Moscow, 16 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's State Duma today formally approved Vladimir Putin as Russia's new prime minister. Correspondents say most deputies in the Communist-led Duma were critical of Yeltsin's appointment of a new prime minister. But they appeared reluctant to give the Kremlin a pretext to disrupt parliamentary elections set for December 19. Under the constitution, Yeltsin would have had to dissolve the Duma and call fresh elections if the chamber rejected his candidate three times. Meanwhile, Russian military forces launched their latest attack on Islamic militants' positions in Dagestan this morning, striking 18 targets.
The Putin vote was 233 in favor and 84 against, with 17 abstentions. To win approval, Putin needed a simple majority of 226 votes.
Putin replaces Sergei Stepashin, who was sacked by Russian president Boris Yeltsin August 9. Before being chosen by Yeltsin as acting prime minister, Putin was head of the Russian domestic security service.
Concerning Dagestan, Russia's Interior Ministry said about 400 rebels have been killed since fighting started on August 7. The Defense Committee of the Russian State Duma said there are currently 18,000 Russian troops and militiamen involved in the Dagestan operation.
Rebel forces under the command of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claim to have killed some 20 Russian soldiers in the last 24 hours. Basayev met top aides today in the town of Botlikh and said his forces will mount a counter-offensive in the next few days.
Russia's Federal Migration Service says some 10,000 refugees have fled the fighting in Dagestan's highlands to neighboring regions in Russia.