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Russia: US Visit With Chechen Separatist an 'Unfriendly Step' - 2002-01-25


Russia is accusing the United States of an unfriendly act, because of a meeting earlier this week between American diplomats and a top Chechen separatist.

The foreign ministry said the meeting between U.S. diplomats and Chechen separatist leader Ilyas Akhmadov "runs counter to the spirit of cooperation and partnership between the two countries in the fight against terrorism."

The foreign ministry statement said "such contacts, no matter what justification, cannot be seen as anything other than an unfriendly step toward Russia."

It was the second time in recent weeks that Russia has spoken out against renewed Western criticisms of its conduct in the war against Chechen separatists.

Russia considers the war in Chechnya a fight against terrorism and has said there is increasing evidence of links between Chechen separatists and Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist group.

The U.S. State Department said it recognizes Russia's sovereignty over Chechnya. But spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday's talks with Mr. Akhmadov were with an individual and did not take place in any official capacity.

Mr. Boucher said the talks were just one of many contacts the State Department has had in its pursuit of a peaceful settlement of the Chechen conflict.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, relations between Moscow and Washington were at a high. Russian President Vladimir Putin had given his wholehearted support to the United States.

He and President Bush were also building a personal relationship that seemed to signal a dramatic improvement in ties between their two countries.

But once again there are signs of tensions. Toward the end of last year, Moscow expressed its displeasure with Washington's unilateral abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

And earlier this month Russia charged American diplomats with violating their diplomatic status, by taking part in a protest rally in support of a journalist convicted of treason. It is a charge the U.S. rejected.

Then this week, the Bush administration voiced its concern about media freedom in Russia, after the only national TV network outside Kremlin control was closed down.

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