Yelena Masyuk and her two-man film crew from Russia’s NTV independent television channel spoke to reporters yesterday just after their release from three months’ captivity in Chechnya. During most of that time, Masyuk said, they were kept in a cave in the forest. Masyuk’s release followed closely on that of two journalists from Russia’s VID television company, Ilyas Bogatyrev and Vladislav Chernyaev. It raised hopes that some 20 others being held hostage in Chechnya may also be released soon. They include two Britons and four French aid workers, a German, and a Slovak.
VID director Aleksandr Lyubimov told journalists yesterday that there are as many as 300 professional kidnappers operating in Chechnya. He said they are not all former "freedom fighters" but common criminals who live off their trade. Both Russian and Chechen authorities have denied that any ransom was paid to secure the journalists’ release; Djohar-gala claimed its threat to impose the death penalty through Chechnya’s new Shariah courts was the key factor. But Lyubimov said he had "no doubt" a ransom had been paid. He said that Russian journalists should stay out of Chechnya in the future and that he was willing to be the first to declare a "unilateral moratorium." "If the Chechens want us to know what is going on, let them send people to Moscow. They will be safe there," he said. (NTV, August 18)
Masyuk, a seasoned journalist who covered the Chechen war, partly confirmed Lyubimov’s allegations, saying there were "different sorts of people" among her guards. She said some of them knew her from the war years and even apologized for what they were doing to her. Others, she said, were "monsters" who showed no pity and gloated over the captives. "One mustn’t judge the entire Chechen nation by such people," Masyuk said. Bogatyrev, one of the freed VID reporters, claimed the kidnappers enjoyed protection from officials in the middle ranks of the Chechen government and police. Bogatyrev and Lyubimov said Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov is embroiled in a struggle for power with extremists within his own government. They called on the Russian government to support Maskhadov; otherwise, they said, Chechnya would again be plunged into civil war which would spill over into Russia proper. (RTR, NTV, ORT, August 18)
Yeltsin and Maskhadov Paper Over the Cracks.