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Russia Advises Its Citizens to Leave Iraq - 2004-04-13

Russia is advising its citizens to get out of Iraq after eight workers at a Russian energy company were taken hostage by masked gunmen in Baghdad. All eight have been released unharmed, but Russian officials say they have made preparations to enable a prompt evacuation of all Russian citizens there.

The three Russian and five Ukrainian employees of the Russian energy company Interenergoservis were freed after one day in captivity.

The engineers were in Baghdad to carry out repairs at a power station. They were seized by unidentified gunmen late Monday.

One hostage told Russian State Television that they were released as soon as the abductors realized their nationalities.

He says there was a translator who came along, who spoke o.k. Russian. He asked who we were, where we came from, what we were doing here and if we were linked to the Americans, and that was it.

The abduction of the eight workers prompted an angry reaction from Moscow - a constant and vocal critic of the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the kidnapping was the result of a sharp deterioration in the situation in Iraq and that it was the coalition forces, which bore responsibility for security there.

The head of Russia's Security Council, Igor Ivanov, says Russia's foreign and emergency situations ministries have prepared the necessary measures for the prompt evacuation of Russian citizens.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters in Ukraine that Russia is ready to help its citizens as required.

"Of course it is up to the companies themselves to decide," he said. "But if they feel they need help from the state, to guarantee safety, then the help is there and the orders will be given." Some Russian companies are already pulling their workers out of Iraq. The state-owned company Tekhpromexport has announced it is evacuating its 370 staff members because of the rising violence.

Tekhpromexport is Russia's top contractor in Iraq, and employs most of the 500 Russian nationals working to help rebuild the country.