Chechen Leader Claims Credit For Release Of Russian Journalists

RFE/RL Caucasus Report | May 26, 2014

In an interview with the Russian daily " Izvestia," Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed to have personally negotiated, on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the release by the Ukrainian authorities of journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko. But a senior Ukrainian security official denied this, saying the two men were released in response to appeals from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Putin, however, has lent credence to Kadyrov’s claim. During a May 26 session of the Council for Developing Local Self-Government, Putin thanked Kadyrov publicly for “helping release our journalists.”

Sidyakin and Saichenko, who work for the Russian TV channel LifeNews, were apprehended by the Ukrainian military on May 18 in the eastern town of Kramatorsk. The following day, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Deputy Secretary Viktoria Syumar said a portable antiaircraft missile had been found in their car. She added that her agency had video and photographic evidence that the two journalists were collaborating with "terrorists," meaning pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian authorities denied members of the OSCE mission access to the detainees for several days while investigating their suspected illicit activities.

Kadyrov, who in recent months has repeatedly condemned both the Ukrainian authorities’ efforts to retain control over the eastern part of the country and the international community’s support for those efforts, posted an Instagram statement on May 21 demanding the immediate release of the two journalists. He again accused the Ukrainian leadership of resorting to "fascist measures," and warned that if the Ukrainian leadership failed to free the two men, "we have the real strength and possibilities to bring pressure to bear on those" who are holding them captive, and "we shall be forced to take harsh measures."

Kadyrov publicly condemned the way the journalists were forced to kneel with carrier bags over their heads, although that treatment pales in comparison with the kind of torture that those fortunate enough to have survived say they have seen inflicted on detainees in Kadyrov’s private prison. He also condemned as "an inhuman crime" "detaining people who have not done anything

."

Also on May 21, President Putin told journalists in Shanghai that the detention of the two journalists was "unacceptable" and the charges against them of illegally transporting weapons and abetting terrorism "nonsense."

By that time, however, according to Kadyrov, negotiations between his personal envoys and unnamed Ukrainian officials were already under way. Kadyrov said, first, that those envoys spent three days in Kyiv, then that they shuttled between Kyiv and Grozny three times, rather than communicate by phone and thus risk details of the "secret talks" becoming public knowledge. Then in a further seeming contradiction, Kadyrov pinpointed Putin’s statement about the detainees as having finally persuaded Kyiv to agree to their release.

Similarly implausible is Kadyrov’s claim that the two men were released unconditionally. The Ukrainian authorities could, after all, have demanded as the quid pro quo the withdrawal from Ukrainian territory of the Chechen security personnel who, according to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, are fighting on the side of the pro-Russian forces.

As noted above, the Ukrainian side denies any Chechen involvement in the release of Sidyakin and Saichenko, but has offered no explanation why a plane should have been waiting to transport them to Grozny after their release late on May 24. Viktor Yagun, deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service, was quoted as telling "Ukrayinska pravda" that the two men were released after UN and OSCE envoys appealed to the Ukrainian leadership. He rejected as a PR exercise all "alternative claims by citizens of the neighboring state."

Center for Military and Political Research director Dmytro Tymchuk was quoted by the same newspaper as likewise denying categorically any personal role by representatives of the Russian Federation in the talks that led to the journalists’ release. Tymchuk described the Ukrainian decision to allow the men to go free as "a gesture of goodwill and a demonstration of respect for the opinion of the international community."

— Liz Fuller

Chechen leader describes how Russian reporters detained in Ukraine were released

Text of report by the website of pro-government Russian newspaper Izvestiya on 26 May

[Interview with Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov by Anastasiya Kashevarova; place and date not given: "Kadyrov: ‘I personally negotiated the journalists’ release.’ Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov describes how he released the LifeNews camera crew from captivity"]

[Kashevarova] Ramzan Akhmatovich, we thank you for liberating the journalists from the LifeNews television channel. Tell us the details of the guys’ release – did you yourself take on the main role in negotiations or were you acting on instructions from the president of Russia?

[Kadyrov] The president has to give instructions or orders, and we have to carry them out. Our journalists, Russian citizens, had been apprehended. They were accused of things that they never would have done. They did not even know what a multiple rocket launcher is. I reported that I had access to sensible people who understand that Ukraine cannot survive and develop without Russia. And we proposed acting in a friendly way: "Hand over our guys." Although there was a decision from [Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy] Yatsenyuk and [interim President Oleksandr] Turchynov to bring criminal charges and detain the Russian journalists for two months or more. But the people with whom we conducted the negotiations assumed responsibility, especially since they could not per se accuse the journalists of extremism and terrorism. As a soldier of our president, the supreme commander in chief, I started working on this. Vladimir Putin’s authority played an enormous role in the negotiations for the guys’ release. The main thing for us was that our friends should return home. Praise be to God that they are now home.

[Kashevarova] How many days were you negotiating for? Who did you send to Kiev and when?

