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Russia 'targets terrorists abroad'

By Reuters

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters)
-- Russia is prepared to use warplanes to destroy terrorist bases abroad, Air Force commander Vladimir Mikhailov was quoted as saying on Saturday. 

"As for terrorists and our fighter jets, if we have high-precision weapons and know the whereabouts of a terrorist gang, why not smash it, even if it's outside Russia?" Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Russia, which strongly opposed U.S.-led attacks on Iraq in 2003, has battled rebels in the Muslim province of Chechnya for over a decade. Moscow says Chechen rebels receive support and funding from international extremist organizations.

Mikhailov, on a visit to the Volga region town of Engels, said Russia's need to strike terrorist bases abroad was linked to aspects of U.S. foreign policy, but did not go into details.

Russia threatened pre-emptive strikes on rebel bases anywhere in the world after Chechen separatists took a school hostage in the town of Beslan in September 2004. More than 300 people, half of them children, died in the siege.

Moscow has not specified where it thought these bases were, but has repeatedly accused Georgia of allowing Chechen rebels to operate from the Pankisi Gorge which borders Chechnya.

Critics are skeptical about Russia's threats, pointing to its crumbling armed forces, which have not recovered from a post-Soviet slump due to what analysts say are ineffective fund allocation systems and endemic embezzlement.

Mikhailov himself said in January that Russian fighter pilots got paid so little that it pained him to talk to them.

Copyright 2005 Reuters.

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