Missing Russian politician found in Ukraine
Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, whose mystery disappearance prompted talk of electoral dirty tricks, flew back to Moscow Tuesday looking weary despite saying he had merely taken an impromptu vacation.
A critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Rybkin said he might quit next month's race. His main financial backer said his political career appeared anyway to be over.
Rybkin had left his wife and aides guessing fearfully at his fate for five days before calling from Ukraine to say he had been with "friends" and was "stunned" at the fuss.
Rybkin looked pale as he left a Moscow airport and gave puzzling answers to question. He railed against "arbitrariness" in politics and suggested he encountered difficulties in Kiev.
Rybkin, who had last been seen in Moscow Thursday, had resurfaced earlier in the day in the Ukrainian capital to tell Russian media he had left Moscow without telling his wife or campaign workers and could not understand the fuss this caused.
Speaking at the airport, the former speaker of parliament and negotiator with Chechen separatists said he was tired after what he had earlier called a holiday.
"I've come back feeling as though I have just completed a round of Chechnya negotiations. I am pleased to be back," Rybkin said, wearing dark glasses and looking at the ground.
He dodged the question when asked whether he had been held against his will.
"It's quite difficult to hold me," he said. "I believe there are also good people in Kiev and I am very grateful to them.
"I have never seen or felt such arbitrariness in 15 years in politics," he said.
Like the other challengers in the March 14 poll, Rybkin poses no serious threat to Putin's bid to secure a second term.
But he has been strident in his criticism of the president, accusing him of crushing independent media and mismanaging the drive against Chechen separatists.
Rybkin had earlier told Russian media that he had gone to Ukraine feeling he was entitled to a short break.
"I didn't disappear anywhere. I bought a newspaper today and was stunned," Ekho Moskvy radio quoted him as saying in Kiev. He told Interfax news agency: "I went to Kiev to my friends, walked around, switched off my cell phones, and didn't watch TV."
He had sought a respite "from the fuss which has surrounded me. I left fruit and money for my wife, who is now taking care of our grandchildren, but didn't tell her anything. I changed my jacket, got on the train and left for Kiev."
Exile billionaire Boris Berezovsky, Rybkin's main political backer, said the incident appeared to have finished the candidate's political career.
"I believe that if what he says is true, then he no longer exists as a politician. His political career is certainly finished ... This is not to Putin's advantage or to my advantage," Berezovsky, a bitter critic of Putin now enjoying political asylum in Britain, said by telephone.
Berezovsky said he met Rybkin in London last Tuesday and had "no explanation for the fact that he may have simply run off."
Rybkin, 57, went missing two days before being formally registered as a candidate for the presidential poll.
Rybkin is a senior figure in the small Liberal Russia party. Another party leader, Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated last year and witnesses at his alleged killers' trial in Moscow suggest he was killed because of rivalries within the party.