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Putin-EU Talks to Focus on Anti-Terrorism


Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Brussels for talks with top European Union and NATO officials that diplomats say will center on building a common front to fight international terrorism. The West, looking for Russian support, is not likely to criticize Moscow's policies in rebellious Chechnya.

Human rights organizations are unhappy that the EU seems determined to soft-pedal its formerly strong stance on respect for human rights in Chechnya in its talks Wednesday with Mr. Putin.

Amnesty International has released a statement expressing its concern that the EU's determination to help forge a broad anti-terrorist coalition has put discussion of Russia's actions in Chechnya on the back burner. But one EU official told reporters the 15-nation bloc will continue to press Moscow to hold a political dialogue with the guerrillas in the breakaway republic. Russia says it is fighting a terrorist insurgency in Chechnya.

The EU-Russia talks Wednesday are expected to end with a joint statement that will underline the importance of close international cooperation in the fight against terrorism under the aegis of the United Nations. Mr. Putin will meet with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

EU officials stress that Russia has played a key role in the campaign against terrorism stemming from the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington since Mr. Putin gave strong backing last week to the United States and promised logistical and material support to guerrillas fighting Afghanistan's Taleban regime. The officials also praise Russia for allowing its airspace to be used for humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees and say Moscow should be credited for convincing former Soviet republics in Central Asia to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

Mr. Putin is also scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary General George Robertson Wednesday. That meeting will be held at an undisclosed location, not at NATO headquarters.

NATO, too, wants Russia to be as involved as possible in the global anti-terrorist coalition. Just last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the alliance there should be better coordination among Western and Russian intelligence services in combating terrorists.

The Russian president, who arrived in Brussels Monday night, spent most of the day Tuesday in ceremonial activities, lunching with Belgium's King Albert, meeting Belgian businessmen and holding bilateral talks with Prime Minister Verhofstadt. The Belgians, like many other EU members want Russia to shift its growing trade with the bloc from dollars into euros the soon to be introduced single European currency.

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