The United States has designated Russia's most-wanted militant leader as a terrorist.
The State Department on June 23 said the listing, approved by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would block the assets of Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov and sanction individuals or companies doing business with him.
The announcement -- seen as another sign of improving ties between Washington and Moscow – comes ahead of talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, in Washington today.
Umarov, who styles himself the "Emir of the Caucasus Emirate," has taken responsibility for a number terrorist attacks, including the Moscow subway bombings in March that killed dozens of people.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the order will "help stem the flow of financial and other assistance" to Umarov.
Crowley said the move supports the U.S. effort to "degrade Umarov's ability to exert operational and leadership control over Caucasus Emirates."
The spokesman said his designation as a terrorist "represents just one phase” of the U.S. response to the threat posed by Umarov.
According to the statement, Daniel Benjamin, the Department of State's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, said the designation of Umarov is "in direct response to the threats posed to United States and Russia."
The announcement was welcomed by the Kremlin. Anatoly Safonov, the Russian presidential representative for international cooperation in combating transnational crime and terrorism, told Interfax news agency that the U.S. decision will help Russia's counterterrorism efforts in the North Caucasus.
Safonov described Umarov’s listing an "asset” and a "good signal to all second-rate and third-rate figures abroad who have supported Umarov in some way.”
He also said it was an "example of practical cooperation” between Russia and the United States in the counterterrorism field.
Oleg Orlov, head of the Russian human rights center Memorial, said the U.S. decision is a “right step” but is unlikely to help in combating terrorism in the North Caucasus.
Russia is fighting a growing Islamist insurgency in the mainly Muslim regions of the North Caucasus that are plagued by corruption, poverty, unemployment, and police brutality against practicing Muslims.
In June 2006, Umarov was named president of the unrecognized independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and resistance commander after his predecessor, Abdul-Khakim Sadullayev, was killed. But Umarov soon gave up the independence cause, proclaiming himself instead the leader of an Islamic state encompassing the entire North Caucasus.
The State Department said Umarov had intensified a split in the Chechen insurgency between "national separatists and radical jihadists” that led to a movement seeking to create an "Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus with Umarov as the emir.”
The rebel fighter and his followers have claimed responsibility for a host of attacks in recent months. These include the March bombings of the Moscow metro that killed at least 40 and wounded 100 more; the bombing in November of a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train that killed 26 people; and the explosion last August that severely damaged a hydroelectric power station in southern Siberia.
Moscow authorities have attributed the dam explosion to technical and infrastructure problems.
written by Antoine Blua, based on agency reports