TITLE=RUSSIA / THE PUTIN PHENOMENON
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
/// 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.
/// OSTAFYEVA IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER ///
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
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list