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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
Putin begins shaping government
Russian forces are reported to have stormed the village of Tsentoroi
Russian forces are reported to have stormed the village of Tsentoroi
Russia's President-elect, Vladimir Putin, has extended the contract of the country's Defence Minister, Igor Sergeyev, amid indications that most new cabinet appointments will be delayed for a month.

Defence analysts say the decision indicates that Marshal Sergeyev will keep his job in that reshuffle, and that Mr Putin is aiming to preserve stability in the armed forces while hostilities continue in Chechnya.



He asked me to tell the members of the cabinet not to get agitated

Mikhail Kasyanov
The First Deputy Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, said Mr Putin had called on ministers to continue work as usual, as government changes would not take place until the presidential inauguration on 5 May.

"He asked me to tell the members of the cabinet not to get agitated," Mr Kasyanov said after meeting Mr Putin in the Kremlin.

"There remains more than a month to the inauguration and we have to mobilise our strength and carry out the required tasks, especially in the economy and social sphere."

Mr Putin remains prime minister until the inauguration, and Mr Kasyanov has been tipped as his most likely successor.

Clashes

In Chechnya there were reports of clashes between rebels and federal troops near the village of Tsentoroi, in eastern Chechnya.


Russian soldiers search for a sniper in Grozny
Russian soldiers hunt for a sniper in Grozny
Both sides reported inflicting dozens of casualties on the other, in what the rebels said was a four-hour battle.

Russia's chief spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said federal troops stormed the village to expel between 150 and 300 guerrillas.

Reports posted on the rebels' Kavkaz-Center website said guerrillas had launched attacks at various points in the Argun gorge, in the southern mountains.

'Grozny infiltrated'

Interfax quoted military sources as saying aircraft had flown 120 sorties in the previous 24 hours, attacking targets in Tsentoroi and the mountains.



No large rebel formations have entered Grozny, and they won't either

General Valery Manilov
A top army officer, General Valery Manilov, also acknowledged that 300 or 400 rebels had entered the devastated Chechen capital, Grozny - though he denied reports that fighters had broken Russian lines.

"No large formations have entered Grozny, and they won't either," he said.

In Geneva a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said about 1,000 people had fled the mountains for the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia in the past week.

Marshal Sergeyev said he had briefed Mr Putin about the current situation in Chechnya and the prospects for development.

Meanwhile an opinion poll published on Tuesday suggested that only 12% of Russians believe official reports that the rebels are almost defeated.

Just over half of those polled said they were braced for a prolonged guerrilla war.

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | Europe
Putin's foreign policy riddle
27 Mar 00 | Europe
What now for Chechnya?
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