Putin Makes Surprise Visit to Dagestan

ReutersPresident Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov visiting a military base Monday in Botlikh, Dagestan.
MAKHACHKALA -- President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit Monday to a military unit in Dagestan, where fighting in 1999 led to the Chechen war that first propelled him to popularity.

State-run television showed Putin speaking to soldiers in one of two brigades of mountain troops deployed last year in the North Caucasus under a decree he signed in 2006.

Amid persistent tension in the North Caucasus between civilians and government forces, Putin said the military troops and other security forces in the area must "maintain close contact with the local population."

"In the end, everything we do, whether in the sphere of security or economic development, is for the sake of the people -- otherwise, it's meaningless," he said in televised remarks that appeared designed to present federal forces as friendly to local residents.

The brigade Putin visited is based in Dagestan's Botlikh district, the site of armed incursions by Islamic militants from Chechnya in August 1999, the month then-President Boris Yeltsin named the relatively little-known Putin as his prime minister.

Federal forces entered Chechnya weeks after the attacks.

Putin also visited Botlikh in 1999. On Monday, accompanied by several Cabinet ministers, he met there with local officials and discussed economic issues of interest in Dagestan, Itar-Tass reported.

Putin ordered Gazprom to speed up work to run natural gas lines into Botlikh and a neighboring district, Itar-Tass reported.