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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Asylum Seeker's Account Challenged

HOUSTON -- Andrei Samorodov, a former Russian army officer who said last month that he had fled the battlefield in Chechnya in 1999 to escape pressure from fascist cadets to execute civilians, was not serving in the army at that time, according to Russian officials and acquaintances of his.

Samorodov apparently fabricated his case for political asylum in the United States, which was granted in May 2000, six months after he arrived from Mexico and turned himself in to border patrol officers. He has since been living in San Antonio.

Officials in the administration of President Vladimir Putin said they were preparing documentation that they might present to a U.S. immigration court in San Antonio showing that Samorodov could not have witnessed human rights abuses by Russian troops during either of the military campaigns in Chechnya.

On March 17, The New York Times published an account of Samorodov's flight from Russia based on interviews conducted with him in San Antonio, where he asserted that in 1999 he resisted unruly neo-fascist recruits in the 21st airborne brigade who incited troops to kill civilians.

He also said he tried to intervene in one roadside execution and was beaten and threatened for his interventions at that time.

The Times requested that the Russian government, through the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, an aide to Putin for Chechen military affairs, provide information on Samorodov's military status and comment on Samorodov's alleged defection.

No information was initially provided.

On March 19, the Izvestia newspaper quoted Nikolai Gostev, second in command of airborne troops, as saying that Samorodov had been a battalion communications commander with the 21st airborne brigade in his hometown of Stavropol, in southern Russia, and was dismissed on Nov. 30, 1993, because of army personnel cutbacks.

Gostev also said that the 21st airborne brigade itself had been disbanded long ago.

Colonel Alexander Medvedev, the commander of the 247th airborne-assault regiment that absorbed the 21st airborne brigade, later told local journalists in Stavropol that Samorodov joined the 21st airborne in June 1993 and was discharged on Dec. 6, 1993, and therefore did not serve in either of the military campaigns in Chechnya.

Since Samorodov's account was challenged, he has declined to comment or return phone calls and e-mail messages.

His lawyer, John Blatz, an immigration lawyer for the Refugee Aid Project in San Antonio, said by telephone that he was troubled by the information suggesting that Samorodov had fabricated his account. But Samorodov has insisted that his version is true, the lawyer said.

Some five weeks after The Times first sought comment from the Kremlin on Samorodov, an aide who deals with the press on matters relating to Chechnya, Alexander Machevsky, reported that Samorodov was an impostor who had left the army in 1993.

He attributed the delay in replying to The Times' original query to the time needed to retrieve Samorodov's records. Machevsky produced copies of those handwritten records, but declined to give them to a Times reporter.