- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin lavished praise on President Bush and pledged not to join forces with China should Washington abandon the ABM Treaty to develop a missile shield.
Mr. Putin's comments at a press conference came as a finale to a carefully orchestrated campaign to gain acceptance into the exclusive club of Western leaders at the Group of Eight summit next week.
Mr. Putin said that Russia, despite signing a friendship treaty with China this week, would make its strategic decisions independently.
"We do not plan joint activities in this sphere with other states, including China," he said in reference to U.S. moves to develop a missile defense that is likely to breach the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Both Beijing and Moscow oppose the U.S. effort and both have clashed with Washington repeatedly over the issue since Mr. Bush became president.
Mr. Putin's remarks yesterday, at his first Moscow press conference open to both local and international reporters, appeared aimed at Western fears of a future Sino-Russian military alliance.
Beijing is concerned that a U.S. missile shield will make its modest nuclear arsenal obsolete and that Washington might supply Taiwan, which it views as a renegade state, with defense technology.
Moscow has boasted of nuclear capabilities powerful enough to defeat the limited missile defense sought by Mr. Bush, which is directed at protecting people from rogue states and terrorists.
Mr. Putin, analysts believe, is intent on showing he deserves equal status to world leaders like Mr. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, whom he will join this weekend in Genoa, Italy.
Yesterday's news conference, unprecedented in scale with more than 500 reporters, was part of a campaign by the Kremlin that has intensified in recent days as the Genoa summit draws near.
The Russian parliament has recently passed laws allowing some private land sales, adopting pension reforms and measures to combat international money laundering.
This week alone, Mr. Putin has issued statements claiming a commitment to ending corruption in Russia. Investigations have also been initiated against senior army officers accused of human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Mr. Putin said he liked Mr. Bush after a first meeting in June.
"I found [Mr. Bush] a rather sincere person, pleasant to talk to," Mr. Putin said. "I don't know if I should say this, but he also appeared to me to be a little bit sentimental."
"For me, this is also a good sign, although he also took a firm stance on his positions," Mr. Putin said.
At the same time Mr. Putin reaffirmed his support for the ABM Treaty as the cornerstone of a global security network and has asked Mr. Bush to negotiate with Russia.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush are expected to meet privately during the G-8 summit, which includes leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Mr. Putin also condemned NATO, which he said has outlived its usefulness, since it was formed during the Cold War to oppose the now-defunct Soviet bloc.
"There is no more Warsaw Pact, no more Soviet Union, but NATO continues to exist and develop," he said.
NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe creates "different levels of security on the continent which does not correspond to today's realities and is not caused by any political or military necessity," he said.
But he also said Russia was not threatened by NATO.
"We do not see it as an enemy," he said. "We do not see a tragedy in its existence, but we also see no need for it."
Mr. Putin proposed a "single security and defense space in Europe" by disbanding NATO, having Russia join it, or by creating a brand-new organization in which Moscow plays an equal role.
The Russian leader's decision to hold a news conference on the eve of the Genoa meeting was widely read as a sign of his growing ability to bask in the international spotlight.
Despite the statesman-like aura of the press conference, the Russian leader suddenly lost his temper over questions about Chechnya, raising his voice and becoming agitated in answer to a reporter's question about the behavior of Russian soldiers conducting "security checks" in the rebellious province.
Mr. Putin said the security checks were a reaction to terrorist attacks by Chechen fundamentalists against Russian troops in "attempts to provoke the local population against federal authorities."
Human-rights groups charge that hundreds, if not thousands, of Chechen men were rounded up, severely beaten and sometimes tortured during the security checks by Russian soldiers earlier this month.
The Russian government acknowledged that some violations had taken place and opened six criminal investigations into soldiers' behavior on July 3 and 4.

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