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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Warms To Putin's Hospitality

ST. PETERSBURG -- Acting President Vladimir Putin yielded little ground over his military campaign in Chechnya on Saturday, but won a display of bonhomie from visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"I'd like to say how much I enjoyed the dialogue, which was a very good omen for the future," Blair told reporters, a statement that appeared to accept as a foregone conclusion Putin's victory in a presidential election in two weeks.

Blair became the first Western leader to meet Putin since the former KGB spy took office.

The two held talks at the seaside Peterhoff palace outside St. Petersburg, continued them at the Hermitage Museum and attended the premiere of a new production of the opera "War and Peace" - an apt conclusion to a day of talks mainly focusing on Chechnya.

The West says Russia is using disproportionate force and killing civilians in its five-month campaign against Chechen separatists. But Western leaders have been careful to temper their criticism to avoid alienating the new Russian leader.

"I explained the concerns of Great Britain and other parts of the international community that any response be proportionate and that allegations of human rights violations be properly investigated," Blair said.

Putin said he would take steps to increase access to the war zone for international organizations, but gave no ground on the issue of holding peace talks with Chechen rebels.

He also stressed Russia's continuing differences with the West over Kosovo.

Local media reports noted the conspicuous absence of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who has not received Putin's support in his bid for re-election in May.

Putin also met with World Bank President James Wolfensohn on Saturday for talks on the upcoming release of two loans from the bank.

Russia hopes to get $100 million under a so-called coal loan some time this month and $250 million of a Social Protection Adjustment Loan in April. ()