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Chechen conflict
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Chechen Conflict

Russia's military campaign in Chechnya was launched less than three months before the parliamentary elections, and its success took Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the top of the opinion polls. Russian voters, and most political leaders, believe military action is the only way to prevent violence spreading from the breakaway republic to other parts of the Russian Federation. They have reacted enthusiastically to a leader who has shown that Russia is both ready, and now apparently able, to assert its authority in the unruly Caucasus.

Mr Putin's public endorsement of the Unity bloc is seen as having given a huge boost to its popularity. The Union of Right-Wing Forces appears to have profited in the same way after declaring its support for Mr Putin.

The government's refusal to heed international criticism of the Chechen campaign may also have been a vote winner. (It has justified its action by arguing that Nato did the same in Kosovo.) However, if the Russian army begins to suffer heavy casualties, opposition parties are likely to turn this to their political advantage, as they did during Russia's humiliation in the last Chechen conflict of 1994 to 1996. Mr Putin now looks by far the strongest candidate for the presidential election in June, but his reputation has been made in Chechnya, and it could be destroyed there if Russian forces once again begin to suffer heavy casualties.