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Monday, 27 March, 2000, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Analysis: Russia pins hopes on Putin
Mr Putin's share of the vote increased as more results came in
Putin's share of the vote increased as results came in
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

Vladimir Putin's victory in the Russian presidential election shows Russian voters experiencing a rare moment of optimism about a political leader after years of disillusionment.

Mr Putin won only just enough votes to capture the presidency in the first round, but this is still a striking performance in the context of contemporary Russian politics, where the electorate has experienced little but hardship and disappointment for more than a decade.



People want their lives to get better, but there's no such thing as miracles

Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin himself seemed to recognise that his popularity might not last, warning the Russian people not to expect too much.

"People want their lives to get better, but there's no such thing as miracles," he said.

Accusations

After the dizzying rise and fall of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, it would perhaps be a miracle if Mr Putin succeeded in sustaining his voter-appeal.


Putin: popularity sliding
Putin: popularity sliding
He was clearly helped by Mr Yeltsin's early resignation, as polls showed his popularity beginning to slide towards the end of the campaign - crucially, the departure of the ailing president on the last day of the 20th Century brought the election forward by three months.

The results broadly follow the last opinion polls before the election, which showed Mr Putin on 50% (about 10% or 15% down on February) and his closest challenger, the Communist Gennady Zyuganov, on 28%. Mr Zyuganov won 32% in the first round of the 1996 presidential election, indicating that support for Communism in Russia remains roughly stable.

Mr Zyuganov has made accusations of vote-rigging, which may or may not be supported by international election observers. However, there seems little doubt that Mr Putin was the country's favourite.

The shine of his victory was nonetheless tarnished by the state media, which in the run-up to the election launched a smear-campaign against the liberal candidate, Grigory Yavlinsky, who came in third place, as predicted.

And Mr Putin himself acknowledged, as the last votes were being counted, that Mr Zyuganov had not had a fair share of media coverage.


Zyuganov: vote-rigging claim
Zyuganov: vote-rigging claim
Chechnya

So far Mr Putin's popularity has rested on Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, which has all but crushed the Chechen guerrilla army, as well as demolishing the capital, Grozny, and laying waste to countless villages.

In future Mr Putin will have to earn voters' respect without the help of artillery - by tackling crime and corruption, and boosting the economy.

Chechnya, meanwhile, is likely to become a vote-loser rather than a vote-winner, with the steady loss of Russian soldiers, picked off by the remaining guerrillas, and the possibility of terrorist actions in Russian cities.

Power

Mr Putin paid credit to Mr Zyuganov, and said that government policy should reflect the Communist leader's strong performance by becoming more "balanced".

He indicated that he might bring opposition groups into government if they shared his views.

This is consistent with Mr Putin's earlier declarations that he sought to strengthen society by ending political confrontation.

However, early signs of Mr Putin's political instincts suggest that he favours strong, centralised power, and is distinctly cool about political pluralism.

At this stage it's more likely Russia will be ruled from the Kremlin by Mr Putin and his most trusted aides - many of them hailing, like he himself, from the security services - than by a rainbow coalition government.

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Russia's vote for President

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26 Mar 00 | Europe
Putin wins presidential race
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