Herbert Gregg, an American missionary, was freed this week after seven months of captivity in Chechnya. Gregg, who was kidnapped in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala last November, was met on June 29 at Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport by Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins and dozens of journalists (NTV, RTR, ORT, June 30).
The 52-year-old and his wife came to Russia in 1995 under the auspices of an Illinois-based Evangelical missionary group. When their visas expired, they received new invitations from a nongovernmental organization called the Alliance for Social and Cultural Progress, and went to Makhachkala, where they taught conversational English at the Dagestan Pedagogical Institute and continued their missionary work. In 1997, the heads of the institute refused to work with the Greggs any longer, and the republic’s Interior Ministry began to prepare the paperwork needed to deport the couple for violating passport regulations, because they had allegedly received their last visa without the authorization of the Dagestani authorities. Prior to the planned deportation, however, Herbert Gregg was kidnapped. His captors first demanded a US$2 million ransom, which they later lowered to US$1 million. Some two months before Gregg was freed, his captors sent a videotape to the U.S. embassy in Moscow, in which one of the masked captors cut off a finger from Gregg’s right hand. The captors explained their brutality by asserting that Gregg was a CIA agent. This is nothing new: Chechen fighters practically always accuse the hostages they take of working for foreign intelligence agencies (Kommersant, July 1; Segodnya, June 30).
People at the highest levels of government worked to have Gregg freed. U.S. Vice President Al Gore appealed to the Russian authorities for help. U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins twice met with Sergei Stepashin, when the latter was still heading Russia’s Interior Ministry. Sometime in May of this year, Stepashin, who had already become prime minister, declared that “scoundrels” who kidnap people and then “publicly cut off fingers” of captives should be destroyed. Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin discussed the issue of Gregg’s captivity during the recent G-7 summit in Cologne (Kommersant, July 1). Following Gregg’s release, Interior Minister Rushailo said that the “efforts of professionals” had fulfilled “the political will of two presidents.” Rushailo, following the tradition of all top level Russian officials, insisted no ransom was paid for Gregg’s release. He did not say, however, whether Stepashin’s promise to destroy the criminals who had kidnapped Gregg had been fulfilled (Kommersant, July 1; Segodnya, June 30).
MOSCOW SOFTENS TONE ON BALTIC-NATO RELATIONS.