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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Triggers a Reprimand

The most dramatic moment during President Vladimir Putin's news conference Wednesday was an emotional exchange between the president and two reporters over the war in Chechnya.

First — after Putin called on the U.S. government to allow Russian state radio stations similar rights to broadcast from U.S. territory as U.S.-funded Radio Liberty has in Russia — Putin's press secretary Alexei Gromov solicited a question from Radio Liberty. The reporter asked whether allegations of abuses by Russian troops against civilians might prompt Putin to change his strategy in the war.

In his reply, Putin repeated, as vigorously as ever, his statement that the military campaign in Chechnya was started to prevent the republic from being used as a launching pad for aggression against Russia or for attempts to build a fundamentalist Islamic state in the south of Russia.

Russia has to respect the opinion of the Chechen people but they should not be equated with the Islamic fundamentalists, he said.

"They say that in fighting them we are fighting against Chechnya and its people. Someone is seizing upon this deliberately or misses the point of the situation. This is my approach and I have no intention of changing it," Putin said.

Then another journalist, Alice Lagnado of The Times, started to yell from her seat that the president had not answered the question. Putin asked the aides to give her the microphone and when they did, Lagnado said: "Will you be able to explain to me, please, why are mopping-up operations such as in Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk happening? Can you answer me? How does it help you?"

"Yes I can," Putin answered, struggling not to lose his temper. He said one of the main tactics of the "radical fundamentalists" was provoking federal troops to strike back at the peaceful population.

"I am not convinced that federal troops always succeed in not falling for these provocations," Putin said. "I have said many times and can repeat once again: All that is done against the law, against the peaceful population, has to be found out and the culprits have to be punished."

As his tone was rising and he looked straight at the reporter, Putin went on: "In the Chechen republic before 1999, total lawlessness reigned — shooting in the street and beheadings. You must be aware of this," he said. "Thank God — or thanks to Allah — we stopped it. You might at least say 'Thank you' for this."

Today, he said, a legal system complete with courts, a prosecutor's office and public notaries is "almost completely restored." As proof that some Chechens support the efforts of the Russian government, Putin reminded the journalists that this year rebels have killed more than 40 officials and religious leaders who sided with the pro-Moscow Chechen administration.

"Why don't you ask me about that? Why don't you ask how we deal with these criminals? If they are being killed, there are people supporting us among Chechens," he said. "Did this logic not enter your head? I would ask you to think about this."