Makhachkala, 27 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today made a surprise visit to Dagestan where for nearly three weeks Russian troops have been fighting Islamic rebels. Upon arriving in the capital of Makhachkala, Putin met with Dagestani leader Magomedali Magomedov. Later today Putin is expected to travel to the region of Botlikh in the southwest, where some of the worst fighting took place. The rebels -- most of whom crossed into Dagestan from the neighboring breakaway republic of Chechnya -- are seeking to establish an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus. The Russian military claim they have driven most of the rebels out of Dagestan and are now carrying out "mopping up" operations. Moscow has vowed to destroy the rebel bases wherever they are.