Putin Says Moscow Will Not Negotiate

President Vladimir Putin, in accusing Chechen rebels of staging the metro bombing, defiantly reiterated Friday that he will never negotiate with "terrorists."

"Russia doesn't conduct negotiations with terrorists -- it destroys them," Putin said. He suggested that Friday's attack would be followed by new calls -- presumably from Chechen rebel envoys outside of Russia -- for talks.

"This would not be the first time that we have encountered a synchronization of crimes in Russia with calls from abroad for talks with terrorists," Putin said.

Nobody had claimed responsibility for the attack as of Sunday, and Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov has denied any involvement.

But this did not stop Putin from pointing the finger at Maskhadov.

"We know for certain that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terrorism," Putin said.

Moscow has routinely blamed Maskhadov, who is seen as a moderate among the rebels, and radical Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev for past attacks. Basayev has sometimes later claimed responsibility, while Maskhadov has repeatedly denied involvement.

The Kremlin's steadfast refusal to negotiate is based on a shrewd calculation that any attempt to start talks would be perceived by a group of more radical rebels as a sign of weakness, and pave the way for attacks aimed at forcing Moscow to withdraw troops from Chechnya, analysts said. While Maskhadov has pushed for negotiations in the past, the problem is that he has no control over radical warlords in Chechnya who rely on funding from abroad, including from international terrorist networks, said Arthur Martirosyan, program manager with the Conflict Management Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Basayev, for one, has formed an entire unit of suicide bombers and may use them to blackmail Moscow if talks with more moderate separatists began, said Martirosyan, who helped mediate talks between Russian authorities and Chechen separatists in the 1990s.

"If they feel that such attacks work, it would lead to a very dangerous situation in which they would force the Russian leadership into concessions by threatening to carry out more attacks," he said.

In addition, talks are not feasible now because Chechnya's pro-Moscow president, Akhmad Kadyrov, would see them as giving Maskhadov a cloak of legitimacy on the Chechen political scene and try to derail them, analysts said.

It may make sense, however, to start talks with moderate rebels if the goal is to drive a wedge between them and the more radical fighters, said Alexander Pikayev, deputy head of the Moscow-based Committee of Scientists for Global Security.

In any case, if the Kremlin is going to continue to refuse to negotiate, it must make a better effort to hunt down rebel leaders and dismantle their groups. Pikayev said it was "outrageous" that troops and security services have been unable to do this in four years of fighting in the relatively small republic.

If the rebels are not uprooted, they will continue to pose a threat and may one day be able to carry out an attack of catastrophic proportions, Martirosyan said.

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