MOSCOW – Russia is working through diplomatic and political channels to free two of its intelligence agents whom a Qatari court sentenced to life in prison for killing a Chechen rebel leader, the Interfax news agency reported Thursday citing a top Russian official.
"Russia is doing all it can to defend our citizens' interests and to ensure their early return to Russia," Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov (search) reportedly said in a statement issued late Wednesday.
He reiterated Moscow's contention that neither the agents nor Russian authorities played any part in the February car bombing that killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev (search) and wounded his son.
According to the Vremya Novostei daily, high-ranking Russian officials held talks on five occasions to ensure that the agents would not receive the death sentence, which prosecutors had demanded.
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself conducted what the paper called the "decisive" talks in a March telephone call to the Qatari leader, Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (search).
The Kommersant business daily called Wednesday's sentence satisfactory for both the Russian side and Yandarbiyev's family and associates, including rebel representative Akhmed Zakayev, who traveled from London to attend the court session.
"The comparative mildness of the sentence for murder suspects cheered up the Russian side," it said, while the judge's statement that the Russian authorities had given the order to kill Yandarbiyev gave the Chechens reason to "rejoice."
It also gave Qatari and Russian leaders a way out of the ticklish diplomatic situation, Kommersant said.