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Sunday, 5 March, 2000, 18:11 GMT
Chechen resistance broken, says Putin
Vladimir Putin's first interview with a foreign journalist
Vladimir Putin's first interview with a foreign journalist
Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, has claimed Russian troops have broken the resistance of rebels in Chechnya.

Battle for the Caucasus
In an interview with the BBC - his first with a foreign news organisation since he became acting president at the end of last year - he said the military phase of the operation in the rebellious republic would soon end.

"Literally yesterday evening, in one of the mountain regions where some quite large rebel groups are still concentrated, our armed forces succeeded in launching some pretty powerful strikes," he said.

"It seems to me that organised opposition is practically impossible from this moment on."

Fighting continues

The interview, conducted by Sir David Frost, was recorded on 29 February.

Russian forces took the last major rebel stronghold, the town of Shatoi, the day before the interview.

Putin: aim to crush rebels
Putin: Aim to crush rebels
Reports from Chechnya, however, say that fierce fighting is continuing in the Argun gorge, despite Russia's earlier claims to have it largely under control.

And on Sunday, a Chechen rebel commander told the BBC that the war in Chechnya would last many more months, and probably years.

Mr Putin said Russia's aim was to crush the rebel groups, which he said had been formed with the help of radical forces based in Afghanistan and elsewhere in "that part of the world".

He said Russia had had no option but to liberate the Chechen people from this outside oppression, and at the same time to rid itself of the "gangrene" of terrorism.

He said 1,500 people had died during an incursion by the Chechen-based rebel groups into Dagestan, and in a string of apartment-block bombings in Russian cities in August and September.

The acting president criticised the policy of earlier Russian governments, which had allowed Chechnya to become a de facto independent state since 1996.

We believe we can talk about more profound integration with Nato

Vladimir Putin
He said the power vacuum that had followed had been exploited by extremists.

Asked about the persistent reports of human rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya, Mr Putin said Russian forces aimed to minimise civilian casualties, and that reports of cruelty would be investigated.

He said Russia needed the confidence of the Chechen people in order to help them build a new future.


In response to a question about his attitude towards Nato, Mr Putin also said he could envisage a closer relationship between Russian and the alliance.

"We believe we can talk about more profound integration with Nato, but only if Russia is regarded as an equal partner," he said.

Asked if Russia might ever join Nato, he replied: "I do not see why not."

Mr Putin said attempts to exclude Russia from the debate over Nato's eastward expansion had led Moscow to oppose any such moves.

We are not going to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world - isolationism is not an option

Vladimir Putin
When asked if he saw Nato as a potential partner, a rival or an enemy Mr Putin replied that the very question could "cause damage" and would "not do any good to Russia or the world".

"Russia is part of the European culture," he said. "And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilised world."

He warned that it was not feasible to pretend Moscow had no part to play in discussions on international security.

Nato's attempts to exclude Russia is what causes it "opposition" and "concern" he said.

"But that does not mean we are going to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. Isolationism is not an option."

He said that Russia strove for equitable and candid relations with its partners, and that the problem of resolving issues of international security had to be resolved.
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See also:

05 Mar 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Putin wants respect
05 Mar 00 |  Media reports
Frost fascinates Russian media
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