Yesterday's EU-Russia summit in Brussels was punctuated by some tough talk from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Chechnya. Speaking at a joint press conference after the summit, Putin accused Chechen separatists of trying to create a "caliphate" in Russia that threatens Christians, atheists, and moderate Muslims alike.
Prague, 12 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin uttered some harsh words against Chechen separatists and radical Islam in Brussels yesterday.
Flanked by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and other top-ranking EU officials to his left, Putin unleashed a verbal attack, accusing Chechen separatists of being part of a radical Islamic movement that is trying to establish a "caliphate" in order to take over the world. "The creation of a caliphate on the territory of the Russian Federation is only part of their plan. In fact, if you are following the situation, you surely know that the radicals are pursuing a larger goal: They are talking about the creation of a world caliphate and the need to kill Americans and their allies," Putin said.
The comments, coming at a press conference after a generally amicable EU-Russia summit, were prompted by the question from a French journalist. He asked whether Russia wasn't concerned that in trying to eradicate terrorism in Chechnya it would also eradicate the civilian population.
Putin, looking tense, began his answer with a general statement that the war in Chechnya was part of the larger global war on terrorism.
As he spoke, he grew visibly more and more upset. He stressed that Russia had tried to be good to the Chechens in the beginning and had even granted de facto independence to Chechnya in 1995. He said nothing had helped and that Chechen separatism had undergone a change under the influence of international terrorists and religious radicals.
At this point, he appeared to lose his temper, saying almost everyone in the world, including the French journalist, was threatened. "You [addressing the French journalist] are in danger. They speak about the necessity of killing of all kafirs [nonbelievers], all non-Muslims, all 'crossbearers,' as they call them. If you are a Christian, you are in danger. But if you reject your religion and become an atheist, you are also slated for liquidation, according to their way of thinking and their rules. You are in danger if you decide to become a Muslim. Even this will not save you because they consider traditional Islam to be hostile to their aims. Even in this case, you are in danger," Putin said.
He finished the tirade with some straightforward advice for the journalist. "If you want to become a complete Islamic radical and are ready to undergo circumcision, then I invite you to come to Moscow. We are a multidenominational country. We have specialists on this question. I will recommend that they carry out the operation in such a way so that afterward, nothing else will grow," Putin said.
Putin was speaking in Russian through an interpreter who translated the passage in a softer way: "If you want to become an Islamic radical and if you'd like to get your circumcision, please come to Moscow. We are a multiconfessional, multiethnic nation. Please come. You are welcome and everything and everyone is tolerated in Moscow."
Russia's NTV television later broadcast the comments verbatim.
Perhaps because of the way the comments were originally broadcast, they elicited little immediate public reaction from Putin's EU hosts.
The issue of Chechnya reportedly played little role in the formal summit discussions, which were dominated by the issue of Kaliningrad. But certainly Putin's comments ran counter to the EU position.
Speaking ahead of Putin at the press conference, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Chechnya was not simply a terrorist question but a political one as well. He called on both sides to respect human rights. "The conflict in Chechnya cannot be regarded only as a terrorist problem. A political solution is the only way to a lasting peace. The European Union will continue to closely follow the developments. Both sides must respect human rights, and those who don't must be brought to trial without delay," Rasmussen said.
This is not the first time Putin has lost his temper while speaking about Chechnya. In 1999, at the beginning of the current Chechen military campaign, Putin publicly promised "to wipe out the 'terrorists' in the outhouse," choosing to use a particularly profane phrase borrowed from the Russian underworld.