Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 211

Ten people freed from captivity in Chechnya through the intercession of CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky and Russia’s Interior Ministry were brought by plane yesterday to Moscow. Among those freed were three army servicemen, two members of the Interior Ministry’s internal troops and five civilians, including two citizens of Ukraine. Boris Berezovsky claimed that no money was paid for the hostages (NTV, RTR, November 12). Chechen Deputy Prosecutor General Magomed Magomedov said Thursday (November 12) that kidnappers have been inspired by ransoms paid in earlier kidnappings, such as the US$2 million reportedly paid last spring for the release of three NTV journalists, and particularly by reports that Berezovsky put up a “large sum of money” for the release of two British aid workers last September (Russian agencies, November 12). Berezovsky has repeatedly denied claims that he has paid ransoms to kidnappers.

In all, seventy hostages have been freed in Chechnya since the beginning of the year through Berezovsky’s intercessions. Details of the latest releases, like all the previous ones, have been shrouded in secrecy. The mechanism for the freeing of hostages is being kept so secret that it allowed Chechen authorities to deny that the ten people freed on Thursday were hostages at all: According to official Grozny, those brought to Moscow by Berezovsky were not captives, but simply acting the part. Mairbek Vachagaev, press secretary to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, said it was a farce orchestrated by Russian politicians trying to raise their ratings. It is very doubtful, however, that Berezovsky would permit such a crude game: It would not be to difficult to uncover such an open falsification, and the CIS executive secretary has too many enemies to engage in such an adventure (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 13).

However, the Chechen authorities are correct in one respect: When Russian intermediaries participate in the freeing of hostages, the kidnappers wind up going unpunished. Inasmuch as the number of kidnappings is not dropping, one can assume that it remains an extremely profitable business. It is believed that the hostages are generally exchanged for Chechen criminals sitting in Russian jails, and that the kidnappers are receiving money from the relatives of the freed hostages.

Ironically, while the ten freed hostages were arriving in Moscow from Chechnya, there were reports of new kidnappings in the North Caucasus. North Ossetian officials told the Monitor’s correspondent that in the Prigorod region of the republic, five Ossetian farmers had been kidnapped by unknown persons. This incident took place at the same time as the Russian parliament was discussing ways of dealing with the damage caused by the Ossetian-Ingush conflict, which broke out in 1992. Meanwhile, Herbert Gregg, a U.S. citizen, was kidnapped in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala. Gregg taught English at Makhachkala University as part of a cultural exchange funded by the U.S. Social and Cultural Progress foundation (NTV, November 12). Judging by past incidents, it is possible that both the Ossetian hostages and Gregg will be taken by their captors to Chechnya: Kidnappings in regions adjacent to Chechnya tend to be carried out by local criminal groups, who then hand over their victims to accomplices in Chechnya, where it is easier to hide the hostages.