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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Defends Chechen War to EU

APBelgian Chechens protesting in front of EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday. They demanded that Denmark free Akhmed Zakayev, who was arrested at Russia's request.
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Waving aside European Union appeals for moderation in the war in Chechnya, President Vladimir Putin on Monday defended the campaign in the republic as a crusade against international terrorists who threaten the entire world.

"We will fight these bandits and terrorists and hope we will be doing that through joint efforts," Putin said after meeting EU officials, who urged Moscow to ensure respect for human rights in Chechnya and negotiate a peaceful end to the war.

Putin said the Kremlin was considering political steps to end the war, now in its fourth year, but rejected talks with the rebels who staged last month's hostage-taking raid in the Moscow theater.

Putin met with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana.

"The conflict there cannot be regarded only as a terrorist problem," Rasmussen said, speaking on behalf of the 15-nation EU.

After his talks at the EU, Putin met with NATO Secretary General George Robertson, who more warmly supported his crackdown on terrorism.

"Russia has got the right to deal with breaches of law and order on its territory," Robertson said. Referring to the Moscow theater seizure, he said it was "increasingly clear international terrorist elements" operated in Chechnya.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking in Moscow, vowed Monday to keep fighting rebels until they are flushed out the mountains of southern Chechnya. Speaking of "tough but targeted" operations against Chechen rebels that he announced last week, Ivanov said, "We will continue these targeted operations until there are no bandits left in the mountains."

Putin and the EU struck a compromise to end a long-running dispute over travel to and from Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, which will be surrounded by the EU after Poland and Lithuania join the union in 2004.

Yves Herman / Reuters

Putin sharing a laugh with Prodi ahead of a news conference Monday in Brussels.

Under the accord, which takes effect next July, Lithuania will issue Russians with a multiple-entry "facilitated travel document" -- a polite word for visas -- to travel between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Lithuania reserves the right to deny any Russians permission to travel across its territory.

Moscow agreed by dropping its view that visas violate Russians' right to travel freely from one part of their country to another. Russians make 960,000 trips by train and 620,000 by car between Kaliningrad and the rest of the country every year.

The EU insisted on visas, citing illegal immigration, especially from Kaliningrad, an economic backwater of 1.5 million people that has significant health, crime and drug problems.

Speaking on behalf of the 15 EU nations, Rasmussen took issue with Putin's assessment of the situation in Chechnya.

"The conflict there cannot be regarded only as a terrorist problem," he said, adding the two sides had "a frank and open" discussion -- diplomatic language for saying they disagreed on Chechnya.

Some 100 protesters -- demanding peace in Chechnya -- demonstrated outside the EU headquarters where Putin and the EU met. Eight were detained by for trying to block Putin's motorcade and display a banner in front of the president's car.

Putin sought to steal the thunder from his critics by meeting with pro-Moscow Chechen officials and activists on the summit's eve.

Yves Herman / Reuters

Demonstrators protesting the war in Chechnya at a rally in Brussels on Monday.

He promised to back next spring's referendum in Chechnya to pass the republic's constitution.

But Monday he said Moscow will continue battling "religious extremists and international terrorists" who he said seek to create an Islamic state throughout southern Russia.

If efforts to uproot "terrorists" in Chechnya fail to win global support, there will be repeats of the Moscow theater seizure, the Bali resort blast or other recent terrorist outrages "all over the world," Putin said.

Russia and the EU also agreed to step up trade and economic cooperation and reported progress toward agreements to open Russia's insurance market, cut airline overflight rights over Siberia and end low energy prices making Russian exports of manufactured goods very cheap.

The EU estimates Moscow gives its manufacturers an annual subsidy of 5 billion euros ($5.05 billion) by keeping the price of natural gas low. At present, oil and natural gas is supplied to the Russian domestic market at around a sixth of the price at which it is exported.

Russia has been unable to attract foreign investors in sufficient numbers. Foreign investments in 2000 -- the last year for which complete EU figures are available -- amounted to 3 billion euros ($3.03 billion), half the mid-1990s level and well below the 44 billion euros ($44.5 billion) in foreign funds that China attracted in 2000.