Putin Says U.S. Special Service Contacted Fighters From Caucasus

U.S. special services were in touch with insurgents from the North Caucasus, President Vladimir Putin said in a documentary on Sunday looking back over his 15 years in power.

“Once, our special services registered direct contact between fighters from the North Caucasus and representatives of U.S. special services in Azerbaijan,” Putin said in the interview aired on state channel Rossiya-1. “When I told the U.S. president about it, he said ‘‘I’ll kick them in the backside.’’ Ten days later, the senior staff in the FSB got a letter from their colleagues in Washington saying we’ve maintained relations with all of the Russian opposition in the past and we’ll continue to do so.”

Weeks after Putin became Prime Minister in 1999, Russia sent troops to regain control of the breakaway Chechnya region in the North Caucasus after an earlier military campaign failed. Relations with the U.S. and its allies are the worst since the Cold War after violent street protests in Ukraine last year ousted the nation’s pro-Russian president, triggered Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and sparked a separatist insurgency in the east of the country.

Putin said his decision to take Crimea was driven by a sense of “historical justice” as well as the desire to protect the predominantly Russian-speaking population from being ruled by “extreme nationalists.”

“We did everything right,” he said. “I have no regrets.”

Since the power switch in Ukraine, Russian officials have charged the U.S. and its allies with wanting to achieve regime change in Russia. The contact with the fighters from the Caucasus could come back to haunt the U.S., Putin said in the interview.

“One should never use terrorists to solve short-term political or even geopolitical objectives,” Putin said. “If they’re helped in one place, they raise their heads elsewhere and attack the people who supported them the day before.”

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