In a remarkably under reported statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin has apparently accused lower echelon U.S. government officials of meeting with known Chechen terrorists. On September 20, a few days before flying to the United States for his summit meeting with President George W. Bush, Putin met with several U.S. television journalists. Asked about Chechnya, the Russian president gave a long answer that mostly repeated points that he and his spokesmen have made before. But toward the end of his response he said the following (as translated by Chechnya Weekly from the text placed on the official website Kremlin.ru):
“The United States has now voted in the Security Council in favor of recognizing several individuals as international terrorists. The State Department has announced that it has included several figures in its list of international terrorists. But unfortunately we know that on the executive level there are continuing attempts at contacts with some people under the pretense that what’s happening is only work with the opposition. Even with people who are included on the United Nations list. These people come, say that they are ‘political activists’ and present themselves in all sorts of guises. But I assure you, I know about this precisely–they are maintaining connections with their allies in Afghanistan, including those who have gone there from the Northern Caucasus of Russia and who are fighting with arms in their hands against American soldiers. Such absurdities on the working level must be stopped, the sooner the better.”
Putin did not specify who the offending U.S. officials were, nor did he identify the terrorists with whom they had allegedly met. Nor did he provide any details about what he said he knew “precisely:” Chechens fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.