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DATE=2/1/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA - PUTIN POLITICS NUMBER=5-45357 BYLINE=ANDRE DE NESNERA DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: // EDS: This is the second of two reports on Russia's acting president, Vladimir Putin. The first, Who Is Putin?, was issued 1/28/00 as 5-45337 // INTRO: Acting President Vladimir Putin is the heavy favorite to win Russia's presidential elections March 26th. In this report from Washington, former Moscow correspondent Andre de Nesnera looks at why Mr. Putin is so popular and asks if his presidential bid can be derailed before the vote. TEXT: Vladimir Putin has been acting Russian President since December 31st, when Boris Yeltsin shocked the world and announced his resignation. Before that, Mr. Putin was prime minister, having been chosen for the job by Mr. Yeltsin last August. The 47-year-old Putin is a newcomer to the high echelons of the Russian power structure. But many American experts on Russia say his 17 years in the K- G-B -- the Soviet secret police - his work as a municipal leader in Saint Petersburg in the early `90s and his various positions in the Kremlin bureaucracy over the past few years, make him an ideal candidate for President. Bruce Johnson - from the (Indianapolis-based) "Hudson Institute" - says Mr. Putin is a very shrewd politician. /// JOHNSON ACT /// He is astute far beyond anything Russia has seen since Stalin died and the difference is that Putin - besides having higher motives - also doesn't have the power of the state behind him to impose the sort of horrible programs that Stalin imposed. But in terms of political skills, he makes Khruschev and many of the other leaders since the 1950's look totally impotent. /// END ACT /// Analysts say a perfect example of Mr. Putin's political skills is the recent deal he struck with the Communist Party in Parliament's lower house, the Duma. Mr. Putin's centrist "Unity" bloc got key committee chairmanships in the Duma in exchange for naming a Communist deputy - Gennady Seleznev - as speaker. The move angered reform-minded politicians, who staged a brief boycott of the Duma. Ian Bremmer - head of the (New York based) "Eurasia Group" - says Mr. Putin will have to use many of his political skills in the months ahead if he is going to regain the support of his one-time allies. /// BREMMER ACT /// He is going to have to make compromises to bring those reformers back on board. He is going to have to make compromises and back away from the communists if he wants the reformers' support and participation in the government after his assumed election in March. And he is also going to have to step on a lot of communist toes if he wants the parliament to actually put forward a lot of this new (reform-minded)legislation which many in the Communist Party haven't supported. /// END ACT // Recent public opinion surveys make Mr. Putin the clear favorite in the March 26th presidential elections. One of the reasons for such popularity is his strong military stance against separatists in Russia's Caucasus region of Chechnya. But Mike McFaul - from the (Washington-based) "Carnegie Institute" says the Chechen military campaign is not the only reason for his strong showing among Russians. /// McFAUL ACT /// That (the Chechen campaign) was most certainly important to launch his career. Think of it like a rocket sending a satellite into space. The first `booster rocket' was certainly the Chechen war. But after that - and opinion polls show that very clearly - he is just popular for the simple fact that he is a new, young leader who is doing things on a lot of fronts. For instance on the economy, people are much more optimistic about the economy under Putin than they were six months ago under Yeltsin. People claim that their wages have been paid in a more prompt fashion under Putin than under Yeltsin. So this suggests there has been a real sea change, with a new, young dynamic leader at the top. This is exactly what the Russian people have been waiting for for several years - and that is what accounts for his overwhelming popularity right now. /// END ACT /// Mr. Putin's overwhelming popularity prompts the question: Can he be stopped in his quest to become Russia's next president? Ariel Cohen - from the (Washington-based) "Heritage Foundation" - says one development could derail his presidential train. /// COHEN ACT /// And that's a disaster in the field in Chechnya. A military disaster that will demonstrate conclusively that the Russian strategy in Chechnya failed, will be a very serious blow to Putin and his popularity. But being the shrewd politician that he is, he may then find scapegoats in the military - as he already did, by the way, for some serious setbacks the Russians suffered in Grozny. /// OPT /// He fired a couple of Generals: General Troshov and General Shamanov. So Putin, being a shrewd guy he is, may walk away even from a disastrous development in Chechnya. /// END OPT /// /// END ACT /// Many long-time analysts of Russia say the country's history has taught them to expect the unexpected. But in the case of Mr. Putin - right now - they say he seems unstoppable. (Signed) NEB/ADEN/KL 01-Feb-2000 13:26 PM EDT (01-Feb-2000 1826 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .