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Press Speculation Reaches Fever Pitch

Some Russian observers suspect the FSB of having staged the abduction of an American aid worker as part of a broader political agenda
By Mikhail Ivanov

Mystery still shrouds the unexpected release of US aid worker Kenny Gluck who was kidnapped by masked gunmen in Chechnya last month.

The Russian government promptly announced that Gluck had been freed on February 4 as the result of a carefully planned FSB operation.

However, the erstwhile hostage has cast severe doubts over the claims while two newspapers, Kommersant Daily and Novye Izvestia, have made the sensational allegation that Gluck was actually abducted by the federal security services in the first place.

The Moscow Times - the English-language flagship of Independent Media - soon leapt on the bandwagon, reminding its readers that Gluck was kidnapped less than two weeks before the January session of PACE (during which Russia's voting rights were restored).

And analyst Pavel Felgenhauer was quoted as saying that the federal authorities deliberately staged Gluck's "abduction" in a bid to convince the PACE delegates that the war on Chechen terrorism was a righteous one.

It is ironic that there is a strong similarity between Gluck's name and the Russian colloquial term for hallucinations - "glyuki" (after the composer Gluck who suffered hallucinations during his frequent drinking bouts) - for such reports are little more than products of a feverish imagination.

This is by no means the first time that FSB operatives have freed hostages in Chechnya - including the French photographer Brice Fleutiaux, who spent eight months in captivity. They alone have the resources and expertise to do the job.

Felgenhauer finds it suspicious that Gluck's kidnappers wore masks as "Chechen rebels usually don't". And certainly the field commander Salautdin Temirbulatov, currently standing trial for the murder of four Russian soldiers, didn't bother to wear a mask when he had the execution recorded on video-tape.

But, now that Chechen commanders are being captured on an almost weekly basis, their comrades may well realise that wearing a mask is something of a wise precaution.

The version offered by FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich is rather more credible.

He told reporters that the American aid worker was abducted by terrorists led by Yakub, a member of the Akhmadov gang. According to Zdanovich, the kidnappers argued over what they should do with Gluck whose abduction had raised fears that international aid organisations would pull out of Chechnya. It was then that the Chechens decided Gluck was too hot to handle.

Official sources confirm that Ruslan Aushev -- the president of Ingushetia, who makes no secret of his support for the Chechen cause - played a major part in securing Gluck's release. Before leaving the Caucasus, the American made a point of personally thanking Aushev at a meeting filmed by ORT.

Russian observers also find it suspicious that, even though Gluck's employers, Medecins Sans Frontieres, refused to pay a ransom, his captors treated him well and fed him three times a day.

This was confirmed by Gluck at a press conference on February 8. "They [the Chechens] apologised for the inconveniences they had inflicted," he said. The American went on to say that his abductors even brought a kerosene lamp to help him read a thick volume entitled, "A History of the Arab People."

So who were these unusually polite Chechen rebels who were even thoughtful enough to provide Gluck with a clean, pressed shirt prior to releasing him? FSB agents or kidnappers who seized the wrong man by mistake?

Quoting an unidentified ex-FSB operative in its February 7 issue, Sevodnya claimed that the Chechens suspected the Harvard graduate of being an intelligence agent, using Medecins Sans Frontieres as a cover.

Which goes to show that the rebels are just as prone to hallucinations as their moral champions in the Russian press.

Mikhail Ivanov is executive editor of Russian Life, a bimonthly magazine published by Russian Information Services, Inc.

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