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Russia blasts U.S.-Chechen meeting

Russian soldiers
Russian soldiers have been fighting Chechen rebels, who they blame for the latest deaths.  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has denounced as "immoral" a meeting between a senior U.S. official and an envoy of the rebel Chechen government.

The meeting came days after bomb blasts, blamed by the Kremlin on the rebels, left 23 dead, and also in the midst of a spy row between Washington and Moscow..

Russia reacted sharply to news after Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister of the separatist leadership, had had a meeting with acting U.S. Special Adviser for Newly Independent States John Beyrle.

"Offering a solemn welcome to the envoy of the Chechen fighters, the new U.S. administration showed with its trademark 'decisiveness' on what side of the international struggle against terrorism it stands," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

More than 100 people were also wounded in the blasts on Saturday and Russian investigators say they have evidence it was planned by a Chechen commander.

Akhmadov reiterated the separatists' denial of organising the blasts but the Russian Foreign Ministry criticised the rebels and Washington.

"Such a step by a great civilised power would have looked unnatural in the past. The latest bloody crimes by the Chechen terrorists in Stavropol region allow one to describe this Washington 'show' as simply immoral," the foreign ministry said.

The State Department also condemned the bombings, which undermined Russian assertions that it was winning its battle against the rebels.

A U.S. State Department official told CNN it had met with Akhmadov previously, most recently in October, 2000 at the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

The official said the U.S. wanted to get Akhmadov's "insights and inputs" on the current situation in Chechnya, and had met him as an individual, not a minister.

The U.S. reiterated its stand that Chechnya remains legally part of Russia and condemned the terrorist bombings

The official said similar complaints were heard from Britain when U.S. officials met with representatives of the Irish Republican Army.

The office of top Kremlin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky called the U.S. meeting with Akhmadov an "unfriendly act towards Russia," and accused Washington of hypocrisy.

"This step by the State Department has above all a political character and clearly reflects a policy of 'double standards' regarding Russia and the terrorist problem," Yastrzhembsky's office was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered a reduction in troop numbers in Chechnya, where federal forces returned in autumn 1999 to crush rebels who beat them in a 1994-1996 conflict.

Putin recently put the FSB domestic security service in charge of eliminating rebels who continue to pick off federal forces daily in ambushes.

Security forces said on Tuesday they had killed three rebels and arrested one other after police came under fire in Grozny, and Russian helicopters launched rocket attacks on guerrilla bases, Interfax reported.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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U.S. State Department
Russian Government

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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