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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 21:02 GMT
Putin's webcast missile warning
Vladimir Putin during webcast with BBC's Bridget Kendall
Moment of history: The Kremlin leaps into cyberspace
President Vladimir Putin has delivered a stark warning to new US President George W Bush over the dangers of pressing ahead with the "Son of Star Wars" programme.

Mr Putin, speaking during a historic live webcast on BBC News Online, said US insistence on the missile programme would jeopardise the entire international system of arms control.

Webcast topics
Star Wars - US is putting arms control at risk
Chechnya - Russia had to act against militants
Freedom of speech - safe, but media barons must obey law
Favourite music - Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Liszt
Current reading - Russian history and philosophical works
Favourite Western actor: Romy Schneider
Other interests: exercise, French cinema
The president's warning came as he spent nearly an hour answering some of the 24,000 questions e-mailed to the BBC and two Russian websites from readers around the world.

The event, carried live on BBC News Online, was conducted from inside the Kremlin. A relaxed-looking Mr Putin revealed aspects of his private life, as well as dealing with major political issues.

Mr Putin's comments on Star Wars came as he answered a question from a News Online reader in Australia, who asked what Russia's response would be if the US pressed ahead with its anti-missile defensive shield.

Putin during webcast
Mr Putin replied sharply to some questions....
The entire international system of arms control would be jeopardised if the project continued, he warned, as it would contravene the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

Russia's ratification of the Start II treaty was based on the ABM treaty, Mr Putin said, and if one ceased to operate, the other would too.

I hope very much that common sense will prevail

Mr Putin on his relationship with George W Bush

The president insisted that he wanted to work with Europe and the US to determine the nature of the threat from the "rogue" states, and to overcome it together.

But asked about his personal relationship with President Bush, Mr Putin said he did not foresee any particular problems, and he hoped that "common sense" would prevail.

Mr Putin also faced questions over his policies in Chechnya, where Russian forces have been accused of committing atrocities in the course of putting down a separatist rebellion.

The Russian army was forced to rebut a challenge by international terrorists

Mr Putin on Chechnya
Mr Putin insisted that Russian action had not been a war against the Chechen people, but against militants.

"The Russian Army was forced to rebut a challenge by international terrorists," he said, adding that some Chechens supported Russian policy.

Mr Putin said the webcast gave him the chance to deal with a "lack of understanding" in the west over what was happening in the Caucasus and Chechnya.

Putin during webcast
...but appeared to enjoy other subjects raised by readers
Asked about freedom of speech, he said Russia was democratic and would remain so, and reassured the reader who raised the question that freedom of speech was safe.

Media barons who had illegally privatised state assets, including media outlets, would be obliged to obey the law, he said - but Russia would not crush democratic institutions, or act outside the law.

The questions from BBC News Online readers were put to President Putin by correspondent Bridget Kendall. She and two Russian journalists, all armed with laptop computers, selected questions in turn.

If I came home and had a chance to put on some disc straight away, I would put on something by Tchaikovsky or Schubert...I liked French cinema very much

Mr Putin on his hobbies
The first question posed by a News Online reader was from a US resident, Jonathan Jones of Texas, who wanted to know which was more important - democracy or law and order. Mr Putin pledged his commitment to democracy.

Mr Putin also gave details of his daily routine - revealing that he exercises daily, loves Russian literature and popular classical music, and used to like French films.

The forum began with a question about the president's own internet use. Mr Putin said the internet was a "very promising" form of communication - but admitted he was a lazy user who left most of his surfing to his advisers.

He also announced a contest to revamp his presidential website, after a question from a Russian reader who complained about its current state.

Bridget Kendall says agreeing to the interview was something of a gamble for Kremlin aides, but they saw it as a chance to boost Mr Putin's image and show off Russia's hi-tech skills.

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See also:

27 Jan 01 | Americas
The battle over missile defence
30 Mar 00 | Americas
Q & A: Son of Star Wars
06 Mar 01 | Europe
Putin live: Transcript of webcast
06 Mar 01 | Europe
President gets personal
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