom for Babitsky (Komsomolskaya pravda, February 18). According to the Russian government, Babitsky, who was detained by federal forces in Chechnya in mid-January, volunteered earlier this month to be swapped to Chechen field commanders in exchange for Russian POWs.

Yevtushenko cites both the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Chechen rebels as sources for his report, and his version of what may have happened to Babitsky and where the correspondent is located is closer to the explanations given by various Russian officials, including Acting President Vladimir Putin. Putin, along with Sergei Yastrzhembsky, his point man on Chechnya, and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo claimed over the last week that Babitsky is “alive and well” and with Chechen rebels in southern Chechnya. Yevtushenko’s report, however, does not address the claims by Putin, Yastrzhembsky and Rushailo that Babitsky went over to the Chechen rebels voluntarily.

Mario Corti, head of Radio Liberty’s Russian service, said today that he believed Yevtushenko’s report in Komsomolskaya pravda was “disinformation” put out by the FSB as a way of ensuring that the Chechens are held responsible if Babitsky is killed. Corti said that there were strong reasons to fear for Babitsky’s life, and that the detention and disappearance of the correspondent was part of a government plan to limit Radio Liberty’s activities in Russia and gradually introduce censorship and other restrictions on the Russian media (Russian agencies, February 18).