Andrei Babitsky (Russian: Андрей Маратович Бабицкий, born September 26, 1964 in Moscow) is a Russian journalist and war reporter, who worked for Radio Liberty from 1989 to 2014, covering the 1991 August Coup, Civil War in Tajikistan and, most notably, both the First and Second Chechen Wars from behind Chechen lines. Babitsky is most famous for his kidnapping by the Russian forces in January–February 2000 during the Second Chechen War and his 2005 video interview with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.
His reporting was somewhat controversial in Russia, as he was often accused of siding with the Chechen rebels. Babitsky once said:
One must say that the Chechens cut throats of soldiers not because they are sadists inclined to treat them with brutality, but in order to make the war more convex, visible, vivid, to reach the public and to explain that a war is actually going on, scary and cruel.
However, according to Mario Corti, head of Radio Liberty's Russian service, Babitsky has not shied away from reporting Chechen atrocities and was the first Russian journalist to put the blame for the death of the American disaster relief specialist Fred Cuny on a Chechen warlord.
At the outset of the Russian assault on the Chechen capital Grozny in January 2000 the Russian government announced that there were no civilians left in the city. Babitsky then managed to get into the besieged Grozny and reported under heavy bombing that this was not the case and that civilians did remain in the city. After his last phone contact on January 15, he disappeared. The Russian officials at first denied that they knew anything about his whereabouts. However, it was leaked to Alexander Yevtushenko, friend of Babitsky and war reporter for Komsomolskaya Pravda, that on January 16 Babitsky had been detained while trying to leave Grozny and since then had been held in the Chernokozovo prison camp by the Russian forces. On January 28, the authorities admitted to having him in custody since January 23. As Babitsky's family, friends and colleagues voiced fears for his life and the scandal unfolded, after a personal inquiry by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was visiting Moscow, Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov on February 2 pledged to bring Babitsky to Moscow and release him. However, instead of his release, on February 4 the Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky announced that on February 3 Babitsky had been handed over to Chechen warlords in exchange for several Russian soldiers held captive by them. "From now on, all federal authorities bear no responsibility for the reporter's fate", Yastrzhembsky added. Chechen rebel authorities, including president Aslan Maskhadov, denied ever having been involved in any such swap. The situation was perceived as one of the first signs of the shrinking tolerance for a free press in Russia under Vladimir Putin, who became acting President of Russia on New Year's Eve. As author Masha Gessen put it, with the story of the prisoner swap, "...Russian troops had treated a journalist--a Russian journalist--as an enemy combatant."
On March 10, 2000, the newspaper Kommersant published an interview with Putin, where he accused Babitsky of treason and collaboration with Chechen warlords and commented:
On February 25 Babitsky was arrested in Makhachkala. He was tried for carrying a forged passport, which, he said, had been provided by those holding him, ended up fined in October 2000 but was granted amnesty immediately thereafter.
Babitsky was living in Prague, Czech Republic where Radio Liberty headquarters were located when in 2014 he fell out with Radio Liberty over his advocating the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. He voiced the opinion that it was Russia's "undeniable right to stand up for its (Crimea's) inhabitants" and in September of the same year he was dismissed from the radio. Speaking on the war in eastern Ukraine, Babitsky said that:
At that time I felt for the Chechens, because I thought that if these people want to live by their own traditions and move away from Russia then they should be able to. ... It’s the same here. I think Russia is playing a significant role here, but the reasons are not to be found in Russia, they are internal. This is a civil war, where the interests of two parts of Ukraine that consider themselves linked to two cultural traditions are clashing with each other.
- Brief Legal Evaluation of Circumstances Attending to Andrei Babitsky’s Detention, Glastnost Defense Foundation
- Babitsky's "crime" and punishment CPJ Press Freedom Online
- Babitsky's War, television documentary
- Original quote: "Надо сказать, что чеченцы перерезают горло солдатам не потому, что они садисты и испытывают склонность к какому-то особо жестокому отношению к солдатам, но просто таким образом они пытаются сделать войну более выпуклой, зримой, яркой, достучаться до общественного мнения, объяснить, что действительно идет война, война страшная, жестокая" // Radio Liberty transcript of December 24, 1999 (Web archive copy)
- Andrew Meier. reporter Missing
- Павел Гутинотов. "Заурядное дело" Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
- Celestibe Bohlen. Friends Fear for Radio Reporter Still Missing in Chechnya
- Jim Nichol (2000). Chechnya Conflict: Recent Developments. CRS Report for Congress.
- Ian Traynor. Alarm as Moscow swaps journalist for soldiers
- Man in the Balance. Index on Censorship 2000; 29; 90
- Tony Karon. Russia Declares War on the Media
- Michael R. Gordon. Detained Reporter in Swap
- Gessen, Masha (2012). The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. New YOrk: Riverhead Books. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-59448-842-9.
- Nabi Abdullaev and Andrew McChesney. Basayev’s ‘Nightline’ Interview Irks Russia
- "Former Kremlin critic changes tack to launch television station in Donetsk". The Guardian. 10 July 2015.