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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Confirms Threats to Taliban




The Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman stood by a warning Tuesday that airstrikes could be launched against Afghanistan for supporting Chechen rebels, making clear that his threats were backed by the Kremlin.


Spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky had said earlier that the military might launch strikes against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, whom he accused of training Chechen rebels and plotting to export revolutionary Islam to former Soviet states in Central Asia.


The remarks drew fire from some. State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov said Yastrzhembsky "clearly spoke too hastily and gave his own personal opinion," Interfax reported.


But the senior general who led the first six months of the military campaign in Chechnya, Viktor Kazantsev, was quoted as saying he supported the idea of strikes if bands of Chechens were found to be based in Afghanistan.


"Why not?" Itar-Tass quoted him as saying.


Yastrzhembsky said he was reciting official policy. "On such matters, one does not give one's personal opinion," he told a briefing.


President Vladimir Putin last week gave a security guarantee to Uzbekistan, which says it is threatened by Afghan Islamic militancy.


In Kabul, a Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that the Taliban, the only government that has recognized Chechen independence, trained Chechen guerrillas.


"We defend morally the righteous cause of the Chechens," spokesman Faiz Ahmad Faiz told a news conference.


"The Russians were interfering in Afghanistan in the past and do it now, too," he said. "There are no training centers at all here. We have no resources to support the Chechens."


Yastrzhembsky's comments were reported anxiously Tuesday. ORT television called them "sensational."


Alexei Malashenko, a Moscow Carnegie Center analyst, said the comment was likely a trial balloon.


"One can look at it as a test, to see how the world would react. How will the Russian public respond? The international community? And even the Taliban themselves?" he said.


He said the Kremlin could be mulling strikes to build Putin's tough reputation, stoke nationalism, increase its clout in Central Asia and boost its stature abroad as a fighter against terrorism.


The military reported success in Chechnya. Interfax quoted Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev saying federal forces killed rebel field commander Abu Movsayev and six rebels.


In Strasbourg, France, the chairman of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly rejected as "really utter nonsense" Yastrzhembsky's charge that he was holding secret negotiations with Chechen rebels.


Lord Russell-Johnston said Moscow must have used spy equipment to listen in to a telephone call he made from Paris to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on May 10 to discuss the hostages and Russian prisoners of war held in Chechnya.


Yastrzhembsky denounced the telephone call Monday as a sign of international support for the separatists.