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Feb. 10, 2006
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The President Tells Shamil Basaev from Hamas
// Vladimir Putin explains the difference between Chechen and Palestinian terrorists
Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Leaders of the Palestinian organization Hamas to Moscow yesterday. He took that step in the Cortes Generales Senate of Spain, where he told members why he does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, but does consider Chechen rebels terrorists. Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov has the details on his comments and on what happened to Antonio Valdez Garcia, who disappeared in Moscow.
Yesterday morning, Vladimir Putin visited the Spanish senate. He and the senate members recalled the Spanish children who came to Moscow from Spain to avoid the civil war in 1936.

We called them children fleeing terror,' the president recalled the events of those times. (In the interests of historical accuracy, it should be added that those times were just over 20 years before the president's birth.)

Putin spent several minutes telling about the most burning questions of modern times. He characterized the behavior of the international community in the war on drugs in Afghanistan as helpless.

Nothing can stand up to it. Nothing, he said.

He informed the Spanish senators of the subjects the Big Eight will discuss in St. Petersburg in July. For the Spanish, who are not members of the G8 and reacted painfully to the fact that Italy is, Vladimir Putin is the one valuable source of information on the G8 agenda.

Chairman of the Spanish senate Francisco Garcia suggested that the senators ask Putin questions. The senators stood, asked questions ad sat down again with great discipline. I thought that they probably took their instructions too literally. The answers did not seem to interest them. Perhaps they considered the questions purely rhetorical from the beginning. The questions were Why don't you take the necessary measures to observe human rights, especially in territories that are zones of conflict? We are all very worried about Iran, You said that you do not consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Why don't you use the criteria you used for Hamas in relation to Chechnya? You consider Shamil Basaev a terrorist.

Immediately after those questions, the live broadcast of the meeting stopped. We had been watching it from a separate room. Our feeble attempts to reconnect to the broadcast through the efforts of talented Russian video engineers were interrupted by Spanish security. The security officers looked at the journalists who had been lured in by the questions with sympathy and showed with hand signs that they would slit their throats if the broadcast wasn't restored. I felt sorry for them, until I realized that the slit throats they had in mind were ours, not theirs.

From the window through which the meeting room was visible, I saw Putin tell the senators something without an expression on his face that left no doubt about which question he was addressing. He talks about Chechnya with that expression.

I was able to tell that the president was giving an exhaustive explanation of Hamas and Chechnya. Hamas, in his opinion, is apolitical organization, while Chechnya is a subject of a federation and the two cannot be compared. That is to say that Shamil Basaev is a terrorist and Hamas is not a terrorist organization.

Instead of the planned 20 minutes, the meeting lasted an hour. After that, Putin left for negotiations with Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, after which he gave a press conference at his residence.

Spanish journalists, like the senators, were enthralled by the question of why he doesn't consider Hamas terrorists.

Burning bridges, especially in politics, is easy, but not the most effective, Putin intoned. Led by that principle, Russia was not so hasty as to declare Hamas a terrorist organization. Now it has to be acknowledged that Hamas came to power through legitimate elections. We intend to invite the Hamas leaders to Moscow.

That information made a strong impression on the journalists. Putin spoke still more harshly about Hamas than he had to the senators. It is easy to imagine that his ideas will be most carefully analyzed in Israel.

As they had before he left for Madrid, the journalists asked again about what the president thought about Antonio Valdez Garcia.

As he had answered before he left for Madrid, the president answered that he doesn't know who he is. We have 145 million people in Russia, and I don't remember them all, he confessed. All the more so if he is a Spanish citizen.

It may be that Putin does not know him by name, but he is certainly aware of his problem. The Spanish press is concerned with the fact that Garcia, a Spanish citizen, went to Russia to testify in the YUKOS case. He was a mid-level manager in that company. Sometime later, information was received that he had been beaten up and then he disappeared. No one knows where he is now located.

A high-placed source in the Kremlin told me that, when Spanish journalist Pilar Bonet asked Putin before his departure about Garcia's fate, he promised her to handle the situation. He even found out that Garcia had dual Spanish-Russian citizenship.

The source thought that the whereabouts of Garcia had been established. He is in a psychiatric hospital in Moscow. They say that he had gotten carried away with alcohol in Moscow. But it is unlikely that that was what put the former YUKOS employee in the psychiatric hospital. There is no way for independent investigators to confirm that information either. They say he is in poor condition. Besides everything else, he fell out a window (and was not beaten up). The circumstances under which that occurred have not been established.

There are two possibilities: he fell or was pushed.

Putin did not say any of that at the press conference. He asked the Spanish journalist to explain who he was talking about. When the Spaniard said that he was talking about the same person who worked for YUKOS, came to Moscow and apparently was beaten up, the president said, You say yourself that he apparently was beaten up.' You have to know exactly what happened first. But I will certainly talk to the Prosecutor General's Office.

A Russian journalist wanted to ask the next question, but Zapatero decided to add a few words about the unfortunate Spaniard at this point. We have received a certain explanation from the Russian government, he said. There is certain doubt about his citizenship. Our Foreign Ministry is working on it.

The Spanish prime minister's caution was probably due to the fact that he knew more about the case than he was saying.
Andrey Kolesnikov

All the Article in Russian as of Feb. 10, 2006

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