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DATE=1/28/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=WHO IS PUTIN? NUMBER=5-45337 BYLINE=ANDRE DE NESNERA DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: /// EDS: This is the first of two reports on Vladimir Putin. /// INTRO: Russia's acting president - Vladimir Putin - continues to be the favorite to win the country's presidential elections scheduled March 26th. In this report from Washington, former Moscow correspondent Andre de Nesnera looks at what is known about the man who may lead Russia in the years ahead. TEXT: Forty-seven-year-old Vladimir Putin has been Russia's acting President since December 31st, when Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly announced his resignation. Before taking over the presidency, Mr. Putin was prime minister - chosen for the job by Mr. Yeltsin last August. And now, with presidential elections set for March 26th, he is the overwhelming favorite to lead Russia for the next four years. Despite his meteoric rise to power, many Russians - and western analysts - still ask the question: who is Mr. Putin and what does he really stand for? His official biography is sketchy. A graduate of the prestigious Leningrad law faculty, Mr. Putin joined the Soviet secret police - the K-G-B - in the mid- 1970s. He was sent to East Germany and remained there until the end of the 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Mr. Putin shifted gears and associated himself with the liberal mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. He served first as the city's head of external relations - responsible for getting foreign investments into the city - then became St. Petersburg's deputy-mayor (1994). Mr. Putin returned to Moscow, after Mr. Sobchak was defeated in St. Petersburg's 1996 elections for governor. A few years later, Mr. Putin was named to head the Federal Security Service - the K-G-B's domestic successor. He then became prime minister and acting president - a position he now holds. Western analysts are debating whether Mr. Putin is a reformer - given his track record in St. Petersburg - or is he more bent on authoritarianism - given his history in the secret services. Or, is he somewhere in between? Bruce Johnson - with the Hudson Institute - says there are positive elements in the way Mr. Putin addresses problems. /// JOHNSON ACT /// We know of an incident in the mid `90's when he was, of course, one of the powers in the city of St. Petersburg - when a group of American entrepreneurs were trying to get butter and badly needed dairy products into Russia which were being donated, as a matter of fact. It was being blocked by the communists - completely - because they wanted their cut. And the group was not willing to pay this corrupt fee to get things into the hands of the people. Putin personally solved this. He took five weeks to do it - and at no time did he take credit and at no time did he ask for credit. And he actually blocked three attempts by people to take some of the butter for their "payment." We have a lot of incidents like that that give me a lot of hope. /// END ACT /// Most analysts agree it is unlikely Mr. Putin will go back to the days of Soviet-style command economy. But many analysts say while Mr. Putin is in favor of a market economy, they question his commitment to democratic principles. One of them is Marshal Goldman, from Harvard University. /// GOLDMAN ACT /// He has basically begun to re-institute some controls over the press which brings back the threat of censorship. There has also been an effort to try and control the (computer internet world wide) web - the e-mail - so that the K-G- B, or the new version of the K-G-B, will have access to that. So these are all what I would call "dark clouds." But he does also talk about trying to bring back investment and trying to bring about the market. And I suspect what ultimately we will end up with is a man who relies very heavily on the government, who shows his feelings for the K-G-B and strong state control - but who at the same time will try periodically to move towards a market. /// END ACT /// Many western experts say it would be foolish for Mr. Putin to reveal all his cards in the midst of a presidential campaign. Ariel Cohen - with the "Heritage Foundation" - says Mr. Putin, at this time, has one goal in mind. /// COHEN ACT /// He is a consummate politician and the main thing for a politician is to gain power and remain in power. That is priority number one: to get elected, to make the communist opposition to himself somewhat duller in the March 26th presidential elections. And to try to position himself as appealing to all sectors of Russian society: reformer and nationalist, moderate, communist and right-winger. That is the supreme task of Vladimir Putin - and so far, he has had many more successes than mistakes going down that road. /// END ACT /// In the short-term, analysts say Mr. Putin remains a mystery. They say his true colors will come out after the March 26th presidential elections which he is expected to win. (Signed) NEB/ADEN/JP 28-Jan-2000 16:53 PM EDT (28-Jan-2000 2153 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .