Yeltsin also told the generals that regional conflicts, not foreign wars, are the main threat to Russia’s security. And last week, for the first time since the end of the war in Chechnya, Russian forces launched pre-emptive strikes on Chechen guerrillas, attacking with artillery and mortar fire. There are now 17,000 Interior Ministry troops in the northern Caucasus, half deployed along Chechnya’s border. Along one stretch of the border, Russian forces are digging a 68-mile trench, to be surrounded by a barbed-wire fence studded with surveillance towers. Ostensibly these moves are directed not at “official” Chechnya but at Chechen rebels who, in the words of Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, are “preparing a pseudo-Muslim state.” President Yeltsin is to meet with Chechnya’s official President Aslan Maskhadov in the very near future.
Syrian President Hafez Assad made a surprise two-day visit to Moscow last week. His trip overlapped an unannounced visit by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Probable topics of conversation: engagement of Moscow in a renewed Mideast peace process, Syrian arms purchases and a new push in the UN Security Council to lift sanctions against Baghdad.
Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin will meet Vice President Al Gore in Washington July 27. Economic topics are expected to predominate.