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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CIS Disappearing Acts

On Dec. 9, 2004, at the request of the Tajik authorities, Russia arrested Makhmadruzi Iskandarov, former field commander and head of Tajikgaz and current chairman of the Democratic Party in Tajikistan. On April 4, the court released him, and Iskandarov announced that he would run for president in Tajikistan.

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Right afterward, on April 6, the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmonov, flew off to see President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. No one knows what the two presidents discussed. Perhaps they talked about fighting terrorism or the battle for a better harvest. Whatever the case, Iskandarov disappeared April 15.

On April 18, Putin and Rakhmonov had another conversation by phone. They discussed the "agreement reached in Sochi." On April 19, the interior minister of Tajikistan flew to Moscow, and by April 22, Iskandarov had mysteriously reappeared in Dushanbe after returning on a Russian military plane that took off from Chkalovsky Airfield. He was immediately arrested.

This is not the first vanishing act of this kind. On Oct. 2, 2002, one of the imams at a mosque in Saratov, Mannopzhon Rakhmatullayev, was arrested at the request of the Uzbek authorities. The Uzbek Prosecutor General's Office accused Rakhmatullayev of attempting to overthrow the state in 1990 and set up an Islamic caliphate on the territory of Uzbekistan.

It is hard to understand how someone could call for a coup in 1990, when Uzbekistan was not a sovereign state. The accusations were so questionable that Rakhmatullayev was released. But on July 21, 2004, men in masks kidnapped Rakhmatullayev from his home. Soon, he turned up in Uzbekistan, where he was swiftly sentenced to 16 years in jail.

We have a startling fact before us. Either foreign -- meaning Tajik and Uzbek -- secret service agents are kidnapping people in Russia, which would be an incredible disgrace, or Russian secret service agents are kidnapping the leaders of other countries' opposition movements themselves, as a nice little favor from one president to another.

Right after Iskandarov was handed over to Rakhmonov, Putin flew to Israel. This visit appears to have been motivated by a profound desire to get his hands on oil executive Leonid Nevzlin, a former business associate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Kremlin was extremely confident that the Israelis would hand over Nevzlin. "You don't get it," a source in the Kremlin told me. "Two states can always come to an agreement. If you push the right way." And Putin did plenty of pushing. He threatened to make sure that Israel planes would not be able to fly over the Syrian presidential palace. But the Israelis did not hand over Nevzlin.

Putin kept pushing. He said that he would give ballistic missiles to the Palestinian Authority. Still the Israelis would not budge. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon even said they were not about to give Russia anyone Jewish. People went around trading Jews for grain back in the Brezhnev days. But there was no way in this day and age that they were going to trade Jews for missiles, or rather, for keeping missiles out of certain hands.

In the exchange with the Israelis, one thing remained a mystery. Why had the folks in the Kremlin decided that the Israelis would hand someone over to them? The answer turned out to be quite simple: The Kremlin itself hands people over.

To be fair, it should be said that since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has also dabbled in handing over Islamic radicals to Islam Karimov's anti-Islamic regime in Uzbekistan. Sure, these people are not opposition leaders, and no one kidnapped them from their homes. Yet no matter how you slice it, people are handed over even though Russian and U.S. officials know that torturers will boil their limbs or beat them to a pulp.

This might be the way secret agents do things, but this is not the way a democratic state acts.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.