[Kadyrov] The negotiating process began on 20-21 May, and we were told that they would give an answer in three or four days as to whether or not they were prepared to hand the guys over to us. We sent our representative to Ukraine – his name is also Ramzan. We were told in private that there was a decision in principle to hand over the journalists, and we started to negotiate actively. And our representatives were there for three days. The negotiators on the Ukrainian side made many promises: They would say first that they would release them in the morning, then that they would do so at dinnertime. Our position was as follows: Tell us what specifically either or: Either we are on friendly terms with you, or we are not. To detain people who have not done anything is an inhuman crime. The people were filming and showing the truth; they are not terrorists. But they had sacks put over their heads and were handcuffed and thrown into a pit – this is impermissible. These are our citizens, and we are obliged to protect their rights. The Ukrainian representatives agreed that the guys should be released. And after this they were released – a plane carrying our journalists took off from Kiev for Russia. After that I made a statement that they were flying to Groznyy.

[Kashevarova] Did Vladimir Putin know that you were involved in the release of the LifeNews staffers?

[Kadyrov] Putin knew that I was working on the journalists’ problems. Everything that I do is on the president’s instructions.

[Kashevarova] How many of your representatives flew to Kiev to conduct the negotiations?

[Kadyrov] We have many people on the spot there and it was not necessary for large numbers to fly there. There were three or four people on the plane. A small plane. But we have our people there; they are authoritative and their opinion is heeded.

[Kashevarova] But did you yourself call anybody and negotiate?

[Kadyrov] I myself called a few Ukrainians, and intermediaries conveyed my comments to a few. My people flew to Ukraine three times. It was impossible to do this by telephone. Because when many people at the same time know information, everything immediately goes wrong. When you do something and only talk about it later – then it is easy. The situation in Ukraine today is difficult – there are terrorists, Wahhabis, Right Sector, everybody under the sun there – but there is no authority. We all know that there is mayhem and uncertainty there. Those who describe themselves as the authorities have not justified people’s expectations because they are doing everything to spoil the relationship between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples. Whereas our president is doing everything to ensure that the peoples live in friendship, as before. Turchynov and Yatsenyuk have kow-towed to the West. They have done everything to ensure that there is no order or stability in Ukraine.

[Kashevarova] With whom did you negotiate from the Ukrainian authorities? Or is that a secret?

[Kadyrov] A secret. Let us leave this until sometime in the future.

[Kashevarova] What kind of conditions did the Ukrainians set?

[Kadyrov] How could they set conditions when our citizens had been apprehended unlawfully? No conditions were put to us; I officially say so. There were no proposals from our side. We can hear our rights activists currently saying that there was pressure from the West and Europe and this was why they released the guys – this is garbage. No conditions were put to us, and there were no proposals. We said: If you make the right decision today, the people of Russia and the leadership will know about it. The people who decided this matter turned out to be much wiser and smarter; they are not indifferent to the fate of Ukraine and so they made this decision although it was a big negative for them in terms of relations with the United States and the West.

[Kashevarova] The negotiations went on for several days. Where was the turning point where the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities cracked?

[Kadyrov] We were people who were negotiating and representing the Russian Federation, and we did not let down either the Russian Federation leadership or the people. We were not playing games. We did not beg, we did not cajole, we articulated a position – gives us back our people. The Russian president’s stance was unequivocal – he savagely condemned Kiev’s actions. After that we simply had to demand what was being said by our head of state and also the entire Russian people.

[Kashevarova] So Putin’s statements had a positive impact on the outcome of the negotiations?

[Kadyrov] Yes. The turning point was the president’s statement. His words have an impact on the entire world.

[Kashevarova] How was your decision to fly out to the journalists made?

[Kadyrov] I am a patriot of Russia, and everything that I do is for Russia’s benefit. An accusation that some people level at us is that Chechens are a problem for the Russian Federation. But today we are saying and demonstrating that we ready to fight for Russia, to die for Russia, to live for Russia. And people who do not know our inhabitants of the Caucasus are trying to distort all of this. We live in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the Russian Federation. We have a duty to defend our country and bear personal responsibility for every citizen of Russia. We came into politics as fighters and we would sacrifice that most precious thing – our life – for the benefit of the state so there is peace and order.

[Kashevarova] When you saw the journalists and they saw you, what was the reaction?

[Kadyrov] I saw eyes full of happiness and tears of joy. It was like a second birth. They had not betrayed either Russia or the Russian people. They are brave guys and told the truth to the end. They did not capitulate; they stood firm to the end. It is a double pleasure to protect such guys.

[Kashevarova] Presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov said that Vladimir Putin called you and thanked you for the guys. How did the conversation go?

[Kadyrov] I told Vladimir Vladimirovich that his instructions had been carried out. We follow him; we are members of our president’s team. I congratulated him on yet another victory. We rescued the journalists.

Source: Izvestiya website, Moscow, in Russian 26 May 14

 

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