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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK

World: Europe

Putin for president?

Mr Putin promised to settle the Dagestan conflict within a fortnight

By Russian Service analyst Konstantin Eggert in Moscow

Vladimir Putin has been granted the Duma's approval to become Russia's prime minister, but will he gain the popularity to win the next presidential elections?

Russia crisis
General Vladimir Putin, until recently head of Russia's counterintelligence and secretary of the National Security Council, was publicly proclaimed by BorisYeltsin to be a man "capable of uniting the the nation, continuing the reforms and leading it into the 21st century".

But as his detractors have pointed out, he lacks a strong political background.

"Calm, decent and intelligent, but hardly a figure of presidential calibre," said Viktor Loshak, editor-in-chief of the liberal Moscow News weekly.

"He never ran for public office in his life, and in a country like Russia you have to have an experience and charisma which Mr Putin certainly lacks," added Mr Loshak.

Other analysts are even more negative. Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Centre points out that Mr Putin has no political party to support him or big business associates to finance his campaign.

Kiss of death

On top of that Mr Yeltsin is so deeply unpopular today among the Russians that his endorsement can be seen as a kiss of death for any poltician.

[ image: Mr Stepashin steadied the rouble but was fired anyway]
Mr Stepashin steadied the rouble but was fired anyway
And the liberals were astonished by the surprise sacking of Mr Putin's predecessor Sergei Stepashin.

Liberal MP, Sergei Yushenkov, expressed the liberals' anguish.

By firing Mr Stepashin, he argues, Yeltsin dumped the only politician who had any chance of acquiring public trust and standing as a strong reformist contender for the presidency.

Indeed in only three months Sergei Stepashin managed to cut a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), heal the Kosovo rift with the US and hold the rouble steady.

His ratings jumped from zero to 8%. A few analysts think Vladimir Putin may actually achieve something similar.

His views will go down well with reformers, they say.

So even if he doesn't achieve much in economics in election year, if he does succeed in pacifying North Caucasus some analysts believe he could immediately gain in popularity.

Others also note that any prime minister automatically becomes a serious presidential contender - just because of the media attention that comes with the job.

Corruption crisis

Those who credit mild-mannered Mr Putin with a political future say he is a no-nonsense guy who has spent 15 years in the KGB and is thus well equipped to combat corruption and crime - modern Russia's two main afflictions.

This, they argue, could make Putin a real front runner in the presidential race.

But with corruption accusations aimed at Mr Yeltsin's family and a select group of his friends and business associates, the battle against sleaze will be a difficult task for Mr Putin.

He is reputed to be unflinchingly loyal to the president - one of the reasons why Yeltsin chose him.

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