Ukraine Under Fire in Russian Activist's Abduction

Friday, 26 Oct 2012 04:45 AM

 

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KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine's main opposition party has accused the government of allowing Russian agents to kidnap an anti-Kremlin activist in the Ukrainian capital and forcibly transport him to Moscow.

The party led by jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko claims that President Viktor Yanukovych sanctioned the abduction of Leonid Razvozzhayev in order to secure the Kremlin's backing in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

"The special services of a foreign state are operating on Ukraine's territory," said Tymoshenko ally Arseniy Yatsenyuk. "As I understand it, they will probably be taking part in tallying Ukrainians' votes."

Yanukovych, who visited Moscow earlier this week, has been courting the Kremlin to seek a rebate on Russian natural gas supplies.

A lower gas price would be essential for keeping the Ukrainian economy afloat and securing public support for Yanukovych and his party.

Russian opposition activist Razvozzhayev, 39, had come to Kiev last week to seek political asylum in Ukraine, after Russian investigators accused him of being involved in plotting anti-government riots.

Razvozzhayev told Russian rights defenders, who visited him in a Moscow jail this week, that he was kidnapped on a Kiev street by masked men, who smuggled him into Russia.

He said they kept him in handcuffs and leg chains in a basement for three days, denying him food, water, sleep or use of a toilet and threatened to kill his children until he "confessed" to plotting riots.

Russian authorities have said that Razvozzhayev turned himself in and confessed voluntarily.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry and the national security agency declined to comment on the matter. But Interior Ministry spokesman Volodymyr Polishchuk on Thursday allowed for the possibility that Russian security services could have been involved in Razvozzhayev's abduction.

"How did it happen? Did they ask him to [go] of his own free will? Or did they just force him? I don't know," Polishchuk told The Associated Press.

Either way, Polishchuk said, what happened to Razvozzhayev does not constitute a crime because he is "alive and well," and the Interior Minstry will not press charges. "This is not the province of the police. The police deal with criminal actions."

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged Kiev to thoroughly investigate Razvozzhayev's abduction.

"For an asylum seeker to simply vanish while lodging his asylum claims and then reappear in the country he fled is profoundly shocking," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "There needs to be a serious investigation to determine whether any Ukrainian officials were involved and to hold accountable any who played a role."

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees also voiced concern about Razvozzhayev's fate in a statement Thursday, emphasizing that he was protected by international refugee law as an asylum-seeker.

It said that it was seeking Russia's clarification of Razvozzhayev's condition and status and warned Ukraine that it must make sure that asylum seekers aren't exposed to risks to their personal security.

"Both Ukraine and the Russian Federation are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention and thus are subject to a treaty obligation to protect refugees and asylum-seekers," it said.

The incident was reminiscent of the disappearance last year of a Palestinian engineer from a Ukrainian train. He surfaced in an Israeli prison several days later to face terrorism charges. Kiev has failed to explain how that happened.

Yatsenyuk vowed that the opposition would press for a parliamentary probe into Razvozzhayev's case. He claimed that Yanukovych agreed to hand Razvozzhayev over to the Russians in order to enjoy Moscow's support in the upcoming vote.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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