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The BBC's Robin Oakley reports
"Blair is convinced that Mr Putin will open up access to Chechnya"
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The BBC's Robin Oakley on Breakfast with Frost
"I think they've established a kind of working relationship"
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Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 06:56 GMT
Blair praises 'impressive' Putin
Blair and Putin
Mr Blair (right) described Mr Putin as a quick learner
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has praised Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin as an impressive man with a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in his country.

He was speaking on his way back to London after talks with Mr Putin in Russia which focused on the war in Chechnya.

He was highly intelligent and with a focused view of what he wants to achieve in Russia

Tony Blair
Mr Blair said he regards Mr Putin, the favourite in this month's election to find a successor to Boris Yelstin, as a quick learner with a strong sense of Russia's place in the world.

"He was highly intelligent and with a focused view of what he wants to achieve in Russia," Mr Blair told the BBC.

He said he believes Mr Putin wants to modernise the Russian economy and open up Russia for investment.

In his talks with Mr Blair, Mr Putin indicated that he wished to encourage British expertise and investment, particularly in developing Russian oil and gas resources and in aerospace projects.

Mr Blair and his wife Cherie spent a day in St Petersburg as guests of Mr Putin, rounding off their visit on Saturday night with a visit to a production of Sergei Prokofiev's War and Peace, a stirring tale of Russian resistance in wartime.

Stengthening ties

The UK prime minister was the first western leader to meet the former KGB man since he came to office.

One of Mr Blair's main aims on the visit was to "renew and strengthen" Britain's ties with Russia.

Mr Blair said he was convinced that Mr Putin would open up access to Chechnya for international bodies seeking to provide relief and to investigate claims of atrocities.

The West believes Russia is using disproportionate force and killing civilians in its campaign against Chechen separatists.

But Western leaders have been anxious to temper their criticism to avoid alienating the new Russian leader.

Mr Putin said Russia was willing to let the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE) or the Council of Europe play a role in Chechnya, without specifying what such organisations would do, according to Interfax news agency.

But the acting president reiterated his staunch defence of the military offensive there.
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See also:

11 Mar 00 | Europe
Blair calls for Chechnya probe
11 Mar 00 | Europe
Chechen fighters hold out
11 Mar 00 | Media reports
Press review: Politics take centre stage
09 Mar 00 | Europe
Putin and the West
09 Mar 00 | Europe
Playing the Chechnya card
22 Feb 00 | Europe
Cook woos Russian leader
10 Mar 00 | Europe
Russia admits heavy losses
05 Mar 00 | Europe
Analysis: Putin wants respect
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