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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Flies to Caucasus on Chechnya's Birthday

Itar-TassPutin patting a child during a visit to Nalchik, in Kabardino-Balkaria, on Thursday.
NALCHIK, Kabardino-Balkaria -- On the 10th anniversary of Chechnya's declaration of independence, President Vladimir Putin made an unexpected trip Thursday to a nearby republic in the North Caucasus.

In Kabardino-Balkaria, Putin visited the university in Nalchik, the republic's capital, and laid flowers at a monument to Tsarina Maria, the wife of Ivan the Terrible, who ruled Russia in the 16th century. The monument is a symbol of Kabardino-Balkaria's union with Russia in 1557.

"One cannot have a clear idea of what is going on in the regions without visiting them," Itar-Tass quoted Putin as saying. "I shall travel around the regions in order to see things for myself."

After laying flowers at the monument, Putin chatted with people who had gathered to watch and kissed a baby in the crowd.

Click here to read our special report on the Conflict in Chechnya.Kabardino-Balkaria and other republics in the North Caucasus have seen kidnappings and other violence that has spilled from nearby Chechnya in recent years, and the president may not have announced the trip ahead of time for security reasons.

Last month, the prosecutor general claimed that security agents had thwarted attempts to oust the governments of Kabardino-Balkaria and nearby Karachayevo-Cherkessia. The prosecutor said the suspects involved were also linked to the deadly apartment bombings in 1999, which gave the Kremlin cause for sending troops back into Chechnya.

But in his address to students at the university, Putin praised local residents for maintaining peace in the region, Itar-Tass said. Putin also visited the village of Dugulugbei and was to stop by the Cossack settlement of Yeketerinogradskaya.

In Chechnya, security was tight Thursday, but it failed to prevent militants from unleashing attacks.

Five Chechen policemen were wounded when their patrol car exploded on a mine in Grozny, Interfax reported. The explosion followed a string of attacks over the past 24 hours that killed 12 federal servicemen and wounded 22, according to an official in the Moscow-backed Chechen government.

Also, a Chechen policeman was killed and four of his colleagues were wounded in Grozny on Wednesday when rebels fired on them during a patrol, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Tension has been high in Chechnya all week following a bomb explosion Monday in the Grozny headquarters of the pro-Moscow government during a meeting of top Chechen officials. A cleaning woman was killed in the blast, and reports said investigators were increasingly convinced she was responsible for placing the bomb in the building.

Sappers safely defused a 4-kilogram bomb in Grozny on Thursday, Itar-Tass reported.

In central Moscow on Thursday, police arrested about 10 demonstrators who staged a pro-Chechen independence protest in front of the offices of the Federal Security Service on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad, Interfax reported.

Moscow never recognized the rebels' Sept. 6, 1991, declaration of independence, but had to pull out its forces from the republic after losing a 1994-96 war with separatists, which left Chechnya de facto independent.