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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

INTRO:  A just-released public opinion poll in Russia 
indicates Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - a political 
unknown four months ago - has become the leading 
contender in next year's presidential election.  V-O-A 
Correspondent Peter Heinlein examines the Putin 
phenomenon in this report from Moscow.
TEXT:  When President Boris Yeltsin plucked Vladimir 
Putin from obscurity last August, placed him in the 
prime minister's chair, and anointed him as his chosen 
successor, many experts called it the ravings of a mad 
The country seemed to be careening from crisis to 
crisis.  Mr. Putin, a steely-eyed former K-G-B spy, 
was the fourth prime ministerial appointment in 18 
months.  Many predicted he too would be dumped when 
the unpredictable Russian leader grew tired of him.
But in just a few months, Mr. Putin has shot to the 
top of the list of presidential contenders.  If the 
latest polls are right, he is the choice of more than 
40 percent of potential voters, and unheard of rating 
in Russia. 
/// OPT /// And as political analyst Irina Kobrinskaya 
notes, Mr. Yeltsin's critics have been silenced.
            /// KOBRINSKAYA ACT ///
      There is no doubt Yeltsin is a political genius.  
      One hundred percent.  He has fantastic political 
            /// END ACT  //  END OPT ///
Clearly, Mr. Putin's approval rating reflects 
Russians' overwhelming support for the current 
military offensive in Chechnya, which he launched 
within days of taking office.  Sixty-five-year-old 
Galina Ostafyeva expresses the feelings of many 
ordinary Russians when she says Mr. Putin seems to be 
restoring the country's battered pride.
She says, "He started this war in Chechnya.  Our 
soldiers are winning.  He is doing his best to crush 
the rebels as soon as possible."
But even though the war enjoys solid public support, 
there is something more driving Mr. Putin's popularity 
- something that unites Russians of all political 
persuasions:  the rich and the poor, people from the 
far-flung regions and Moscow's liberal intelligentsia.
Irina Kobrinskaya calls it a nostalgic yearning for 
order and strict leadership, even at the expense of 
            /// KOBRINSKAYA ACT ///
      He's very tough.  He declares his point is more 
      order in Russian society.  More stability.  
      Apart from the nostalgia for times of stability, 
      there is another feeling in Russian society 
      which really needs more order, which really 
      wants to live in a more stable state with more 
      strong state institutions, which means less 
      corruption, more law and order.
            /// END ACT ///
Moreover, most Russians say Mr. Putin's background 
with the K-G-B, and later as head of the K-G-B's main 
successor agency, the F-S-B, is an asset in leading 
the country.  Analyst Sergei Markov says the prime 
minister evokes images of the late Soviet leader Yuri 
Andropov, another former K-G-B chief who initiated a 
campaign of authoritarian discipline during his brief 
term as Communist party chief.
            /// MARKOV ACT ///
      In Western public opinion, to be a former K-G-B 
      officer is to be something awful, belonging to 
      some semi-criminal organization, and so on.  But 
      for a Russian audience, it's not neutral, but 
      even a good characteristic.  Because it means 
      the guy is very informed, very-well trained, 
      ready to fight for the country.  So I think to 
      be a former K-G-B officer is not a bad 
      characteristic, but a good characteristic for 
      Russian public opinion.
            /// END ACT ///
Mr. Markov says even if the war in Chechnya eventually 
goes badly, Prime Minister Putin is likely to remain 
popular, because he answers Russia's desire for a 
strong hand.  That, he explains, is why even other 
potential presidential contenders - such as former 
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri 
Luzhkov - have lately expressed qualified support for 
Mr. Putin. (Signed)
30-Nov-1999 14:46 PM EDT (30-Nov-1999 1946 UTC)
Source: Voice of America

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