Russia Today - Moscow understands European concern over Chechnya but no change

Moscow understands European concern over Chechnya but no change

MOSCOW, Dec 11, 1999 -- (AFP) Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Friday he "understands the concern" of European nations over the Russian offensive in Chechnya, but insisted there could be no change of strategy, Interfax news agency reported.

"Russia understands and shares the justified concern of the world community and the European Union over the humanitarian situation in the north Caucasus," said Putin on arrival in Tashkent for a two-day visit.

EU leaders threatened Friday to suspend a number of agreements with Russia in retaliation for the offensive in Chechnya and a Russian ultimatum for inhabitants to leave the devastated Chechen capital, Grozny.

But Putin maintained that Russia would not bow to Western pressure.

"We don't believe that we have to change the strategy that's been chosen," he said, arguing that the sustained bombardment of Grozny was saving the lives of Russian soldiers.

"The goals that we have fixed -- the destruction of terrorism in Russia -- will be achieved," the prime minister concluded.

Meanwhile, the former mayor of Grozny who now heads a unit fighting alongside Russian troops estimated that the city could be seized by December 20, Interfax said.

Bislan Gantamirov, who heads a unit of 600 pro-Russian Chechens according to the Itar-Tass agency, took part in an attack Wednesday on the strategically placed town of Urus-Martan, 20 kilometres south-west of Grozny.

Russian military commanders have previously ruled out an invasion of the capital, preferring to overwhelm the last rebel strongholds through bombing alone.

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