Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 112

The four "Radio Russia"and Itar-Tass journalists who were kidnapped in Chechnya on March4 were released on June 6. According to Chechen interior ministerKazbek Makhachev, their release was the result of a successfuloperation by special Chechen police units, and no ransom was paid.

The release of the four is clearly a success for Djohar-gala.The wave of kidnappings of journalists had put the Chechen governmentin a very awkward position and created the strong impression thatDjohar-gala had absolutely no control of the situation in therepublic. Freeing the journalists had accordingly become a pointof personal honor for Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.

It is significant that the journalists were freed, not ransomed(as happened in all previous cases), and this fact boosts theChechen authorities’ prestige. But it is premature to concludethat Djohar-gala has finally succeeded in putting an end to thistrade in human beings. For one thing, it is not certain that thejournalists were freed without ransom. For another, the hostageswere handed over not to the Chechen police but to Dagestan’s SecurityCouncil secretary Magomet Tolboev, whose role in the release remainsunclear. Moreover, none of the kidnappers has been arrested. (Interfax,June 6) The newspaper Kommersant-daily, citing anonymoussources in Russia’s Interior Ministry, claims a ransom of twomillion dollars was paid for the journalists. (Kommersant-daily,June 7) According to Izvestia, they were freed in exchangefor an agreement on the transit of Azerbaijani oil. (Izvestia,June 7)

Finally, the three-person crew of NTV journalists led by YelenaMasyuk, most popular of all Russian or foreign correspondentsin Chechnya, remains in captivity. They were kidnapped on May10 in the west of the republic. During the war, Masyuk’s broadcastswere sharply critical of the actions of federal troops and ShamilBasaev dubbed her his "personal friend." The seizureof the NTV team was therefore a direct challenge to the Chechenauthorities. If the journalists are not released soon, this willundercut the present success.

Primorsky Governor Effectively Stripped of Powers.