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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 18:10 GMT
Putin: Russia must be great again

Acting President Putin discusses the Chechen campaign with senior officials

The acting President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has said he wants to rebuild Russia's military might and economic power.

Unless this is achieved, he said, Russia will not again become the great and powerful state it once was.

"Our country Russia was a great, powerful, strong state, and it is clear that this is not possible if we do not have strong armed forces, powerful armed forces," Putin said.

"We will not achieve this if we do not solve a range of problems in the economic and social spheres," he said.

Our country Russia was a great, powerful, strong state, and it is clear that this is not possible if we do not have strong armed forces, powerful armed forces
Vladimir Putin

He was speaking as the Russian military campaign in Chechnya appeared to be facing stiff resistance from rebel fighters.

The humiliating withdrawal of federal forces from Chechnya in 1996 and the effects of the financial crisis of 1998, are the major symbols of Russian decline.

Many Russians see Mr Putin as the man who can restore national pride, and he is the hot favourite for March's presidential election.

Pride restored in Chechnya

The BBC's James Rogers in Moscow says much of Mr Putin's popularity depends on his determination to prosecute the war in Chechnya.

His uncompromising approach in Chechnya and the perceived success, so far, of the campaign, have made Mr Putin the most popular politician in Russia.

Russia soldiers are facing successful Chechen counter-attacks

In recent days however, Chechen rebel fighters have carried out successful counter-offensives.

And a senior Russian general, Viktor Kazantsev, admitted that mistakes had been made by Russian forces, and the casualty figures among federal soldiers are rising.

A Russian government spokesman has told the BBC that Moscow now faces a guerrilla war.

If Russian forces do get bogged down in Chechnya for long periods of time, Mr Putin's popularity could suffer as memories stir of the last Chechen war, and public confidence in the campaign ebbs away.

One Russian newspaper, Nezavisimya, commented on Tuesday: "For the first time this new war recalls the events of 1994-96."

There are already echoes of Russia's last campaign when the Kremlin's forces would take towns only to withdraw again in the face of a counter-attack.

Our correspondent says Mr Putin knows that his showing in March's presidential election may depend on a successful Chechen campaign.

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See also:
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Analysis: Russian presidency a done deal?
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Russia's leaders: The race for the Kremlin
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Vladimir Putin: Spy turned politician
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