- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin accused the West yesterday of indulging terrorists, just hours after a Chechen warlord took responsibility for a wave of deadly attacks in Russia and threatened more.

“A patronizing and indulgent attitude to the murderers amounts to complicity in terror,” Mr. Putin said, widening a rift between Russia and the West over how to deal with Chechen rebel violence.

Earlier, Chechnya’s Muslim rebel leader Shamil Basayev said he had ordered the Beslan school siege in southern Russia in which at least 338 hostages were killed, half of them children, and threatened more attacks by any means he saw fit.

“We have long warned about the threat of terrorist attacks, but our voice has not been heard,” Mr. Putin said at an international meeting of city mayors.

“Moreover, we faced double standards in the attitude toward terrorism,” he said, repeating charges the West has been two-faced by giving asylum to top Chechens and urging Moscow to negotiate with rebel leaders but rejecting the possibility of dialogue with Osama bin Laden.

He said calls to deal with Chechen separatists recalled the failed appeasement of Nazi Germany before World War II.

“I urge you to remember the lessons of history, the amicable deal [with Adolf Hitler] in Munich in 1938. … Of course, the scale of consequences is different. … But the situation is very similar. Any surrender leads to them widening their demands and makes losses worse.”

His comments are certain to add to the mounting tension with a West critical of Mr. Putin’s policy on Chechnya and which has warned that his recent response to terror attacks — by handing more power to the Kremlin — threatens Russia’s brittle democracy.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Thursday, said of Russia’s battle with Chechen militants: “Terrorism has to be fought, murders have to be dealt with, but ultimately a political solution has to be found in Chechnya.”

Putin said Russia was also preparing to carry out its threat to launch pre-emptive strikes on “terrorist bases” anywhere in the world.

“Now in Russia we are seriously preparing to take preventative measures against terrorists,” he said without giving any further details.

Basayev, Russia’s most wanted man, said he was behind the wave of recent attacks in Russia — including the school siege, the near-simultaneous downing of two passenger planes and a bomb attack in Moscow — in which well more than 400 people died.

In a statement posted on a rebel Web site, Basayev warned that a violent campaign for an independent Chechnya would continue.

“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.

But he denied Mr. Putin’s charges of links with al Qaeda leader bin Laden. “I don’t know bin Laden. I don’t get money from him, but I wouldn’t turn it down,” he said.

Moscow insists international terrorism is involved.

“Whatever [Chechen rebel leader Aslan] Maskhadov and Basayev say, there is a lot of evidence that their terrorist activities are being funded from abroad,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told NTV television.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage denounced Basayev. “He has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is inhuman. Anyone who would use [the killing of] innocents for political aims is not worthy of existence in the type of society that we endorse,” he said at a news conference in Warsaw.

Basayev said units of his Riyadus-Salikhin group had carried out the Sept. 1 attack on the school in southern Russia, taking more than 1,000 hostages.

It ended a little more than two days later in a bloodbath, with special forces storming the school amid bomb blasts and shooting.

Basayev referred to it as the “North-West operation” — drawing a parallel with the Moscow theater siege in October 2002, which he also ordered.

The musical “North-East” was being performed at the theater when an armed group burst in, beginning a siege that ended with the deaths of 128 hostages.

The bearded Basayev has been fighting Russian forces throughout the 10-year battle for independence. He is said to have lost 11 relatives, including his wife, in Russian attacks in Chechnya in 1995 and lost a foot treading on a mine in 2000.

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