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Putin: Complicit West harbors terrorists
Updated: 2004-09-18 08:55

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Friday accused the West of harboring Chechen terrorists, speaking hours after rebel leader Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the Beslan school massacre.

In a statement likely to further chill Russia's cooling relations with Europe and the United States, Putin said the West's "patronising and indulgent attitude to the murderers amounts to complicity in terror".

His remarks came the day after Moscow summoned Britain's chargé d'affairs, Stephen Wordsworth, to the Russian foreign ministry to hear complaints about London's decision to grant asylum to a Chechen politician and an exiled Russian tycoon.

Wordsworth was told that the men, Chechen rebel spokesman Akhmed Zakayev and tycoon Boris Berezovsky, should be stopped from making "slanderous statements".

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has criticised Moscow for failing to provide accurate coverage of the Beslan siege and accused the government of opening a "credibility gap" between the state, media and the people.

A day of dramatic announcements began with the statement, via a rebel website, that Chechen guerrilla leader Basayev was finally accepting responsibility for the Beslan attack, saying a unit named Riyadus-Salikhin carried out the operation.

But Basayev insisted it was government forces, not his rebels, that were responsible for the massacre two weeks ago that has left 326 dead and another 100 people missing.

"A terrible tragedy occurred in the city of Beslan. The Kremlin vampire destroyed and wounded 1,000 children and adults," said the Basayev statement.

He repeated an earlier offer of peace if the Kremlin would grant Chechnya independence, something Moscow has ruled out. "We can guarantee that all of Russia's Muslims would refrain from armed methods of struggle against the Russian Federation, at least for 10 to 15 years," said the statement.

The United States Friday denounced Basayev's admission. The US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, said: "He has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is inhuman."

Basayev's comments have also ended speculation that the Beslan slaughter might trigger a pause in fighting, with the rebel leader, Russia’s most wanted man, saying more attacks would follow.

"We are not bound by any circumstances, or to anybody, and we will continue to fight as is convenient and advantageous to us, and by our rules," he said.

What sort of attacks those rules allow is unclear, but Russia has been battered by a violent summer of attacks that its security forces have been powerless to prevent.

Putin, meanwhile, accused the West of hypocrisy by fighting against Osama bin Laden while at the same time giving sanctuary to Chechen rebels. "We faced double standards in the attitude towards terrorism," he said.

Putin warned that attempts to negotiate with Chechen separatists were as dangerous as the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the years before World War Two.

"I urge you to remember the lessons of history, the amicable deal [with Adolf Hitler] in Munich in 1938," he said. "Any surrender leads to them widening their demands and makes losses worse."

Putin’s comments are likely to put further distance between Russia and the West, which has repeatedly criticised Russia for human rights violations in Chechnya.

Britain is in the firing line because of its decision to give Berezovsky and Zakayev asylum.

Russia regards Zakayev as a terrorist, and wants Berezovsky, a former television mogul and power-broker, to return to Russia to face fraud investigators.

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