- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

From combined dispatches

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament yesterday for the right to send soldiers and special forces anywhere in the world to fight terrorists, acting just days after having pledged to “destroy” the terrorists who killed five Russian diplomats in Iraq.

Moscow confirmed early last week that terrorists had killed four abducted diplomats, beheading two of them in an Internet video, after Russia refused their demand to leave the breakaway republic of Chechnya. A fifth diplomat was killed during the abduction June 3.

Russian security services last week offered a $10 million reward for the capture of the Islamic insurgents responsible for the killings.

According to a Kremlin statement, Mr. Putin yesterday went to the upper house of parliament, known as the Federation Council, to make his dramatic bid.

The Kremlin said he had requested the right to defend “the human rights and freedoms of citizens, the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, its independence and state integrity,” by using security forces outside Russia.

Under the constitution, Mr. Putin must get permission from the Federation Council, which usually does his bidding, before sending troops abroad.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov had said two days ago that the chamber was ready to authorize Mr. Putin to use special forces and the agents of the GRU army intelligence service outside Russia.

Mr. Putin did not say the troops would be sent to Iraq. Nor was it clear whether the United States would object to Russian forces operating in the country or welcome any assistance in dealing with insurgents who for three years have kept Iraq on the edge of chaos.

The kidnapping of the Russians was claimed by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella group that includes al Qaeda in Iraq and also was responsible for the killing of two abducted American soldiers late last month.

The captors had demanded that Russia withdraw all its troops from Chechnya, a demand that Moscow rejected.

An open microphone last week caught a spat over the killings between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a foreign minister’s meeting in Moscow. Mr. Lavrov had wanted an official statement to declare that international forces in Iraq should do more to protect diplomats, while Miss Rice argued that diplomats should not be singled out for special attention.

Apart from the atrocity in Iraq, Mr. Putin is still engaged in a war with independence-seeking insurgents in Russia’s southern territory of Chechnya and has accused neighboring countries of harboring Chechen terrorists.

Gunmen attacked a Russian military convoy in the region yesterday, killing at least five troops and wounding as many as 25 others, officials said. Pro-rebel Web sites said that more than 20 Russian soldiers were killed.

Moscow threatened to send warplanes to bomb terrorist bases worldwide after Chechen rebels took 1,300 hostages in a school in the town of Beslan in 2004. About 330 people — half of them children — died after a three-day siege.

At the time, Russia did not say which countries it accused of harboring militants — and no air strikes were forthcoming — but it had accused Georgia of doing too little to stop Chechen guerrillas from crossing its territory.

Russia also has 500 troops deployed in support of separatists in two breakaway regions of Georgia. Georgia has angered the Kremlin by seeking closer ties with the West since President Mikhail Saakashvili rose to power in that country’s Rose Revolution.

Mr. Putin met with Mr. Saakashvili last month, but diplomats said the talks failed to defuse the tension.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst, told The Washington Times afterward that the countries appeared to be laying the groundwork for an armed conflict.

“What we’ve been seeing is an exchange of prewar statements,” he said. “We could see military action in the coming weeks and months.”

The Russia parliament unanimously passed a resolution last week blaming the United States for the deaths of the diplomats in Iraq and demanding better security for foreign envoys there.

“The tragedy that occurred recently in Iraq was only possible because of the growing crisis in the country as the occupying powers increasingly lose control of the situation,” read the statement. “All the responsibility for the situation in Iraq, including the security of its citizens and of foreign workers, lies with the occupying powers.”

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