Just like war, kidnapping may be an extension of politics by
other means. But the recent seizure of an American relief worker in
Chechnya, Russia's separatist republic, also underscores the
fragile vulnerability of aid workers in murky war zones.
Raised anew are concerns that aid work has become even more
difficult, as Chechnya endures its second winter of conflict. The
episode also explodes claims by Russian forces - considered by some
to be prime suspects in this abduction - to have restored order in
the republic after 18 months of war.
The United Nations and other relief agencies suspended operations
in Chechnya after Kenneth Gluck, with the Nobel Peace Prize-
winning humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors
Without Borders), was seized from an aid convoy by masked gunmen
near Stari Atagi, south of the Chechen capital, Grozny, one week
It is the same area where another American relief worker, Fred
Cuny, disappeared during the first Chechen war in April 1995.
"Our concern is the people in need. They are the ones suffering
needlessly through this," says Jim Lewis, the logistical coordinator
for MSF-Holland in Moscow. "I'm sure the people who abducted Kenny
are aware of the repercussions."
Russia immediately blamed Chechen guerrillas, who in turn denied
any role, and vowed to find Mr. Gluck. Russian officials also
accused MSF of being in Chechnya illegally - an allegation the
group denies - and noted that kidnapping was once a top money-
earning industry during Chechnya's failed bid at self-rule from
1996 to 1999.
Moscow has made it clear that aid workers are unwelcome and made
relief access extremely difficult. In a late December appearance on
a Russian talk show, Russian officials were visibly discomfited
when Gluck, the lone dissenting voice, criticized Russia's role in
Chechnya and became somewhat emotional about the continued
suffering of Chechens.
Russian forces have created an atmosphere of "psychological
intimidation," says Lipkhan Basayeva, a member of the Russian human
rights group Memorial, who is based in Ingushetia. In recent months,
Gluck and his local staff had sometimes been delayed at Russian
checkpoints, and accused of "collecting military information," says
Chechen civilians have alleged they were held for ransom by
Russian troops. "It is very easy to provide protection from the
bandits. The problem is to provide protection from federal troops,"
says Basayeva. "From our point of view, [Gluck's] kidnapping was
either an organized and well-planned action [by Russians] or an
initiative of some Russian military groups controlled by nobody."
Russian officials dismiss such claims as an "exotic version" of
Russian troops stand accused of a host of human rights abuses
against civilians, and are frustrated that a campaign once billed
as "limited" - and officially launched, in part, to stop kidnapping
- has bogged down.
"Nobody wins," says Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the
Carnegie Endowment in Moscow. The Chechen people are the "biggest"
losers, as well as Chechen rebels, "because their image as lawless
and undisciplined criminal gangs has been vividly revived.
"It is not an unqualified propaganda success for Russia" either,
he adds, "because Moscow's inability to control the region or even
provide elementary security is clearly underlined by this episode."
Caught in the middle are relief agencies like MSF, which since
February last year has expanded work in Chechnya to include
supplying medical help to 120,000 people per month.
Barely a handful of agencies work in Chechnya itself. Most of
those use local staff to deliver food and supplies to the needy,
while dozens help with the tens of thousands of Chechen refugees in
the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia. …