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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Details of Gluck's Release Unclear

Speculation circulated Monday that the Federal Security Service had played a role in the abduction of U.S. aid worker Kenneth Gluck, who was released from captivity in Chechnya over the weekend in unclear circumstances.

The FSB said Monday that Gluck, who ran the Chechnya mission of Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, was seized by supporters of a rebel commander who goes by the name Yakub. They suspected he was working for a Western intelligence agency collecting information on Islamic extremists who are fighting on the side of the rebels, FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said in televised remarks.

"But it was not possible to prove this," Zdanovich said. "And another rebel group, worried about spoiling their reputation in the eyes of international organizations, insisted that it would be better to exchange him or sell him."

It was against this background that the FSB planned its operation to free Gluck, the spokesman said. He gave no details, saying only that no ransom was paid and no shots were fired.

President Vladimir Putin praised the FSB on Monday for liberating Gluck "with a high degree of professionalism" and without spilling blood. "That's the main thing," Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

Gluck, a 38-year-old native of New York, told Russian television shortly after his release that he would reveal the details of his 27 days in captivity only after he arrived at the MSF office in Nazran, the capital of neighboring Ingushetia.

After spending much of the day at a military base in North Ossetia, Gluck was flown to Nazran on a military helicopter on Monday afternoon. MSF representative Steve Cornish said Gluck shared a bottle of champagne with friends and planned to call relatives Monday evening, The Associated Press reported.

Kommersant newspaper challenged the official version of Gluck's release. Citing an unidentified FSB officer, the paper said Gluck's kidnappers had blindfolded him and released him in Stariye Atagi, the village where he had been seized Jan. 9 by masked gunmen.

"Here lives a man you know well," Kommersant quoted the kidnappers as telling Gluck as they freed him near a doctor's house.

Kommersant and at least two other Russian newspapers — Novaya Gazeta and Noviye Izvestia — have speculated that the FSB or some other federal agency was behind Gluck's kidnapping.

Gluck was seized less than two weeks before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, was to review Russia's handling of Chechnya. PACE subsequently voted to restore the Russian delegation's right to vote and toned down its criticism.

Independent analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said he has "strong suspicions" that Gluck's kidnapping was orchestrated by federal authorities ahead of the PACE visit. "It looked suspicious" that Gluck was kidnapped just when Moscow needed fresh, strong evidence that it was fighting terrorists and kidnappers in Chechnya, Felgenhauer said.

He said he was surprised to hear that Gluck's kidnappers wore masks, which Chechen rebels usually do not. The FSB also did not provide TV stations with a videotape of Gluck's release as it has done in similar cases in the pass.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told Kommersant last month that he believed Russian law enforcement agents had kidnapped Gluck to prevent him from completing a report on abuses of human rights in Chechnya by Russian servicemen. The report could have been presented at the PACE session, Maskhadov said.

It was curious that both the separatist Chechen leader and the FSB spokesman indicated that Gluck was gathering information that may have been damaging to one of the warring sides.

Russia's chief human rights monitor for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, said Monday that the kidnapping should serve as a warning to foreigners traveling in Chechnya.

"If representatives of humanitarian organizations don't listen, this could repeat itself, but with a different outcome," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky, who claims it was pro-Moscow Chechens who held him in captivity last year in Chechnya, suggested the FSB may have been behind Gluck's kidnapping.

"Without the knowledge or involvement of the Russian authorities it would have been impossible to kidnap [Gluck] in that area, with so many checkpoints," the AP quoted Babitsky as saying. "No one seriously looked for Gluck because there was no need, because those people knew exactly where he was."

Babitsky, whose Chechnya coverage angered the military, was detained by Russian police in Grozny in January 2000 and accused of failing to have accreditation to travel to Chechnya. He was later handed over to what Moscow said were Chechen rebels in exchange for Russian soldiers.

When Gluck was kidnapped, the authorities also accused him of failing to have proper documents.