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Profile: Sergei Stepashin
Sergei Stepashin was a participant or observer in the following events:
Since Chechnya achieved de facto independence from Russia in late 1996, its stability has been slowly unraveling as an Islamist faction led by Shamil Baseyev and Ibn Khattab is undermining the Chechen government led by President Aslan Maskhadov (see 1997-Early 1999). On March 5, 1999, General Gennady Shpigun, the Russian Interior Ministry representative in Chechnya, is kidnapped by masked gunmen just as he is about to board a plane to fly to Moscow from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The Russian government is outraged, especially since Maskhadov had guaranteed Shpigun’s safety. Sergei Stepashin, who is Russian interior minister at the time of the kidnapping, will later say that the Russian government begins planning a military assault on Chechnya shortly after. Stephashin wants Russia to conquer the flat northern half of Chechnya and then launch strikes into the mountainous southern half. However, Vladimir Putin, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s intelligence agency, advocates invading all of Chechnya. By July, Stepashin has been promoted to Russian prime minister, and he says that in a Kremlin Security Council meeting that month: “we all came to the conclusion that there was a huge hole on our border which won’t be closed if we don’t [advance] to the Terek [a river dividing the flat northern part of Chechnya from the mountainous southern part]. It was a purely military decision.” Stepashin is dismissed as prime minister in early August and replaced by Putin (see August 9, 1999). Chechen raids into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan in August (see August 7-8, 1999) and a series of mysterious bombings in Moscow in September (see September 13, 1999, September 9, 1999, and September 22-24, 1999) provide the excuses for Russia to attack Chechnya later in September (see September 29, 1999). But Stepashin will later say: “We were planning to reach the Terek River in August or September. So this was going to happen, even if there had been no explosions in Moscow. I was working actively on tightening borders with Chechnya, preparing for an active offensive.” [Washington Post, 3/10/2000]
Yeltsin and Putin [Source: BBC]Russian President Boris Yeltsin dismisses his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, and the entire Russian government, naming Vladimir Putin as acting prime minister. Putin is the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the new name of the KGB. [BBC, 8/9/1999] For many observers, Stepashin was dismissed because he had been unable to become a politically viable heir to Yeltsin, who must step down in 2001. Putin, who is unknown to the public, seems to have been hand-picked mainly for his loyalty. [New York Times, 8/10/1999] The Russian news service Park.ru offers this fairly representative analysis: “Only a trusted person from one of the ‘power ministries’ can ensure the safety of Yeltsin’s entourage after his term in office, and the former FSB boss can prove indispensable.” [BBC, 8/9/1999]
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