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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Urges Council To See Russia's Side

KURCHALOI, Chechnya -- Federal forces bombarded roads and footpaths in Chechnya's southern mountains on Monday, trying to prevent rebel raids into Russian-controlled villages, while acting President Vladimir Putin appealed to a European delegation to see Russia's side in the war.

Russian airplanes and artillery pummeled the region of Vedeno, a rebel stronghold deep in the mountains. According to Russian reconnaissance, rebels are active in the region and are planning to storm Russian-held villages.

The federal forces want to prevent any repeat of militants' raids on three Russian-controlled towns earlier this month, which cast doubts on the military's reports of a smooth operation in Chechnya.

Russian troops in the region were jumpy.

"If the Chechens come today, we'll be easily defeated," Alexei Migulin, a Russian soldier stationed in Kurchaloi, said. He said that the 150 troops in the village had enough ammunition to last only 10 minutes.

In Moscow, Putin and other officials met for more than three hours with a delegation from the 41-nation Council of Europe, the continent's highest human-rights body.

He asked for understanding from the international community, and urged that it "base its position not on propaganda materials but on the real situation, facts and trustworthy information."

The delegation, from the council's parliamentary assembly, was setting out on a fact-finding mission in preparation for a special debate Jan. 27 on Chechnya. Some council members have suggested that Russia's membership should be suspended over the military offensive.

The leader of the delegation, Lord Russel-Johnston, said he had expressed the Council of Europe's opposition to the war "most directly" to Putin.

"We want a cease-fire, we want negotiations, we want the intolerable situation with refugees to be stopped," he told the acting president.

Putin said that he, too, wanted to see a quick end to the war, but that the Russians had no serious negotiating partners from the Chechen side, Russel-Johnston told reporters.

Putin also agreed in principle that international human-rights observers should be allowed to operate in Chechnya, and that Russia would be willing to accept such observers in Ingushetia, Russel-Johnston said.

The Soldier's Mothers Committee told the delegation Sunday that casualties among Russian troops were much higher than those officially reported.

The group said some 3,000 troops had been killed and 5,000 to 6,000 wounded - in contrast to the military's official figures of more than 600 dead and more than 1,600 wounded.

Meanwhile, Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships unleashed some of the heaviest airstrikes in weeks.

Jets strafed several villages at the entrance to the strategic Argun gorge, which leads through the rebel-held mountains to Georgia. The military said the raids had hit five rebel bases in the mountains and created avalanches to block mountain passes.

Federal aircraft also targeted Grozny.

Lieutenant General Gennady Troshev said Monday that troops would not immediately move into the center of Grozny, since it was suffering an "ecological catastrophe" because of smoke from the endless fires and chemical stores allegedly blown up by the rebels.

The military reported Monday there had been more than 110 air raids in the past 24 hours.

In the southwestern Urus-Martan region, Russian troops opened fire Monday on a bus of refugees, killing the driver and three passengers, eyewitnesses said. It was not known what prompted the shooting, but Nikolai Koshman, the Kremlin's top political representative in Chechnya, vowed the perpetrators would be punished.

"As soon as we find out who did this, they will be shot and killed in public," Koshman said.

The Foreign Ministry denounced the recognition of an independent Chechnya by Afghanistan's Taliban.

Sunday's move by the Taliban, which rules about 90 percent of Afghanistan, is "legally void,'' the ministry said in a statement, according to Itar-Tass.

By recognizing Chechnya, the Taliban "leads to the creation of some sort of a bandit international," the statement said.

Only three countries recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's government, and the Taliban's decision on Chechnya was the first recognition of the Russian republic as an independent entity.