The Guardian August 25, 1999


Russia:
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.

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