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Russia's president visited on Monday a military unit in the southern
Russia's president visited on Monday a military unit in the southern republic of Daghestan, several of whose provinces suffered militant incursions from neighboring Chechnya in 1999.

Vladimir Putin, whose second term expires after next month's presidential elections, visited soldiers from a mountain brigade in the republic's Botlikh district. Putin is barred from running for a third term, but has said he will take up an offer to become prime minister if the man he has backed as his successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, wins the polls.

Accompanied by key federal ministers, Putin held a meeting with the brigade's unit command and later with local officials, focusing on the unit's operational difficulties and social problems facing the region.

Botlikh, along with other districts, was invaded by Islamic militants in August 1999. The insurgents seized several villages and declared the "independent Islamic state of Daghestan" as well as war on local authorities and Russian "occupiers."

In the subsequent fighting between the militants and federal troops, several hundred people were killed on both sides. In October 1999, after a series of apartment bombings in Russia blamed on Chechen terrorists, Moscow launched what has come to be known as the Second Chechen War.

Putin's tough handling of the conflict in Chechnya as prime minister under the late former president, Boris Yeltsin, earned him popularity throughout Russia. He was elected president in March 2000 after Yeltsin had stepped down in late 1999.

During his visit to Botlikh, Putin ordered the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom to build a gas pipeline network in the area.

Putin also urged troops and local officials to reach out to the local population in order to be able to tackle problems in the troubled, poor southern republic.

"All we do is for the people, for those who live on this soil, otherwise it is meaningless," Putin said. "Therefore, I am asking all of you to work in close contact with the population."

Although large-scale military operations are over in Chechnya, the republic and neighboring regions are still plagued by raids on federal troops and pro-Kremlin police and authorities.


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