A new PM at a critical time
by Rob Gowland The Duma (parliament) has endorsed former national security chief Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister of Russia. Putin was put forward by President Boris Yeltsin after the increasingly isolated President sacked Sergei Stepashin as PM. Parliamentary elections for the 450-seat lower house of the Duma are set for December 19, and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the largest faction in the Duma, clearly felt it was necessary to maintain stability in the country in the lead-up to the elections. Rejection of Putin by the Duma would have provoked a crisis that could have led to the suspension of the election process altogether. Yeltsin could have resorted to his favoured method of rule by decree, and the US and NATO would have moved in to support him. Already, the attempt to break up the Russian Federation that began with the Islamist putsch in Chechnya, has been extended into the neighbouring republic of Daghestan, with attacks by armed gunmen on border posts and villages, and hostages being taken for forcible recruitment into "rebel" armies. The Chechen Government has denied involvement, but Daghestani security services say the gunmen, mostly Islamist Daghestani "rebels", received their military training in Chechnya. Putin has already advocated using a firm hand in dealing with the Daghestan gunmen. Outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, clearly mindful of the Russia- Chechnya war of 1994-6 which ended in the loss of Russian control over the province, has warned that Russia could also lose Daghestan. Daghestan's people are in a dire state. Around 200 families control its wealth and hold power; the rest are said to be way below the Russian standard of the poverty line. Nevertheless, the State Council of Daghestan has given the go-ahead for arming the population. The Interior Minister has announced that any illegal weapons held by the population — "whether submachine guns or grande launchers" — may now be registered. The Union of Afghan War Veterans in Daghestan has announced a total mobilisation of its members and says 500 well-trained veterans are ready to fight the gunmen. Daghestani religious leaders denounced the extremist Muslim forces who sent the gunmen into the republic. "We cannot keep silent when calls to purify Islam are used to impose extremist religious views by force", Mufti Akhmad Khadzhi Abdullayev and Imans of several mosques said in a statement. "We call on all Daghestanis to avert interference in the internal affairs of the republic by foreign emissaries who sow religious strife." The sudden emergence of an ethnic-religious "Daghestan problem" fits into the bigger picture of the US-NATO encirclement of Russia. Significantly, the US-backed Islamic fundamentalist forces operating from Pakistan that carried on the war against the Afghan revolutionary government and Soviet forces supporting it, also played an active part in assisting the Chechen fundamentalists (and recently the Pakistani-backed fundamentalist incursion in Kashmir). "Volunteers" from these same US-backed fundamentalist forces also turned up within the ranks of the KLA in Kosovo.