The controversial Kremlin-backed president of Chechnya claims that militants in the violence-plagued Russian province are backed by U.S. and British intelligence agencies.

Ramzan Kadyrov's remark was probably the bluntest claim by a Russian official that insurgents in the restive North Caucasus have Western support. Western officials have dismissed such assertions as nonsense.

A statement from Kadyrov's office Wednesday quoted him as suggesting that Western-backed mercenaries are fighting the government in Chechnya. It quotes him as saying, "We are fighting in the mountains with the American and English special services."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested during his presidency that the West was encouraging unrest in the North Caucasus.