Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 154

There is no let-up in the row that has been raging for the past month within the Russian government. Yesterday, President Boris Yeltsin entered the fray, criticizing media tycoon Igor Malashenko and Security Council deputy secretary Boris Berezovsky for "insulting" the Chechen government. (See Monitor, August 20) Yeltsin found himself in the odd position of defending the Chechen leadership against accusations by members of his own team that some in the Chechen government are involved in kidnapping and that the Russian federal security forces, not the Chechen ones, should take the credit for the release this week of five Russian journalists from captivity in Chechnya.

A decree authorizing Berezovsky’s dismissal is said to be awaiting signature on Yeltsin’s desk, but Berezovsky’s work was strongly defended yesterday by his immediate boss, Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin, a Yeltsin loyalist whose opinion carries considerable weight in the Kremlin. "I must support Boris Berezovsky," Rybkin declared. "All these months, for a whole year, Berezovsky has patiently engaged in complex negotiations, doing all he could to help the Chechen economy back on its feet. There is a lot of truth in what he said." (Radio "Ekho Moskvy," August 20)

Yeltsin was also contradicted by Russian interior minister Anatoly Kulikov, who told a press conference that kidnappings are "a profitable business" in Chechnya and that he would soon be making public information revealing the extent of Chechen government involvement in it. Kulikov, a long-time hawk on Chechen issues, said federal police were receiving minimum support from the Chechen authorities in their efforts to secure the release of the 42 persons currently being held hostage on Chechen territory. (RTR, August 20)

The strongest support for Yeltsin’s position came, ironically, from Chechen vice president Vakha Arsanov, whom Malashenko and Berezovsky have accused of direct involvement in kidnappings. Arsanov accused the two businessmen of trying to derail the signing of a full-fledged treaty between Chechnya and Russia, and said he would sue Malashenko for defamation. (NTV, August 20) In a further twist, high-ranking Chechen security official Magomed Magomadov asserted that Chechen police were solely responsible for freeing the five Russian journalists. Magomadov said the five had been kidnapped not by Chechens at all but, in a bid to derail the peace process, by the Russian security services. (Russian news agencies, August 20)

There seems little doubt, however, about the accuracy of Berezovsky’s and Malashenko’s accusations that the journalists were ransomed for money. On August 20, NTV reported that the $2 million ransom was paid in marked notes, and screened footage of the bills in the process of being stamped. Further support for accusations of Chechen government complicity in the abductions is provided by the fact that, as in earlier cases, the abductors of the journalists have not been arrested and remain at large. Yeltsin’s denial of the evidence suggests that the Kremlin has finally decided to sign a full-fledged treaty with Chechnya and is determined to press ahead regardless of the circumstances.

Berezovsky Hits Back.