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World - Europe

Angry Yeltsin demands swift action against Dagestan rebels

 moscow resident
Moscow has armed the Dagestan population to fight off Islamic militants

The latest fighting, shown by CNN's Jill Dougherty (September 7)
Windows Media 28K 80K
Russia's future


September 7, 1999
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EDT (2345 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- President Boris Yeltsin cracked the whip in Moscow on Tuesday after Russia's generals were caught off guard by a new onslaught from Islamic radicals in the southern Dagestan region.

Pushing aside his new prime minister and chairing an emergency meeting of the Security Council himself, Yeltsin denounced the rebels in Dagestan as degenerates and murderers. He ordered his generals to crush them.

"These bandits aren't Muslims. They have no nationality, no faith, no God, no Allah," Yeltsin said. "They're killers."

The militants poured across the border Sunday from the nearby breakaway republic of Chechnya. They now control several villages.

The Russian military retaliated by unleashing its heavy weapons, including war planes, helicopter gunships and tanks -- striking back at the separatist rebels.

So far the Russian forces have failed to repel the latest incursion of Chechen-led rebels into Dagestan or tackle a rebel stronghold in the center of the province.

Military gets tongue-lashing

Earlier, Yeltsin lashed out at the generals themselves for being unprepared for a devastating car bomb attack and a major new rebel advance over the weekend.

"How is it possible for us to lose a whole village? A whole region? How did it happen? Why are there more terrorist acts on military compounds than any other place?" Yeltsin asked in televised comments at a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "This can only be explained by the carelessness of the military."

The escalating battle in Dagestan is uncomfortably reminiscent of Russia's disastrous 1994-1996 war in Chechnya -- a conflict that no one wants to repeat.

"This is not a war ... this is an anti-terrorist operation," said Interior Ministry spokesman Oleg Aksyonov.

"It looks like a war," said Dmitry Yakushkin, Kremlin press secretary. "I would agree that it's extremely dangerous. You know, for years we talked about the danger of separatism in Russia. Well, here we have that real danger."

Islamic militants continue to fight for independence in the southern Dagestan region  

Political powder keg

Some regional analysts say Dagestan is exploding and Moscow is too weak to stop it.

"The entire political elite of the country is now preoccupied with dividing whatever is left of Russian authority, neglecting many real problems -- including the problem of the North Caucasus," said Emil Payin, an expert on the region.

Moscow has armed the local population to fight off the militants. Some experts say that plan is a ticking time bomb.

"What I'm afraid of in Dagestan is the republic becoming more and more like Lebanon in 1975," said political analyst Dmitri Trenin.

Yeltsin ordered his generals to be quick and tough in defeating the rebels, but no one is predicting a swift end to this conflict in the Caucasus.

Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and Reuters contributed to this report.

Insurgents seize Dagestan towns after deadly blast
September 5, 1999
Shoppers pack Moscow mall as bomb probe continues
September 1, 1999
Putin promises aid for Dagestan on surprise visit to front
August 27, 1999
Russia claims militants all but gone from Dagestan
August 25, 1999
Rebels say they're out of Dagestan; Russia says war contiues
August 23, 1999

Chechen Islamic militants (in Russian)
Russian Government Internet Network
Russia Today
Russia Alive!
Russian Resources
Russian Chronicles
Interfax News Agency
CaspianNet: Dagestan
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