On June 24, on the eve of his departure for Kananaskis, Canada to attend the meetings of the G-8, President Vladimir Putin held a press conference in Moscow. Three of the questions asked by journalists touched upon the question of Chechnya. In his comments, Putin condemned the “negative image” of ethnic Chechens that had been created in Russia. “The Chechen people,” he emphasized, “are guilty of nothing.” Concerning the ongoing cleansing operations being conducted in Chechnya, Putin affirmed: “It is impossible to improve the cleansing operations. They must simply be halted.” Putin’s remarks appeared aimed at the G-8 leaders, Western public opinion and Chechens living in Russia.
Asked whether a unification of Chechnya and Ingushetia was possible, Putin replied that “this is a question of a regional character. It can be resolved only by the Chechens and Ingush using the appropriate procedures foreseen in the law.” Lastly, in response to a question concerning the presence of armed Chechen separatists in northeastern Georgia, Putin replied somewhat truculently: “Bandits have indeed ensconced themselves in a part of Georgian territory, in the Pankisi Gorge…. No one, not the American special forces and not the special detachments of Georgia itself, can resolve the problem of terrorism in the Pankisi Gorge without the direct and active participation of the Russian special services and of units of the Russian army” ([email protected], June 24).