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Sergei Yastra-Zhemsky, Kremlin spokesman
"Familiar with these allegations"
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The BBC's Bridget Kendall reports
"A late winter chill to greet Robin Cook"
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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 13:55 GMT
Cook woos Russian leader

Russian troops head for the Argun battle zone
Chechnya was discussed by the two leaders

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has met Vladimir Putin, the man likely to be Russia's next president.

In a face-to-face meeting at the Kremlin, Mr Cook discussed Russia's war against separatist rebels in Chechnya.

But speaking afterwards, the foreign secretary acknowledged that, apart from repeating "frank concerns" about the use of force in the conflict, there was little else he could do.

Mr Cook told reporters: "I'm not sure I understand what is the more robust approach that you would wish us to take.

Cook and Ivanov Mr Cook meets Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov
"It is important that we are frank and robust in our concerns, but it is equally important that we retain a relationship with Russia that enables us to work together constructively."

Mr Putin told his guest the Chechen problem "has largely been transferred to a political level".

Mr Cook said Mr Putin understood international concerns over reported human rights abuses in Chechnya, including indiscriminate bombing and allegations of beatings and torture in detention camps.

The foreign secretary said: "We would ask Russia to be open to the international community on the situation in Chechnya.

"We believe the international community can assist in finding a solution which does not require suffering on the part of the people of Chechnya."

'Open style'

Mr Putin's spokesman said the acting president was ready to co-operate with international organisations to get humanitarian aid to victims.

He is also considering allowing journalists greater access to Chechnya to cover the conflict.

Mr Cook's visit to Russia is also aimed at improving the UK's economic ties with Russia and has invited Mr Putin to visit London.

He has already praised the acting Russian leader as a man the West can do business with.

The foreign secretary said: "I found his style refreshing and open and his priorities ones that we share.

"I was impressed by his commitment to taking forward our economic relations and (to) addressing some of the problems that have held back our investment."

Mr Cook later travelled to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi for the first visit there by a British minister there since it gained independence in 1991. He will have talks on Thuesday with the Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, on regional security, and will also address the Georgian parliament.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Cook's empty threats
21 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russian torture probe 'not enough'
19 Feb 00 |  Europe
Row over Chechnya 'atrocities'

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