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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreign Support for Rebels Draws Fire

Moscow lashed out Monday at what it said was international support from East and West for separatist Chechen rebels.

The rebels staged fresh hit-and-run attacks on federal troops deployed across the North Caucasus.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman, said the Chechen leadership was receiving moral support from Europe's leading human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, and military aid from Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement.

He said Moscow had intercepted a telephone conversation between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and the Council's parliamentary assembly chairman, Lord Russell-Johnston, in which he treated the rebel leader and Russian authorities as equals.

"This approach is unacceptable, hypocritical and absolutely unconstructive," Yastrzhembsky told a news conference.

He said Russia expected an explanation from Russell-Johnston on his conversation with Maskhadov, against whom it has opened a criminal case.

The assembly voted at a session in April to recommend Russia's suspension from the Council of Europe for failing to stop alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, although the member countries' government ministers later decided against such a move.

Federal forces have been waging an eight-month campaign against the rebels to restore control over Chechnya.

Taking a swipe at a very different form of foreign involvement in Chechnya, Yastrzhembsky accused Afghanistan's Taliban of keeping up contacts with the Chechen leadership and of providing military training to rebels.

He reiterated an earlier warning made by generals that the Kremlin was considering tough measures to stop what it saw as a growing threat to its security. "I would not exclude the possibility of preventive strikes if there is a real threat to Russia's national interests," he said.

The Taliban, an ultra-conservative Islamic movement itself struggling for international acceptance, is the only government to officially recognize Chechnya as a state.

Yastrzhembsky said Moscow was in contact with forces under the command of the Taliban's arch-rival, Ahmad Shah Masood. Russia maintains a military presence in ex-Soviet Tajikistan, its closest ally in Central Asia, which borders Afghanistan.

Last week, President Vladimir Putin agreed to help defend another former Soviet republic, Uzbekistan, against Moslem extremists during a summit with Uzbek leader, Islam Karimov.

In Chechnya, rebels staged five overnight raids on police outposts. Policemen returned fire and escaped unharmed.

Yastrzhembsky denied a report by the rebels that they had launched a deadly assault on an army column Sunday, killing 27 servicemen. He said it was federal artillery that launched a pre-emptive strike, killing many rebels.

Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said by telephone another 20 Russians had been killed when rebels seized the mountain village of Zhani-Vedeno south of the capital Grozny. Yastrzhembsky denied the report.

He also denied media speculation that Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev had died as a result of wounds sustained while escaping from Grozny in January.