Cherie and Putin set for human rights clash

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Cherie Blair has thumbed her nose at President Vladimir Putin and told Russian human rights groups she will help them mount a legal challenge against new legislation which they say drastically hinders their activities.

Mrs Blair told a meeting set up by Human Rights Watch that she would put the London-based legal chambers she helped found - Matrix Chambers - at the disposal of Russian activists to help them challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights.

The Kremlin law regulates the work of foreign and domestic human rights groups, making it easy for the government to shut down undesirable groups. Mrs Blair made the offer during a private meeting with some of Russia's leading human rights groups in St Petersburg, where she was staying with the Prime Minister, for the G8 summit. Mrs Blair, a prominent human rights lawyer, waited until the summit was over to make what is certain to be seen by the Kremlin as a provocative and meddlesome gesture.