Presidential candidate tells of kidnapping

Saturday, February 14, 2004

LONDON -- A Russian presidential candidate who disappeared for several days said Friday that he was drugged and made the subject of a compromising videotape while being held by unknown captors in Ukraine.

Liberal candidate Ivan Rybkin said that he intended to actively pursue his presidential campaign but that he would do so from London because of fears for his safety.

Rybkin initially said he had simply been taking a break in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, when he surfaced there earlier this week after his family and campaign staff had reported him missing.

He told a packed news conference in London Friday that he was lured to Kiev on the pretext that he could meet there with Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov for talks aimed at bringing peace to the war-ravaged region.

Rybkin has promised an end to the Chechen hostilities within six months and a return of the breakaway state to the Russian Federation if he is elected to replace President Vladimir Putin at the polls on March 14. Putin is expected to easily beat all the other candidates, including Rybkin.

Rybkin told reporters that he felt sleepy after being given sandwiches and tea at a Kiev apartment where he was taken for the proposed meeting on Feb. 6.

He remembers nothing more until he regained consciousness in a different apartment, where two armed men told him that it was Tuesday -- four days later -- and he was still in Kiev.

The men showed him newspapers and video reports of his disappearance -- as well as a compromising videotape that appeared to have been made during his stay.

He would not say what occurred in the video, but said it was made by "perverts."

Rybkin, who repeatedly banged the table and pointed his finger for emphasis, told reporters that the trip had convinced him that the Russian election campaign was "a game without rules."

Rybkin said the offer of a meeting with Maskhadov came from a Chechen man he had met when he headed Russian President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council in the 1990s.

"I don't know who kidnapped me, but I know for whose benefit it was done," he said. "I believe it was mainly done for the benefit of those who to seek compromise or humiliate the opposition, which is under difficult pressure from the government."

Rybkin, who served in the 1990s as parliament speaker and secretary of the security council, is running in the election with the backing of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky. His association with Berezovsky, a bitter foe of Putin, and his lobbying for peace talks with Chechen rebels have made him an unpopular figure in Russian politics.

Berezovsky, who last year received political asylum in Britain, was present at Friday's media conference but did not speak.

Rybkin said he was never told directly by his captors not to continue with his presidential campaign and was taken to the airport at Kiev on Tuesday from where he flew back to Moscow.

Russian prosecutors briefly opened a murder inquiry in connection with his disappearance before hastily reversing themselves.

Rybkin said previous explanations of disappearance, describing it as a break from a tough campaign schedule, were made to protect his family. He said a doctor's examination in London earlier Friday had confirmed he was drugged.

Rybkin said his ordeal would not dissuade him from continuing his campaign from London, where he arrived on Thursday.

"I will make everything possible to stop this government of mediocrity, led by President Putin, to continue the destruction of my country," he said.

He added that his decision to stay out of Russia until the election was for his own safety and that of his family.

"From now on, if my granddaughter would even scrape her knee, I would blame Mr. Putin," he said.

After returning to Moscow earlier this week, Rybkin talked of constant attention focused on him, adding without explanation that he had been shadowed for two years. "I have had enough of it," he said repeatedly.

He hinted at intrigues by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. Putin was a KGB agent and FSB director before becoming Russian president in March 2000.

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