Europe

Russia's Putin: US agents gave direct help to Chechens

Chechen militants pose for press, as they stay atop APC, with graffiti in graffiti Cyrillic Akbar in Grozny Friday, Dec. 17, 1999. Image copyright AP
Image caption Chechen militants had direct contact with US intelligence in Azerbaijan, the Russian leader says

Vladimir Putin has accused US agents of directly aiding rebel fighters in the second Chechen war.

The Russian President made the comments in a film on state-run television marking his 15 years in power.

The documentary gives considerable time to the conflict in the North Caucasus, a battle for independence that mutated into an Islamist insurgency.

Mr Putin accuses the West of trying to tear Russia apart by supporting terrorists.

"Our security services recorded direct contact between North Caucasus fighters and representatives of US intelligence in Azerbaijan," Mr Putin discloses in the lengthy film.

Once informed, he says, US President George W Bush promised to "kick ass".

But he claims US intelligence then wrote to their Russian counterparts instead, proclaiming a right to support all "opposition forces" in the country.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Russia launched its second incursion into Chechnya in 1999, three years after withdrawing

The first, devastating war with Chechen separatists ended with Russian troops forced to withdraw in 1996.

Three years later, Mr Putin launched a second campaign vowing to "wipe out the terrorists".

The war was punctuated by attacks within Russia by Chechens, including the Beslan school siege in 2004 that left more than 300 people dead.

The revelation fits President Putin's often-repeated narrative of a Russia that sought strong ties with the West as equals after the end of the Cold War, only to be constantly deceived and rebuffed.

"Even I thought that with the end of the ideological barrier in the form of the Communist Party's monopoly on power, things would change radically," Mr Putin says.

"But it turns out […] there are geopolitical interests not linked to any ideology at all."

Man of the people

The documentary highlights his efforts to rebuild Russia's military alongside the economy, both from a perilous state.

With a cast of characters ranging from former ministers to the patriarch of Russia's Orthodox Church, it centres on a fawning interview with Mr Putin himself.

The resulting portrayal is of a leader who barely sleeps: focused and determined, but a man of the people and a worthy opponent to the hostile West.

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Media captionLast month, Russian TV produced a lavish film on the annexation of Crimea

The film bypasses critical issues such as media censorship, the handling of the Beslan siege or the role of the judicial system in jailing oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

It is the second major production about Putin's Russia to be screened in a month, following a big-budget, special effects-laden film on the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Despite the economic sanctions and isolation that the annexation brought, Mr Putin declares he has "no regrets" over Crimea.

As for what pleases him most about his 15 years in power, he returns to the Chechen theme to conclude: "Keeping the country together."

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