A flurry of charges and countercharges fell on Moscow and Djohar (formerly Grozny) over who kidnapped Gennady Shpigun. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said in a television interview aired yesterday evening that Shamil Basaev, the wartime field commander who served as Chechnya’s premier before going into opposition against Maskhadov, was one of the “organizers” of the abduction. Stepashin also suggested that the motive for the kidnapping may have been to swap Shpigun for the two Chechen women recently sentenced to long prison terms for the 1997 bombing of the Pyatigorsk railway station (NTV, March 7). Basaev called Stepashin’s accusation “the fruit of an inflated imagination,” charging that the Russian interior minister was “trying to create the appearance of a successful investigation into the incident.”
Chechen officials, for their part, give contradictory explanations for the abduction. Danilbek Tamkayev, an adviser to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, said Shpigun was kidnapped by men loyal to Salman Raduev, Chechnya’s other main rebel field commander (Agence France-Presse, March 7). Raduev, who claimed responsibility for the 1997 Pyatigorsk bombing, has said that the two Chechen women charged in that incident played no role in it and has vowed to avenge their sentencing. Tamkayev said that Shpigun’s kidnapping was aimed at torpedoing negotiations Maskhadov was carrying out to secure a pardon for the women (Agence France-Presse, March 7). The Russian authorities have publicly ruled out such a pardon. Chechen Vice Premier Kazbek Makhashev said that “forces” interested in destabilizing the atmosphere in Chechnya and complicating its relations with Russia were behind the kidnapping. Meanwhile Turpal Ali Atgeriev, the Chechen vice premier in charge of the republic’s power ministries, alleged that “Moscow special services” were behind Shpigun’s abduction (ORT, March 7).
Stepashin made it clear in his interview last night that he views the freeing of Shpigun not only as a matter of personal honor–given that Shpigun was a direct subordinate–but as a test of Moscow’s resolve and capabilities. Stepashin said that President Boris Yeltsin had ordered him to come up with a plan to free Shpigun and punish his kidnappers. The plan, he said, would involve a complex of measures, including actions against Chechen criminal groups in other parts of Russia, including Moscow (NTV, March 7). Aleksandr Mikhailov, head of the Interior Ministry’s information department, said yesterday: “We promise a rather uncomfortable life for representatives of groups having, in one way or another, links with the so-called field commanders or with representatives of criminal structures located in the Chechen republic.” Mikhailov promised they would feel the pressure within a matter of days (ORT, March 7). A spokesman for the Federal Security Service, Aleksandr Zdanovich said: “We are ready for any scenario. When such actions are taken against high-ranking representatives, the state has to react and, that is why the most decisive and efficient measures will be taken.” Over the weekend, the authorities in Dagestan–where Shpigun was born and raised–effectively closed that republic’s administrative border with Chechnya (Russian agencies, March 7).
KREMLIN HINTS THAT SHAKE-UP OF PRIMAKOV CABINET IS IMMINENT.