Russia Denies Allegations It Paid Militants To Kill U.S. Troops As 'Nonsense' A bounty program on U.S. soldiers would constitute a "massive escalation" in Moscow's testy relations with Washington, says one Russia expert. A Russian lawmaker asks: "What would we get out of this?"

Russia Denies Allegations It Paid Militants To Kill U.S. Troops As 'Nonsense'

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When The New York Times reported that Russia had offered bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, the Kremlin denied these allegations. As NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow, the Russian establishment wants to portray the claims as a U.S. political dispute.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Russian officials spend a lot of time denying accusations of Russian malfeasance, be it the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England or election interference in the United States. So when American media started citing U.S. intelligence officials that Russian operatives offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants, the denials sounded pretty standard.

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DMITRY PESKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it's regrettable that big name media are publishing hoaxes and lies that only damage their own reputation.

MARK GALEOTTI: Of course they're going to deny it. They're in the unfortunate position of having cried wolf so often, it becomes hard to know quite what to believe.

KIM: Mark Galeotti is an expert on Russia's security services with the Royal United Services Institute in London.

GALEOTTI: They don't mind being accused of being bad people. They do mind being accused of being fools. And there is a sense that, you know, how stupid do you think we are?

KIM: Galeotti says bounties would be a massive escalation in already bad relations between the U.S. and Russia that would not justify the political cost. That's also what Russian lawmaker Frants Klintsevich thinks. He calls the allegations completely stupid.

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FRANTS KLINTSEVICH: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: "What would we get out of this," he asks? "What would Russia get if the Taliban killed two or three American soldiers?" Klintsevich says the reports about bounties are more about a domestic political struggle inside the U.S., where Russia is being used as a boogeyman. Klintsevich served as a captain in the Soviet army's disastrous war in the 1980s against U.S.-backed guerrillas called the Mujahedeen.

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KLINTSEVICH: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: But Klintsevich says that didn't stop him and other Russian veterans from advising the Americans as they got ready to invade Afghanistan in 2001. The American war in Afghanistan, now twice as long as the Soviet's war, started less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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GEORGE W BUSH: Good afternoon. On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against the al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

KIM: President George W. Bush was new in office. And he found a willing partner in Vladimir Putin, then in his second year as Russia's president. Putin tried to use a common front against terrorists as a way of deepening relations with the United States.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: During a visit to Texas after 9/11, he agreed with Bush that terrorists should be hunted down in Afghanistan. Since then, U.S.-Russian relations have been in a downward spiral. But even so Mark Galeotti says it's unlikely things are so bad that Russians would have paid bounties on American troops in Afghanistan. He also discounts a rogue element within the Russian ranks.

GALEOTTI: That guy is not going to be able to get sign-off on large transfers of money without convincing lots of other people. The Russian security apparatus does not just simply hand out money willy-nilly. They're just like every other government bureaucracy.

KIM: As for Russian veteran Frants Klintsevich, he says he harbors no ill will toward the Americans in Afghanistan.

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KLINTSEVICH: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: He says, "the US military is doing the right thing by fighting terrorists." And that's why he's on the side of the American soldier in Afghanistan.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

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