Cold War is over, Blair tells Putin after talks

War on terrorism: Diplomacy
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The Independent Online

Tony Blair declared last night that "the Cold War is over" after he met Russian President Vladimir Putin on his latest diplomatic effort to prepare the international coalition for action against terrorism.

Amid even tighter security following the Siberian aircraft crash, the Prime Minister held talks with President Putin in Moscow in a bid to strengthen the practical co-operation between Russia and the West ahead of any strike on Afghanistan.

The two leaders held a 90-minute meeting in the Kremlin, focusing on the impending military and humanitarian action, before driving out for dinner at Mr Putin's private dacha on the outskirts of the capital.

Mr Blair, who was informed of the downing of the Siberian jet while he was travelling to Moscow in an RAF VC10, heaped praise on the Russian President for his "strong leadership and vision" and willingness to work actively with the West to ensure global security.

The Prime Minister also used the trip to highlight further his claim in his Labour party conference speech this week that the world was entering a new era of co–operation. At their joint press conference, Mr Putin paid tribute in return to Mr Blair and, amid speculation that Russia was willing to approve a US build up on former Soviet soil, gave his strong support to any action taken against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.

In one of his most vociferous shows of support for military action, Mr Putin also warned that any civilian casualties in Afghanistan would be the fault not of the West but of the terrorists who ran the country.

Mr Blair, who was the first Western leader to visit the Russian leader after he won the presidential election last year, pointed out that he had had eight meetings with President Putin and many telephone calls.

"I think that is a very good indication of the strengthening relationship, not just between Britain and Russia, but a strong personal relationship which I greatly value," he said.

"I believe something is happening today which is immensely important. The Cold War is over and many of the difficulties of the past can be set aside. We have a real opportunity to forge new relationships.

"I think it is important that we do so because we face common interests and common dangers. We need Russia as a partner and a friend."

Mr Blair said that the events of 11 September had given the need for global co-operation, particularly with former Cold War enemies, a new "sense of urgency".

"The fact that we have Russia today strongly alongside other countries, including the US, all the European countries and Britain and giving its strong support against acts of terrorism, that's living proof, visible proof of the changed world in which we live. We are only at the start of what we can gain from this new role. We have to deepen it at every level."

President Putin said that Mr Blair, together with Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, had been the two politicians who had helped change the attitude of the West towards Russia. "As a result, the West now has a reliable partner in Russia," he said.

The Russian leader rejected suggestions that the West had paid no heed to his warnings about international terrorism in the wake of the bomb attacks on Moscow by suspected Chechen separatists.

Mr Putin said that he believed that any military action could be effective and accepted that the US would "do their utmost to prevent suffering and the killing of innocent civilians". If there were any such casualties, the blame for this should be "placed squarely" on Mr bin Laden and his followers, he added.

"The Afghan people is already suffering under the heel of the terrorist regime that has been imposed on it. Our principle goal is to rid the Afghan people of this suffering. It's clear that the terrorists have made the Afghans hostages."