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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Russian Casualties Adding Up in Chechnya; Clinton Expresses Willingness to Build Strong Relationship with President Putin

Aired January 2, 2000 - 8:07 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: For the third time in a week, the Russian military is accusing Chechen rebels of detonating bombs containing toxic chemicals in the capital Grozny. The state-run news agency says the troops were equipped for chemical attacks. Meanwhile, both sides downplayed their casualties.

But as CNN's Steve Harrigan reports this morning, it appears Russian casualties are adding up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the important holiday in the Russian calendar, but not all Russian soldiers have survived to see the New Year. 2000 finds the Russian army in the same place they were five years ago: fighting for the city of Grozny. Now the time of steady advances with low Russian casualties may be over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I can't speak for the whole operation, but on some days, we get 40 or 60 wounded.

HARRIGAN: Forty wounded at a field hospital with two surgeons.

(on camera): It's a different kind of fighting now, a face-to- face battle for the capital city. And the Russians are beginning to pay a price.

(voice-over): This soldier has been shot in the medic. The medics try to save him, but he dies before he reaches the hospital.

Dima (ph) is in better shape. His unit was cut off after their phone went dead. Dima was shot in the ribs, the back and the buttocks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): For three days, he crawled back to his base, until reconnaissance troops found him lying in the field.

HARRIGAN: His wounds were infected during the crawl. But Dima is expected to be walking again by the year 2001.

Steve Harrigan, CNN, Grozny, Chechnya.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: And despite differences over the Russian military offensive in Chechnya, U.S. President Bill Clinton says that he is willing to build a strong relationship with acting President Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Kelly Wallace joins us now live from the White House with more on that.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Colleen, during a brief telephone call yesterday, the White House says that President Clinton told Mr. Putin that the U.S. does have differences with Russia over such issues as Chechnya, but that the two countries have much in common.

Mr. Clinton also told Mr. Putin that he will work closely to build a strong relationship with him, and that he is encouraged by the smooth transition of power.

Acting President Putin, for his part, told Mr. Clinton that while they do have some disagreements, they are always together on -- quote -- "the core points." Mr. Putin also reaffirmed his commitment to Democracy.

Now the two leaders have spent some time together over the past few month, meeting two different times, including once in September in New Zealand, at the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. Mr. Putin, therefore, is no stranger to the administration. But U.S. officials do admit that they don't know him too well. He is described by these officials as pragmatic, as a hardworker, as a can-do person.

But one senior administration official also says he is a bit hard to read and said that the real test of how committed he is to Democracy will come over the next three months, before the presidential election.

We should hear more about the White House's assessment of Mr. Putin later this morning, when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the president's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, appear on Washington's talkshows.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, reporting live from the White House.

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