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DATE=3/28/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA REACT NUMBER=5-46025 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's newspapers have pronounced the country's political opposition dead in the wake of Vladimir Putin's resounding first round presidential election victory. V-O-A Moscow Correspondent Peter Heinlein reports on the consensus of the Russian commentators. TEXT: The liberal Segodnya newspaper called it "the rout of the democrats." Izvestia wrote, "The time of romantic democracy has past, and we have come to the time of pragmatists." The mass circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets splashed across its front page, "The revolution is over. Forget about it." If Vladimir Putin was the runaway winner in Sunday's presidential election, Russia's press pronounced liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky the big loser. During the campaign, Mr. Yavlinsky predicted he would edge out Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and force a runoff against Mr. Putin. Instead, he finished far back, with less than six percent of the vote, compared to Mr. Zyuganov's 29 percent. Analysts concluded many would-be Yavlinsky supporters switched to Mr. Putin, actually pushing him over the 50 percent mark needed to win outright. In its front-page report, the Segodnya newspaper noted that Mr. Yavlinsky's Yabloko Party and other democrats had been quarreling for a long time, and, it says, they all died (politically) on the same day. The paper's editor, Mikhail Berger, says the presidential vote points up the failure of Russia's fractious democratic movement to produce a single figure capable of capturing the public's imagination. /// BERGER ACT /// I think it's the key question that during 10 years, there is not charismatic leader coming from liberal ideas. Unfortunately, we can see that Yabloko bloc, which represents liberal ideas in Russia, getting less and less influence. /// END ACT /// Mr. Berger says Grigory Yavlinsky signed his political death warrant when he publicly criticized the highly popular war in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, saw the war as a way to restore Russia's pride and to reverse feelings of national humiliation caused by its defeat in the previous Chechen conflict. When Mr. Putin was appointed prime minister last year, many observers predicted he would suffer because of his association with the unpopular President Boris Yeltsin. But Segodnya editor Mikhail Berger says that psychologically, Russians saw voting for Vladimir Putin as a vote against President Yeltsin. /// BERGER ACT /// You have to take into account that Russians were humiliated by Chechen terrorist activities, and Putin showed Russians there is somebody who can give an answer, who can say Russia is still a power. And O-K, Mr. Yeltsin can say Putin is his protege, his successor, but mostly Russian voters do hope that Mr. Putin will start a new political life. /// END ACT /// Mr. Berger says the rise of Vladimir Putin and the fall of Grigory Yavlinsky reveals a desperation among Russians. He says people are willing to abandon democratic ideals and accept even a hard-liner if he can bring back the better times they knew in the Soviet era. /// BERGER ACT /// In any case, democratic idea is in trouble now in Russia. Russia showed this country wants hard-liners and Communists. Nobody else. /// END ACT /// Vladimir Putin clearly understands Russia's desire for what is known here as a "strong hand." In an article published on the internet last December, he wrote, "It will not happen soon, if ever, that Russia becomes another version of the United States or Britain, where there is a tradition of liberal values." Mr. Putin added, "We value the benefits of democracy and freedom, but we also are alarmed by the obvious weakening of the power of the state." (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/JP 28-Mar-2000 11:42 AM EDT (28-Mar-2000 1642 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .