Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 212

After six months and twelve days of captivity in Chechnya, Valentin Vlasov, President Boris Yeltsin’s representative in Chechnya, was freed on Friday. Details surrounding his release have, as always in such cases, been kept secret. The only thing the Russian authorities did say is that no money was paid for Vlasov’s release. According to Vladimir Rushailo, Russia’s deputy interior minister, around 700 people continue to be held hostage in Chechnya (Russian agencies, November 13).

The kidnapping of Valentin Vlasov was one of the biggest scandals involving the breakaway region. The kidnappers showed that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is not in control of the situation in the republic, and that the real rulers of Chechnya are powerful criminal groups which trade not only in journalists and foreigners, but even the representatives of foreign (as Djohar sees them) governments. Events following the kidnapping seemed to confirm this. Despite the fact that Maskhadov personally took responsibility for the freeing of Vlasov, the Russian president’s representative continued to languish in captivity. And even the eventual freeing of Vlasov was a rebuke to the Chechen authorities: they apparently did not know that it was about to take place. In order to save some face, official Djohar, as it has done in other similar cases, claimed that Vlasov’s release had been purchased; the Kremlin, as in the past, denied the claim (NTV and RTR television channels, November 13).

The day before Vlasov’s release, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky freed ten people who had been held captive in Chechnya–again, apparently without the knowledge of official Djohar. The Chechen authorities reaction was to claim, rather unconvincingly, that the ten had in fact not been in captivity at all (see the Monitor, November 13).

All previous high-profile hostage releases also took place without the participation of the Chechen authorities; additionally, in a number of cases, anti-Maskhadov field commander Salman Raduev acted as an intermediary with the kidnappers. Thus the indignation of the official Djohar is understandable: Not only are the most radical, anti-Russian field commanders controlling the situation in Chechnya, but the Kremlin has come to terms with this state of affairs and prefers to deal with the unpredictable-but-powerful Raduev rather than the wise-but-weak Maskhadov.

There is however, a more optimistic interpretation of events. Several days before Vlasov’s release, Chechen President Maskhadov met with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. It is quite possible that Primakov offered the Chechen leader something significant in return for Vlasov’s release, and thus the Chechen authorities’ indignation is nothing more than a bluff designed to insure them against accusations that they trade in hostages.