Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 114

On the third anniversary of the Budennovsk hostage drama, former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin visited the North Caucasus city and apologized to its residents for the failure of his government to defend its citizens. (NTV, June 14)

On June 14, 1995, a detachment led by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev raided the city hospital and took some 300 hostages. Basaev demanded an end to Russia’s war in Chechnya and the opening of peace negotiations. After an unsuccessful attack on the hospital by Russian forces, which led to significant loss of life, Chernomyrdin’s government gave in to Basaev’s demands.

The event was a landmark in modern Russian history. First, the negotiations that began after Budennovsk allowed the Chechens to regroup their forces (until that time, the Chechen resistance forces had been squeezed into inhospitable mountain regions) and go over to the offensive–with Chechnya’s military victory the ultimate result. Second, the Budennovsk events gave a sharp boost to Chernomyrdin’s popularity since he negotiated directly with Basaev and led the negotiating process. Budennovsk led the Russian population to see Chernomyrdin not as a mere technocrat but as a politician of national stature. Third, Budennovsk turned Basaev into a national hero and made this man, who belonged to the radical wing of Chechen field commanders, into one of the most influential politicians in the republic.

Yesterday, sources in Russia is Our Home (ROH), the movement which Chernomyrdin leads, confirmed that the former premier intends to run for the Russian parliament in an upcoming by-election in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug–the major gas-producing region in Russia’s Far North. Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom, which Chernomyrdin once headed, is the main employer in the region (see lead story). Gazprom is expected to back ROH in the 1999 parliamentary elections and may also back Chernomyrdin’s campaign for president in 2000.