Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Who can save Ukrainian journalist kidnapped in Syria?

Ukrainian journalist Anhar Kochneva, abducted by militants in Syria in October, is in danger. The militants threatened to kill her if their demands are not met. Russian Foreign Ministry and the Syrian authorities promised to intervene, but so far the results of their actions are difficult to assess. Who can save the life of Ankhar, and what do the kidnappers need if their demands remain a mystery? 

Not that long ago the Ukrainian journalist was abducted by Syrian militants. Anhar Kochneva lived in Syria as a journalist and translator. On October 8, she left for a few days, as evidenced by an entry in her blog. The journalist did not come back as expected, and on October 12 her husband Dmitry Petrov received a text message saying that his wife was abducted by Syrian militants who demanded a ransom.

A few days ago, the militants who abducted the Ukrainian journalist published an ultimatum demanding $50 million ransom in exchange for Kochneva's life. The ultimatum was signed by several commanders of the Free Syrian Army, including Farid Abu Hussein and Abu Jandal. According to the ex-deputy of the State Duma Darya Mitya, Syrian rebels want to get paid by December 13 of this year, otherwise the journalist would be killed.

Anhar Kochneva is head of a travel company that organizes trips to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. She has written several travel guides to these countries. The journalist came to Syria a year ago as a correspondent of Russian news agencies and TV channels. As noted by the media, Kochneva supported the official Syrian authorities, and that, according to some experts, could be the cause of her abduction. According to witnesses, on October 8 Kochneva went to the city of El Quseir, where there were hostilities between Syrian troops and rebels, but has not returned.  

On November 7 her first appeal where she asked the authorities of Russia, Ukraine and Syria to meet the demands of the militants who kidnapped her was published online.

In her blog Anhar Kochneva criticized Syrian opposition, supporting Bashar Assad. According to Darya Mitina, the journalist's friend and former lawmaker, this is what could cause Kochneva's abduction. However, some of the world's media have noted that it is unlikely that Syrian militants were able to read the Internet blog of journalist in Russian. According to them, she got in the hands of the militants by accident. However, Darya Mitina does not agree with this opinion.  

Vice-President of the community of Syrian students Abbas Juma noted that this was not the first case when Syrian gunmen kidnapped citizens of other countries. He believes that there could be several reasons. Anhar could have been abducted on a tip, or just for wearing an Orthodox crosslet.

The second appeal of Kochneva that appeared on the Internet on November 28 was very ambiguous. As noted by her former husband Dmitry Petrov, Anhar likely made this statement under pressure as there were too many inconsistencies in its text. Representatives of security forces agree with him.

What caused their suspicions? In a video Kochneva admitted that she came to Syria as a secret service agent, not as a journalist. According to her, she worked as a translator for the commanders of the official Syrian army and Russian troops. From the video it appears that the text was written in advance, and not by her. She again asked the government to meet all demands of the militants. Incidentally, the demands of the kidnappers were not made public.

Experts are seriously concerned, because the emergence of such a statement is a sign that the talks between the militants and the authorities have failed, and Anhar is in danger. Officially there is still no information on what the kidnappers want in exchange for the life of the Ukrainian journalist. According to experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Kochneva is a serious figure, and the rebels would require a corresponding ransom - either an exchange or a large sum of money. The person who uploaded the video on the Internet called himself the coordinator of Jisr al-Shugura - one of the first cities to have fallen under the rebels' control.

However, rumors about the demands of the kidnappers seeped into the media. According to some media reports, the kidnappers called the mother of the journalist, demanding $50 million. Experts fear that after all the demands are met the journalist will still be killed. Many colleagues of Kochneva believe that the efforts made by the authorities of Ukraine and Russia are insufficient, and the Syrian government in general does not promote the release of Anhar. According to a friend of the abducted, the Syrian authorities subtly hinted that there were plenty of such hostages and it would be impossible to help everyone. The journalist helped the authorities in Syria, but was not in their service, so the authorities are unlikely to start any active work on her release.

Many global media outlets noted that Kochneva's fate can be decided by the Russian government, despite the fact that the journalist is a citizen of Ukraine. According to their reports, the militants agreed to negotiate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. However, so far the Russian Foreign Ministry has not taken serious steps to free the hostages. Her story is not widely reported, despite the fact that she partnered with the Russian media.

The situation is very complicated, and the authorities do not have much time to rescue Anhar Kochneva.

Only the official authorities of the country can cope with the lawless Syrian militants by establishing order and putting an end to the abduction of hostages and human trafficking. But, unfortunately, this is nowhere in sight.

Sergei Vasilenkov  


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