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Rybkin Says He Was Abducted

Presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin said Friday that he had been drugged and abducted during his five-day disappearance last week, and that he was the victim of a "special operation" to discredit him.

Speaking to reporters in London, Rybkin said he had been lured to Kiev by a false offer to hold peace talks with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, but instead had been drugged and held against his will by armed men, who showed him a compromising videotape apparently taken during his abduction.

He refused to say who was behind the abduction, or what the videotape contained, except to say that it was made by "horrible perverts."

Rybkin said he would continue his election campaign, which has been sharply critical of President Vladimir Putin and has advocated an end to hostilities in Chechnya, from abroad, and would not return to Russia until after the March 14 election.

Rybkin said that he had not given the real reasons for his absence when interviewed in Moscow out of fears for his safety.

Rybkin, a former Security Council chief and State Duma speaker who leads one wing of the Liberal Russia party, said that he went to Kiev on Feb. 5, after receiving the offer of peace talks with Maskhadov.

In Kiev, Rybkin said he was taken to an apartment, where his hosts gave him tea and sandwiches.

It was then, he said, that he started to feel drowsy. Four days later he woke up in a different apartment, "smashed and very tired," and guarded by two armed men.

One of the men told Rybkin that it was a "special operation" and showed him what Rybkin called a "disgusting" videotape of him that they said would compromise him.

They then told him to call Moscow and say he was taking a vacation and was fine. A third man came in later and took Rybkin to the airport, from where he flew to Moscow, the statement said.

In a video linkup with Moscow later Friday, Ksenia Ponomaryova, Rybkin's campaign manager, said that doctors in London had found signs that he might have been gassed through a mask while unconscious.

According to Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service officer granted political asylum in Britain, Rybkin could have been given the psychotropic drug SP-117, a substance developed in Moscow for use by the secret services, judging from his interviews in Moscow last week.

"The man looked as though he had a bad hangover, as if he had been on a drinking bout," Litvinenko told Ekho Moskvy radio on Saturday. "But as far as I know, Rybkin doesn't drink at all. There was the confused way he was talking for the first few days, when he couldn't explain what had happened to him."

The offer for negotiations with Maskhadov came from Bekhan Arsaliyev, a human rights activist Rybkin knew from his time in the late 1990s on a Chechnya missing persons commission, Rybkin said.

Arriving in Moscow late last Tuesday, Rybkin's explanations for his absence, including the rambling hourlong interview on Ekho Moskvy the next day, appeared vague and incoherent.

Amid reports that he might quit the election race, Rybkin flew to London on Thursday to consult with Boris Berezovsky, who funds his campaign.

On Friday, Rybkin said he would pursue his bid. "I don't know who did this, but I know who benefited from this," he said.

Ponomaryova told reporters that Rybkin wants to take part in televised debates through a video link from London, an option that Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov said Friday was possible, Interfax reported.

Analysts varied on what to make of Rybkin's account of events, from saying that he was "finished" as a political force to believing that he had been the victim of a sting.

Dmitry Orlov, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, doubted Rybkin over the cited videotape. "Let's suppose the tape is of a sexual nature," he said. "It would have been impossible to shoot if a person were affected by psychotropic substances."

Kremlin-linked analyst Sergei Markov called Rybkin's behavior "either PR in Berezovsky's style or an attempt to pull out of the election," while analyst Gleb Pavlovsky said that Rybkin had "only one way to go -- private life."

"The [idea] that either Martians or the KGB fed him a poisoned sandwich is simply ridiculous," Pavlovsky said, Interfax reported.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said that Rybkin could well be the victim of the affair. But "whatever the reasons, the disappearance has hugely discredited Rybkin and anything he says will now be taken ironically," Pribylovsky said.

(The Moscow Times 16.ii.04)

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