Alexander Natruskin  /  Reuters file
Ivan Rybkin, shown in an October 2003 file photo, is expected to return to Russia Tuesday night. news services
updated 2/10/2004 11:21:04 AM ET 2004-02-10T16:21:04

A Russian presidential candidate who vanished last week surfaced Tuesday in Ukraine, saying he was surprised by all the fuss that his disappearance had caused.

Ivan Rybkin, a critic of President Vladimir Putin, had been missing since late Thursday after being dropped off outside his Moscow home, according to his wife and campaign staffers.

His staff reported Tuesday evening that he had been found in Ukraine, and Rybkin told the radio station Echo of Moscow that “I haven’t disappeared anywhere.”

“I decided not to listen to the radio and TV” for a few days, Rybkin said. “I decided to go to Kiev to visit friends.”

Rybkin, 57, said he was “shocked” when he read Russian newspapers on Tuesday and saw that his absence was being given wide attention.

A campaign staffer, who gave her name only as Maria, said Rybkin was to return to Moscow on a flight Tuesday night.

Missing-person report filed
Rybkin's wife, Albina, and Rybkin staffers filed a missing-person report on the 57-year-old on Sunday, the day after his candidacy for the March 14 presidential election was approved by the Central Election Commission.

Poll results suggested Rybkin would draw less than 1 percent of the vote, but he is expected to be one of the few candidates who will campaign aggressively against Putin, the overwhelming favorite.

Rybkin launched his campaign last week with a stinging attack on the president, whom he accused of basing his power on blood, citing the war in Chechnya. Putin’s tough attitude toward Chechen rebels boosted his popularity ahead of his election in 2000.

Rybkin is a member of Liberal Russia, a party supported by Berezovsky, a billionaire who was a powerful Kremlin insider in the Yeltsin years but who fell out with Putin and was granted asylum in Britain.

In the last 18 months, two lawmakers from Liberal Russia have been gunned down in murky circumstances.

Sudden disappearance
During his unexplained absence, Rybkin, a national security chief under former President Boris Yeltsin, failed to show up for a news conference Friday, missed his formal registration as a candidate Saturday and didn’t answer his cell phone, said Alexander Tukayev, deputy chairman of Rybkin’s Liberal Russia party.

Police searched Rybkin’s apartment, office, garage and cottage on Sunday but said they found no signs of foul play or clues to his whereabouts.

Albina Rybkin told the Kommersant newspaper that she found the home empty when she returned home at 11 p.m. on Thursday, though the mail had been brought inside and Rybkin’s jacket was in one of the rooms.

“I think that when he was at home, someone called him and asked for a quick meeting,” she was quoted as saying. “Clearly, they proposed that the meeting would be short because my husband didn’t call me or leave a note.”

In April, Liberal Russia lawmaker Sergei Yushenkov was shot outside his apartment building in Moscow. Prosecutors have accused Mikhail Kodanyov, the chairman of a rival branch of Liberal Russia, of organizing the killing together with five accomplices as part of a power struggle. The trial of some of the suspects is currently under way in Moscow.

Another co-chairman of Liberal Russia, Vladimir Golovlyov, was shot and killed in August 2002. Some have suggested that his murder was politically motivated, but others link it with his alleged involvement in privatization fraud in the metals industry, which is believed to be riddled with criminals.

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