Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 57

Yuly Rybakov, a leader of the Liberal Russia movement, which includes a number of veteran human rights activists and is co-chaired by the self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who also finances it, claimed earlier this week that members of the movement had been assaulted and that he had received death threats.

Rybakov said that unidentified assailants had beaten up three of his employees and attacked a fellow member of Liberal Russia. The names of the victims were not identified. As to the death threats, Rybakov said he had received warnings that two criminal groups in St. Petersburg, where he lives, had been hired to “eliminate” him. The Duma deputy said the threats were part of an attempt to prevent the showing of the French-produced film “Attack on Russia”–commissioned by Berezovsky and alleging that Russia’s special services were behind the September 1999 bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which in turn killed hundreds of people and were a key pretext for the “counterterrorist operation” that the Russian government launched in Chechnya soon afterward (Associated Press, March 20; Rosbalt, March 18). Berezovsky’s film was first shown earlier this month in London, where he is now based. One hundred videocassette copies of the documentary that Rybakov had tried to bring into Russia following the premier showing were seized by customs at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport. Sergei Yushenkov, another Liberal Russia leader and a State Duma deputy as well, was able to bring 1,000 cassette copies into Russia through Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport without any difficulty (see the Monitor, March 11).

Rybakov, who vowed that the threats against him would fail, said yesterday that he had sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin urging him to set up a special commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk along with the incident that same month in the city of Ryazan, where a bomb-like device was found in an apartment building. The authorities, including Putin, initially said the Ryazan incident was a thwarted terrorist attack. Several days afterwards, however, Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev claimed that the device was a dummy and part of an antiterrorist readiness exercise. Rybakov said that the commission should include not only officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office, but also members of parliament and the public at large. It should be open to the press, he said, and its results should become the subject of public hearings by the State Duma. Rybakov, a veteran campaigner against the war in Chechnya, heads the human rights subcommittee of the Duma’s legislative committee (NTVru.com, March 20).

Rybakov’s request to Putin, needless to say, is unlikely to get a response. Earlier this month he asked that the film be shown in the State Duma, but was turned down. Earlier this week, he accused his fellow Duma deputies of cowardice, saying that while a majority had publicly turned down his request to show the film, half the members of the parliament’s lower house had approached Sergei Yushenkov individually to get copies of the tape to view on their own. Yushenkov organized a showing of the film in Moscow earlier this month, but the Gazprom-controlled television channel NTV refused to air it. No one has even suggested that it might be shown on the country’s two state-owned television channels.

As to the reports of attacks on Liberal Russia, they are not the first. Last December, the movement reported that five men in masks had trashed its Moscow office after beating up a security guard and breaking down the office’s door. A similar attack reportedly took place at the group’s St. Petersburg office several months earlier (see the Monitor, December 17, 2001).