Russian motorcyclists accused of espionage in Iraq, detained and released
24.05.12 19:13 By Ekaterina Saviba, edited by Semyon Kvasha
4 Russian riders planned to go through Georgia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and return home through Central Asian republics. Photo: ruriders.com
Four Russian motorcyclists who were held in an Iraqi prison under suspicion of espionage, are to be released by the order of Iraqi government, Iraqi foreign minister told Arabian BBC news service. There's still no information on when exactly Iraqi authorities plan to release them, and this is not the first piece of information about their release.
Oleg Kapkayev from Saint Petersburg, Alexander Vardanyants AKA Vard and Maxim Ignatyev from Vladimir and Oleg Maximov from Tula went out to a huge motorcycle trip from Tula through Georgia into Turkey, then to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and then through ex-Soviet Central Asia back to Russia. They approximate length of their route was 13,000 kilometers, but they didn't have an exact plan, Vardanyan told Vladimir television:
The most interesting thing is that nothing is known. There are several points we want to visit, everything else is totally autonomous. We have tents and the means to cook food, we have repair kits, we are ready for everything. This is the best travel, when you go away, know where you go but don't know how.
They came to Iraq on May 17 and were detained by the Iraqi military on May 20. "Our attempt to go towards Baghdad failed because of Yanks in Hummers – they didn't let us in. Our guys decided to go round the American checkpoints and pass north of them," report motorcyclists' friends on the Russian motorcycling forum Ruriders.ru. "They managed to ride several dozen kilometers a day, while having long heartfelt conversations with local authorities, all while the outside temperature was 42 Celsius."
On May 20 Vardanyan told his friends he and his companions were detained in Kirkuk, but were later released and they moved towards Baghdad. His next text message said they were detained again. He had managed to smuggle in a phone and switch it on for several minutes a day. They managed to send their GPS coordinates, which shows that the travelers were in Baghdad on a military base. Their motorcycles with GPS beacons were somewhere close.
At first the Russians were accused of visa forgery, they were given food and their deportation to Turkey was discussed, but never happened. Embassy officials told the travelers' friends they would be released on Wednesday by 5pm. Late at night another text message from the detained motorcyclist came:
"SOS! We are accused of espionage, they beat us, threaten us with the death sentence, accusations of visa forgery." By midday, a representative of RAMCC motorcycling club told RIA Novosti that Kapkayev send a message where 10 years in prison was mentioned.
The Russian embassy in Baghdad has made no comment, neither confirming nor denying this information, saying their silence is in the detainees best interests. Russian embassy press-attaché Sergei Cherkasov told Gazeta.Ru this question was discussed during Ambassador Jamshet Boltayev's meeting "with the country's government", but he didn't specify who the ambassador met. Meanwhile the motorcyclists complain that they haven't seen either the council or any other diplomat in their prison.
"They are all well-known people, very experienced travelers, it's easier to say where they haven't been. I personally know Kapkayev, he wouldn't go there if he had any problem with visas," said Boris Knyasev, the coordinator of motorcycle clubs of Saint Petersburg, to Gazeta.ru.
This isn't the first time the four motorcyclists travelled together. Their web pages are filled with travel reports from Pamir, Mongolia, North Caucasus, South America and the Polar Circle .
On Ruriders.ru, Vardanyants, who was "Full of optimism" before the problems appeared, said he was only a little upset that the visas ended in 5 days. However, the forum also refers to him saying, "[he - Vard] openly declared that WE blow it off." Later Russian Foreign ministry representative Alexander Lukashevich said "a group of Ruissian motorcyclists entered Iraq from Turkey without visas." Nevertheless, the Foreign ministry has sent a protest note to the Iraqi government, RIA Novosti reports.
The detained motorcyclists' friends and other Moscow bikers are picketing the Iraqi embassy in Moscow, demanding the immediate release of the travellers.
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