Ivan Rybkin’s Latest Story

Now we’re starting to gain a bit more understanding of just what it was that made Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin act so crazy last week – heading down to Kiev without telling his wife or anyone else, turning up five days later with a telephone call, amazed that people were worried about him, defensively asserting (to media interviewing him then) that presidential candidates, too, need to get a way every so often, turn off the clanging mobile telephones, and relax – even if in this case it happened to be just as the Russian presidential campaign was about to start in earnest.

Turns out that that telephone call, those interviews, were all made under compulsion. Reports attesting to this have now appeared in the Polish press in both Gazeta Wyborcza (Rybkin Won’t Withdraw From Elections, But Will Stay in London) and Rzeczpospolita (New Version of Ivan Rybkin’s Tale: I Was Kidnapped). Actually, I really wanted instead to go for a little variety and cover German reporting on Ivan Rybkin’s re-emergence and new explanation, but there was nothing! I guess the German press simply tuned out after he first turned up again in Kiev and it was clear that he was alive and (seemingly) well.

CAMPAIGNING FROM THE SIDELINES

As you can gather, Rybkin’s in London now, reunited with his party’s main financer, Russian “oligarch” and exile Boris Berezovsky. Rybkin himself can’t be counted as the newest member of the Russian exile ranks in London, as he has made it clear that he does intend to return to Russia – but only after the presidential election is over. Until then, he’s happy limiting his campaigning for the Russian presidency to London, thank you – presumably to win over that decisive exiles’ voting constituency.

The accounts in the two newspapers of what Rybkin now claims to have really happened are about the same. He says he was lured to travel down to Kiev – again, without telling anyone what he was doing, not his wife, not his campaign manager – by the promise of meeting there Ashlan Maskhadov, the Chechen rebel leader. Why would that entice him? We have to read between the lines here. The thing Rybkin is most famous for in Russia is the part he played in helping to negotiate an end to the first Chechen War, in the mid-1990s. So maybe he was chasing the prospect of being behind a dramatic event to end current hostilities there, and so gain an enormous wave of political support from a grateful Russian electorate.

MOVIE STAR’S WELCOME

Instead, though, someone was waiting for him at that hotel in Kiev, and it wasn’t Maskhadov. He was drugged and then transported while unconscious to other parts. (Rzeczpospolita reports that he claims to have been unconscious for four days.) When he came to, he was made to cooperate further (including initiating the reassuring telephone calls and interviews) by some sort of “compromising” video that had been made in the meantime, with at least his bodily participation. He didn’t care to reveal the exact nature of that video. Finally, Gazeta reports, the folks holding him were even so kind to take him to the Kiev airport for the flight back to Moscow.

OK, so who’s behind all these shenanigans, Mr. Rybkin? He is loathe to say; both newspapers cite his cryptic comment that he doesn’t know who his captors were, but he sure knows who gains the benefits of his detention. As for those elections, the Rzeczpospolita article reports his comment that they are “merely an unprincipled game, and for me they could end before they even begin.” That’s why staying far, far away from Russia to do his presidential campaigning is just fine with him. Vince Lombardi he ain’t. (Apologies to my non-American readers: that was an American football reference.)

You really have to take it as another sign of Russia’s relative technical backwardness that the video Rybkin inadvertently starred in is not yet circulating through the Internet. And hasn’t he ever heard of Paris Hilton? If his sudden electoral shyness is due to fears of having that video released for general distribution, learning of her experience could very well turn his attitude completely around: intimate, even revolting performances on the Internet can often enhance one’s “name recognition” and “marketability.” (To be fair, he is also plainly worried about the safety of his family remaining behind in Moscow.) Why, he could get his own reality show – one that could cast new light on what we mean by “Big Brother” and “Survivor.”

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