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Russia: Putin Visits Dagestan's Botlikh Region

Makhachkala, 27 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today spent three hours in Dagestan's mountainous Botlikh district, where much of the fighting between Russian troops and Chechen-led Islamic guerrillas has taken place over the past three weeks. Putin flew over the area and visited one of its villages, where he met Russian soldiers and Dagestani volunteers. He said in Botlikh that the Kremlin has allocated $12 million to help residents of Dagestani villages reduced to rubble by Russian artillery and aircraft. Putin then returned to Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala, for talks with leaders of the southern Russian republic. Putin arrived in Dagestan this morning on a surprise visit. Russia claims it has driven most of the rebels out of Dagestan, where they have been trying to establish an independent Islamic state. Yesterday, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev denied Russian warplanes had bombed base camps of the Islamic rebels in the neighboring breakaway republic of Chechnya. But today, the Russian military press center in Dagestan confirmed Moscow's planes had bombed guerrilla bases, although it denied any Chechen villages had been hit.