British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow praising him for his role in helping build an international front against terrorism.
Mr. Blair praised his Russian host for the help he has given, saying he wanted to pay tribute to Mr. Putin's strength and to the Russian people in dealing with the recent events. "The fact that Russia has shown its solidarity with the victims of the 11 of September is source of tremendous support and deep comfort at this time," he said.
Mr. Blair noted that Russia already had experience dealing with terrorism, after what he called the "appalling terrorist acts of 1999," when hundreds of people were killed in a series of apartment blasts in Russia. The Russian government blames the attacks on rebels fighting in the breakaway region of Chechnya, but no one has been convicted in the terrorist acts.
The British prime minister emphasized cooperation on the terrorism issue is a new opportunity for Russia and the West to move past their Cold War era relationship and forge a new partnership.
Mr. Blair flew to Moscow on Thursday evening after addressing the British parliament. During the address he said there was no doubt Osama bin Laden is the culprit in the attacks against Washington and New York but that the world must make providing humanitarian help to people in Afghanistan a top priority.
The Russian president said he was in full agreement with Mr. Blair on these points and emphasized that their fight is not against the Afghan people but against Mr. bin Laden and those who help him.
The atmosphere surrounding the meeting took on an added air of urgency with the news that officials here were investigating whether a terrorist act could have been involved in the crash of a Russian jet.
Siberia Airlines flight 1812 went down in the 1,000 meters deep water of the Black Sea, some 185 kilometers southwest of the resort town of Sochi. Reports from air crews in the area said they saw a plane explode in mid air then crash into the sea. President Putin said earlier the crash is possibly the result of terrorism, but during Thursday's news conference, he brushed off reports the plane was accidentally shot down by Ukrainian military who were doing exercises in the region.
Mr. Putin said the military hardware the Ukrainians were using did not have the range to shoot down the Russian plane.
Mr. Blair's office has not revealed details of his trip but reports in the British press indicate that he will be leaving for Pakistan on Friday morning and then to Oman, where some 20,000 British troops are conducting long-planned military maneuvers.