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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Babitsky Blames Ordeal on FSB




Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky, looking emaciated and exhausted on his second day home in Moscow, said Wednesday his six-week odyssey in captivity in Chechnya was "an extremely poorly planned action of the FSB."


He said the masked men to whom he was handed over by federal forces on Feb. 3 were loyal to Adam Deniyev, who heads a pro-Moscow Chechen movement and whom Babitsky described as having "ties to the secret services."


Babitsky said he has no concrete evidence his captors during the final three weeks were connected to the Federal Security Service, or FSB, but one of his guards used secret-services slang.


Deniyev and the FSB denied any role in what happened to Babitsky, Interfax reported. The Kremlin has said Babitsky, arrested Jan. 16 in Grozny's outskirts, was traded to Chechen rebels.


Radio Liberty tracked down Babitsky on Friday evening in Makhachkala, Dagestan. He had been arrested again for using a fake passport, which he says was forced on him, and after four more days in detention was sent to Moscow and set free on condition he does not leave the city.


Babitsky, whose case became a cause c?l?bre among both Russian and Western journalists, made his statements at a packed news conference where he thanked his colleagues for their "unprecedented support."


Photographers and cameramen had been staking out Babitsky's home all day Tuesday and caught him on film taking his 2-year-old daughter out for a walk. Reached by The Moscow Times by telephone, Babitsky said he was a bit worn-out by the press attention and asked for patience, saying he would explain everything shortly.


At Wednesday's news conference, Babitsky made good on his word, despite his obvious exhaustion and poor health. Babitsky is suffering from psoriasis, and his lawyer Alexander Zozulya previously said he was having heart trouble.


After his initial arrest, Babitsky was held in the Chernokozovo detention center, which has become notorious in recent weeks after former prisoners recounted systematic beatings and torture there.


While in Chernokozovo, Babitsky said he did indeed sign an agreement to be traded to rebels for Russian prisoners of war. He said he knew Turpal Ali-Atgeriyev, the field commander to whom he was supposed to be traded.


On Feb. 23, Babitsky said he was transported in the trunk of a car across Chechnya into Dagestan. On that day, Russian forces announced they were stepping up vigilance in fear of terrorist attacks.


"Nevertheless, I was not discovered at any of the [police or military] posts," he said.


Babitsky said that in Dagestan, which borders Azerbaijan, both his internal passport and his international passport were taken from him and he was given Azeri passports with another name. He was then taken to the border.


"There was nothing for me to do in Azerbaijan. I was able to convince my escort that I needed to get back to Makhachkala."


When he arrived in Makhachkala, Babitsky used the Azeri passport to check into a hotel. He was detained by a local police officer who apparently recognized him on the street.


His other attorney, Genri Reznik, said the charges against Babitsky were "laughable," since he did not use the phony documents to do harm, but merely used them out of necessity, to check into a hotel.


Regarding the original charges of cooperation with the rebels, Reznik said his and Zolzulya's attempts to gain access to the materials of the case had been fruitless. Babitsky said that to his knowledge that case had been closed Feb. 2.


But Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kozlov was quoted by Kommersant newspaper Wednesday as saying the case was still open.


Babitsky said he did not know how close to the top decisions about his fate were made but that he was struck by the "petty vindictiveness" with which he was treated.


"Today's secret services are not even capable of such a seemingly easy operation like neutralizing a journalist," he said.