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DATE=8/17/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=WAR IN DAGESTAN NUMBER=5-44077 BYLINE=ED WARNER DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia is again at war in the Caucasus and predicting victory over the rebels challenging Moscow's authority. Whether they will hold out as stubbornly in Dagestan as they did in Chechnya remains to be seen. Correspondent Ed Warner provides contrasting views on the outlook for the war in this latest Russian attempt to keep its territory together. TEXT: From Moscow's point of view, it cannot afford to lose the Caucasus, the pathway to Caspian Sea oil and to Russian influence in the Middle East and Central Asia. While Russia remains, it can block efforts by other powers like Turkey and Iran to become established in the Caucasus. But the area is hard to control from Moscow. Chechnya has slipped from its grasp, and now rebels in Dagestan have declared their independence, provoking another armed Russian intervention. Will it work better than the failed effort in Chechnya, which is now independent in everything but name? International consultant Enders Wimbush, vice president of International Strategy and Policy at Hicks and Associates, foresees failure: // WIMBUSH ACT // I see Russia causing instability in the region for the foreseeable future with these kinds of panicky, petulant thrusts which cause a lot of damage and a lot of bloodshed and only add to the radicalization of the region. But ultimately, Russia cannot control this region. It does not have the forces to do it. It does not have the strategic vision to do it, and it certainly does not have the leadership to do it at this point. // END ACT // The outbreak in Dagestan has coincided with yet another change of government in Moscow. The rebellion would challenge the resources of even a skilled, stable leadership, says Columbia University Professor of Political Science Robert Legvold. But the current one in Moscow does not appear to be up to the task. That is a shame, says Professor Legvold, because Dagestan does not pose as big a problem as Chechnya did: // LEGVOLD ACT // It looks as though much of the public in Dagestan is opposed to the rebels, which would be very different from the situation in Chechnya, where a large percentage of the population supported the independence movement. The question is whether the Russians, in dealing with this problem, resort to a kind of brutality that brings suffering to the population of Dagestan and then turns the population against them. // END ACT // A warlord from Chechnya, Shamil Basayev, has led the rebellion in Dagestan, which is one of the poorest regions of Russia -- with unemployment above 80- percent in its impoverished mountain villages. In their despair, people have turned to radical Islam, which enforces a harsh rule and defies Moscow. Moscow blames Islamist outsiders for stirring up trouble in Dagestan and warns Muslim countries not to get involved. There are accusations that terrorist Osama Bin Laden has been supplying arms to the rebels and may move to Dagestan himself. This is not a foreign problem, responds political analyst Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie research organization. He says this is the result of the extreme weakness of the state in Russia -- Dagestan is the weakest link. The links are snapping, says Enders Wimbush: // WIMBUSH ACT // The unraveling started several-years ago, this is just a continuation, perhaps an acceleration of it. One looks at a Russia today which is really four or five different Russias, with different resource bases, different kinds of political leadership. Moscow has very little power 40-kilometers beyond its border to control anything, even in the Russian regions. I think what one is likely to see in the next four or five-years is the emergence of very strong Russian regions. // END ACT // His words are echoed in Moscow by Yegor Stroyev, speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, who proclaimed -- the breakup of Russia is knocking at the door. Professor Legvold cautions, not just yet. Despite the inept, shaky leadership in Moscow, he doubts Dagestan will start unraveling Russia: // LEGVOLD ACT // I think it is premature to see this as the beginning of the end for Russia or even as the beginning of a general trend toward separatist movements. From the beginning, the situation in the North Caucasus has been different, and even within the North Caucasus, the problem of Chechnya is very different from what is going on in Dagestan or what might happen in Ingushetia. It is far from clear that other important parts of Russia have any desire to move in the same direction as Chechnya or Basayev and his forces, who are Chechens, after all. // END ACT // Professor Legvold and Enders Wimbush agree a political solution is necessary for Dagestan, requiring statesmanlike compromise on the part of a great power that has shown no great aptitude for peaceful negotiation. (SIGNED) NEB/EW/RAE 17-Aug-1999 12:38 PM LOC (17-Aug-1999 1638 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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