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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Offers Reporter a Circumcision

APPutin, flanked by Rasmussen, responding to a reporter's question during a news conference at the end of the summit Monday.
President Vladimir Putin's diatribe against radical Islam at a press conference in Brussels ended in embarrassment when he rounded out his reply to a French reporter with a crude joke, inviting him to get circumcised in Moscow, where the operation would be done in such a way as to make sure that "nothing grows back."

The vulgar comment, made late Monday, was immediately picked up by non-state Russian media but elicited a delayed reaction in the West due to translation problems.

In response to a Le Monde reporter, who questioned Russia's use of anti-personnel land mines and fragmentation bombs in Chechnya, Putin began, rather calmly, by saying that Chechnya was a "complex conglomeration of problems." He reiterated that the separatist movement in the republic had been overtaken by radical Muslims and terrorists who filled the vacuum of power.

"No one can accuse Russia of suppressing freedom," Putin said. "Russia de facto gave full independence to the Chechen republic [in 1996]. In 1999 we had to pay for it. Wide-scale aggression against Russia, the republic of Dagestan, took place under the slogan of creating a caliphate [Muslim theocracy] ... by tearing apart territories of the Russian Federation. What does that have to do with Chechnya's independence?"

People who inspire and finance Chechen fighters are "religious extremists and international terrorists," he continued. But Russia is only the first line of defense, he said, because "the radicals" have wide ambitions and "speak about the creation of a global caliphate."

As he became increasingly impassioned, he began to go through the categories of all those who are under threat from radical Muslims.

"They speak about the necessity to kill Americans and their allies. I think you come from a country that happens to be an ally of the United States -- you are in danger," Putin said in addressing the French reporter.

"They are talking about the need to kill all kaffirs [infidels], all non-Moslems, or Crusaders, as they say. If you are a Christian, you are in danger!

"But if you decide to reject your faith and become an atheist, you are also subject to liquidation according to their way of thinking. ... You are in danger!

"If you decide to become a Muslim, even that won't save you. Because they consider traditional Islam also to be hostile to the goals they put forward. Even in that case you are in danger!"

All of Russia's main television channels carried Putin's remarks to this point, also showing EU foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who flanked Putin, growing visibly uncomfortable. It was not clear whether their unease reflected what The Associated Press said was intermittent translation by Putin's interpreter or the blunt substance of Putin's remarks, which broke Western taboos of political correctness.

Putin went on to make a tasteless joke, which was edited out of footage shown on state-controlled Channel One and Rossia television and also out of the presidential press service's report.

"If you want to go all the way and become a Muslim radical and are ready to get circumcised, I invite you to Moscow," Putin said. "We are a multi-confessional country, we have experts in this field, too. I will recommend that they carry out the operation in such a way that nothing grows back."

Non-state NTV and TVS television carried Putin's remarks in full, as did Kommersant.

"That day which had seemed to begin so well ended in a big scandal," the newspaper said.

Kommersant and Western news agencies said Putin's remarks were followed by silence in the hall. The exact meaning of Putin's words was not immediately understood due to the intermittent translation, and the Western media picked up the story only Tuesday when The Associated Press provided a translation from the audiotape, AP reported.

EU spokesman Jonathan Faull described Putin's comments as "entirely inappropriate," AP reported.

Gunnar Wiegland, another EU spokesman, said Putin used "decidedly less robust" language when speaking on the war in Chechnya and Islamic fundamentalism during meetings with EU leaders.

Gazeta.ru, an Internet publication, said Putin's aides explained his outburst by saying the president was tired and angry about being grilled on Chechnya.

Monday was not the first time Putin had used strong language to express his belief that the Chechen war is part of a global offensive by Islamic fundamentalism.

But it came at a time of frayed nerves in Russia in the aftermath of the hostage crisis in Moscow.

Tensions between Russia and Denmark over a Chechen congress held in late October in Denmark, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, are just one example of the differences between Russian and European approaches to the problem of Chechnya.

This week's EU summit was moved to Brussels because Putin had refused to travel to Copenhagen.

Just before the question about Russia's use of force was posed to Putin, Denmark's prime minister had to answer an unpleasant question on why the Chechen congress was held with a grant from a Danish governmental organization and why its participants were issued visas with record-breaking speed, Kommersant reported.

Putin's main message appeared to be that Europe should see radical Muslims' true goals even when they are couched in democratic language.

"If the so-called freedom-fighters terrorize us and threaten to take over nuclear and other vital facilities ... we will either have a common interpretation of such activity or we will have a problem," Putin said. "I only want to warn you that you should not create any loopholes for these people. Anything, even the smallest trifle that's to their advantage, is perceived by them as a weakness and will be used by them against those who demonstrate this weakness."