On November 10, President Vladimir Putin held a meeting in the Kremlin with representatives of leading U.S. media, a verbatim transcript of which was published in the November 12 issue of Kommersant. In addressing the American journalists, Putin said, among other things, this on the subject of Chechnya: “We are waging a ground operation against international terrorism in the territory of the North Caucasus. The problem of Chechnya is much more complicated than just the problem of international terrorism. But it is a fact that there are international terrorists there…. We have lost over 3,000 troops in the North Caucasus to this day…. According to our information, there are 500 to 700 mercenaries from different Islamic states fighting there, many of them nurturing the intention to return to Afghanistan… to kill Americans, as they themselves say” (Translated into English by RIA Novosti).
As is often the case with the Russian president’s figures concerning the war in Chechnya, questions arise concerning their accuracy. Recently Putin’s official spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, claimed that there were only 200 Islamic mercenaries fighting in Chechnya. The Russian side has already admitted to losing over 3,400 troops in the present conflict, but a number of specialists believe that an accurate figure would need to be at least twice as high. An organization of the mothers of Russian soldiers contends that a figure of 10,500 would be reasonably accurate.