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Putin Asks Saudi Arabia's Help to Rebuild Chechnya - 2004-01-18


Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Saudi Arabia for help in dealing with the ongoing war in mostly-Muslim Chechnya, the breakaway region located in southern Russia.

In his message to Saudi leaders, President Putin asked them to support his efforts to bring stability to Chechnya and to help finance reconstruction efforts in the war-torn region.

The message was delivered to Saudi Arabia's de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, during an official visit to Riyadh by the pro-Kremlin leader of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov. He is in Saudi Arabia to lead a delegation of Chechen pilgrims on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The Chechen leader says Saudi officials agreed to provide financial assistance to help rebuild Chechnya, which has been devastated by nearly a decade of conflict between Russian troops and Chechen separatist fighters.

Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia were given a major boost last September when the crown prince visited Moscow. The visit was made largely to discuss commercial relations between two of the world's leading exporters of oil.

It also signaled an interest by Mr. Putin to reach out to the Muslim world. Soon after the visit the Russian president attended a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia. He was there as the leader of a country that has millions of Muslims within its borders, mostly in Chechnya and neighboring republics in the Caucasus Mountain region.

Mr. Putin's message to the Saudis also referred to Arab fighters known to be fighting alongside Chechens in the war against Russia. Many of them adhere to the strict Islamic creed known as Wahhabism that is dominant in much of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Putin has long tried to frame the conflict in Chechnya as a fight against international terrorism, pointing to the presence of foreign fighters as proof.

Tens-of-thousands of people have been killed during the conflict in which Russia stands accused by human-rights groups of numerous abuses committed against Chechen civilians.

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