January 24th 2002 · The Washington Times / David R. Sands · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS

Putin said to exploit U.S. war

Russia has exploited the post-September 11 war on global terrorism to increase its repression in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, the top diplomat for the self-styled Chechen Republic said in an interview.

Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister for the Chechen government, also said the Bush administration had not done enough to point out human rights abuses by Russian forces in the brutal Chechen conflict as it sought to improve ties with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Without a doubt, the tragedies in New York and Washington have had an adverse effect on our situation," Mr. Akhmadov said in a meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times on Wednesday. "Anyone can observe the obvious fact that Russia has utilized the tragedy for its own purposes and its own goals."

The Chechen minister, in his first visit to Washington since the September 11 attacks, met with lower-level State Department officials for more than two hours on Wednesday. Because the U.S. government did not recognize the separatist Chechen regime, the meeting was not held inside the State Department building.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the meeting, refusing even to confirm that it had taken place.

Mr. Akhmadov's previous visits to the United States and Western Europe have provoked sharp protests from the Russian government.

Moscow yesterday accused the United States of an "unfriendly step" in receiving Mr. Akhmadov, and urged Washington to stand by its commitment to fight terrorism.

"Such contacts, no matter what the justification, cannot be seen as anything other than an unfriendly step toward Russia, contradicting the spirit of cooperation and partnership of both countries in acting against international terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Chechen sympathizers considered Mr. Akhmadov's visit in March to Washington a diplomatic breakthrough. He met with the acting assistant secretary of state for the region, the first time he had been received at such a high official level.

The State Department would not identify who met with the Chechen minister on Wednesday, except to say the visit was not at the same level as the March meeting.

Both the Clinton and Bush administrations also have criticized the Russian military campaign in Chechnya and urged the Kremlin to seek a political settlement.

But Mr. Putin strongly pressed the case since September 11 that the Chechen rebels were "terrorists" linked to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden. Moscow charges there are extensive personnel and training links between the Islamic fighters in Chechnya and the fundamentalist Islamic network bin Laden operated in Afghanistan.

Mr. Akhmadov in the interview flatly denied any ties between Chechen resistance groups and bin Laden, and said what he called "erroneous" Western press accounts about a linkage to al Qaeda had damaged his people's cause.

"Bin Laden has never mentioned Chechnya once in all his speeches," Mr. Akhmadov said. "I have had no contact with him whatsoever and no one I know of in our government has had any contacts."

He noted that U.S., British and other Western nationals had been identified among the prisoners captured in the U.S.-led military campaign against Afghanistan's Taliban regime - but not one Chechen.

Reed Brody, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said Russia had been among the nations attempting to link the new terrorism fight to long-standing conflicts within their borders.

"The Russian experience shows that this cynical strategy can work," Mr. Brody said.

Said Mr. Akhmadov: "Unfortunately, we have not seen any noticeable change in U.S. policy from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration. We are realists and we don't expect the American government to recognize our government, but we would like to see some recognition that a war against our nation, a genocide, is under way."

He said the periodic U.S. complaints about Chechnya "have very little influence on Russian behavior. They just discount it."


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