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Vladimir Putin biography by ABCnews
Vladimir Putin's Russia by Cosmopolis
Presidential election:
Putin: 52.6%
Zhuganov: 29.3%
Javlinsky: 5.8%

The confirmation of Vladimir Putin as Russian President in his first election is no surprise. Wiht his strong hand in Chechnya, a relative economic recovery in recent months, wages largely paid and increased, inflation stabilized, pensions increased and the media in his favour, Putin could not lose. The Communist leader Zhuganov is no alternative, although his 29.3% result came as a surprise to most observers. The advocate of market-reform and liberalism, Javlinsky, is viewed as a man who is unable to cooperate with other political forces and he lacks charisma. Putin offers law and order. After the fall of the Soviet regime, Russians are looking for a new identity. They wanted a new face, a young and dynamic leader who will end the chaos but will not reverse the reforms. As a former number two in St. Petersburg behind the late reformist Mayor Anatoli Sobchak, Putin seems to promise all of the above despite the fact that his electoral program was not only unclear but actually non-existant. As a former officer of the KGB and chief of its successor organization, the FSB, doubts remain about where he wants to lead Russia. Therefore, Putin published a self-portrait in Russian, First Person, a compilation of over 24 hours of in-depth interviews. This self-examination of Putin's life and views was a clear attempt to reassure Russian voters (as well as the West in an upcoming English edition) that he is not a man with a dark past and that there will be no new dictatorship in Russia. 

Putin's self-portrait is not entirely reassuring: doubts remain. Born in Leningrad in 1952, Putin had romantic ideas about the KGB and, already as a young man, wanted to become a member. He graduated form the law school of Leningrad's State University in 1975. Then he entered the KGB. He spent most of his time in Leningrad. Only in 1985 did he get his first job abroad and went to Dresden, East Germany's technological center, one of the few centers of microelectronics in the East. He stayed in Dresden for five years and had to make contacts with Western visitors. Putin denies having been a spy in West Germany too, as one could read in Western media (see also the German edition of Cosmopolis Nr. 11 on this subject). He may be right, but what is more disturbing is the fact that although he acknowledges that the KGB made mistakes, he does not portray it as an organization of repression that e.g. persecuted dissidents.

In 1990, Putin returned to Leningrad and soon became a councellor to Anatoli Sobchak, his former professor at Leningrad University. In 1998, Putin rose rapidly to the top in Moscow's FSB and became a member of the close circle around President Yeltsin, who first appointed him as Prime Minister and then as his successor. 

On the positive side, Putin is said to speak German with almost no accent. His wife is a German scholar and his daughters went to the German school in Moscow. Therefore, Putin is a Western-orientated man who understands that the Soviet system has no future and that Slavonic and nationalist ideas are no alternative to modernization. But at the same time, Putin had no scruples about starting a "splendid little war" in Chechnya. He is said to be the or at least one of the masterminds behind Yeltsin's decision to engage in Chechnya. There are still rumours that the FSB, the military or the government was/were behind the "terrorist attacks" in Moscow that gave the "legitimization" to attack Chechnya.

Putin's career was first encouraged by the late KGB-chief Yuri Andropov who also encouraged the career of Gorbachov and who became General Secretary for a very short time. Putin declared Andropov his role model. Although the KGB of the 1980s was an organization pushing for reform since there was no other way not to fall behind the West, Putin's favourite is not the type of man one wishes for Russia's future. Putin often spoke about negotiations with Chechnian leaders but up to now he has not done much in that direction. 

Putin wrote and said that he is in favour not only of law and order, but also of private property, freedom of speech, conscience and the press. If the Russian President were be able to re-establish (or establih, others would say) the rule of law and at the same time to continue the reforms, this would be a great step forward. But it remains to be seen if he is an independent personality or a man of the FSB or oligarchs like Beresovski and Abramovich.  
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Vladimir Putin: First Person. Public Affairs, Paperback, 208 p., 1 ed. May 2000. Get it from Amazon.com 
Ot perwogo liza. Rasgowory s Wladimirom Putinym. Wagrius, Moscow, 2000.

Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch

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