Moscow, 25 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin says the priority is to keep alive the roughly 700 people held captive by Chechen militants as the Moscow theater hostage crisis is now entering its third night. Speaking to Russian lawmakers, Putin today said he is "open to all contacts" to keep the way for negotiations open to solve the crisis but he did not elaborate. "We are open to all contacts. All my proposals remain in force."
The group of some 40 militants is threatening to blow the building up unless Russia pulls its troops out of Chechnya. They have shot dead one woman since seizing the theater on 23 October.
A Kremlin spokesman (Aleksandr Machevsky) confirmed that the hostage takers threatened to begin shooting their captives if their demands are not met.
But he said there has been progress in negotiations with the militants, notably the release earlier of 15 hostages and an agreement by the rebels to allow food and water to be delivered inside the building. He later told Interfax that the gunmen released four Azerbaijani hostages tonight, bringing the total number of hostages freed today to 19.
Earlier, the head of the FSB security service, Nikolai Patrushev, said authorities will spare the hostage takers' lives if they free their captives.