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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 14:32 GMT
Analysis: Putin weathers siege storm
President Putin meets a doctor helping the victims
For Putin, popularity is the key to maintaining power

To sombre music, Russian television scrolled a list of 117 names - hostages killed in the assault on a Moscow theatre.

Russia hasn't seen anything like this since the Kursk submarine disaster two years ago.

Back then it was the names of 118 submariners which rolled across TV screens.

Kursk was Vladimir Putin's first challenge as President - it raised the first questions about his leadership.

It was the first threat to his popularity.

He weathered the storm, but how has Mr Putin emerged from this latest tragedy?

A woman prays in a Moscow church
Putin is still popular among mourning Muscovites

Grigory Yavlinsky is a Russian deputy who took part in negotiations with the armed Chechens. He believes Vladimir Putin was found wanting.

"It's a serious failure - a failure from the very beginning to the very end."

"First of all how did it happen that such a big crowd of terrorists came to Moscow. Then it is a question of whether this use of force was done right.

"The big question as well is what kind of chemicals were used and why the hospitals were not prepared for that. So it's a lot of questions."

Pyrrhic victory

After Russian special forces stormed the theatre it took just over an hour to kill most of the militants and to rescue hundreds of hostages.

Journalist Mikhail Smyliorv believes it's a pyrrhic victory for Mr Putin, for the conflict in Chechnya remains unresolved.

"It's a very short term success. I believe it will not take long for the Russians to witness new acts of terror much more disastrous than the one which we have already witnessed.

Once the siege was over Vladimir Putin came out fighting.

A road sign displays President Putin's address to the nation
President Putin's address to the nation was displayed by roadsides

He called for the military to draw up new plans to combat international terrorism. He called on Russians to unite against a common enemy.

It's talk like that which strikes a chord with so many here and helps maintain Mr Putin's popularity.

"If there is outrage in this society it's against the Chechens first of all and not against the government which people think did the right thing," says Vyacheslav Nikinov, a former Kremlin adviser.

Vladimir Putin may face criticism from political opponents over his handling of the theatre siege.

He may be accused of making mistakes, but among the Russian public he remains supremely popular.

And that - for Mr Putin - is the key to maintaining power.


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