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Detained Journalist En Route To Moscow per Putin’s Request

By Daniel Williams

Security officials put detained Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky, whose reports from Chechnya enraged the Russian government, on a plane from Russia’s far south to Moscow late Monday, according to the Interfax news agency and Babitsky’s colleagues at the U.S.-funded station. No information was available about his legal status.

Reports of Babitsky’s departure from Dagestan, where he had been jailed since last week, followed by several hours a request for Babitsky’s release from acting President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s sudden intervention in the case suggested the Kremlin was looking for ways to quell the uproar that began with the journalist’s capture by Russian forces in mid-January and continued with his subsequent handover to masked men in a purported exchange for Russian soldiers held by Chechen rebels.

Babitsky had then disappeared into the Chechen wilds before surfacing in neighboring Dagestan.

“I don’t think the law enforcement agencies need to keep him behind bars,” Putin said of Babitsky. Putin told reporters he discussed the case with Interior Minister Vladimir Rushaylo and asked him “to deal with the matter more carefully.”

Putin went out of his way to attack Babitsky’s work, saying that he was “not just covering events” but “selling” information.

Putin’s request compounded the tangle of politics and law that has bound up the affair since the beginning. On the one hand, Russian officials continue to accuse Babitsky of a variety of crimes, including consorting with terrorists. On the other hand, Putin said simply that it was “unnecessary” to hold him any longer.

Radio Liberty’s Moscow bureau chief, Savik Shuster, said “sources” told him that Babitsky was whisked from Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, sometime after 9 p.m. (1 p.m. EST).

Neither Babitsky’s wife nor his lawyer, both in the city, were told about his departure.