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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 17:04 GMT
Russia's leaders: The race for the Kremlin

Kremlin Who will be the Kremlin's next incumbent?

Yeltsin resigns
Boris Yeltsin's resignation and announcement of early presidential elections have given the signal for the race for the Kremlin to begin in earnest. Here is a rundown of some of the key players.

Vladimir Putin: Prime Minister

Since taking office, Mr Putin's popularity has soared thanks to popular backing for Russia's military operation in Chechnya.

As acting president after Mr Yeltsin's resignation, Mr Putin will have the advantage of the incumbent in the run-up to the presidential poll.

A little-known figure before his appointment to head the Federal Security Service in July 1998, Mr Putin was a surprise choice for the premiership.

He has the distinction of having been endorsed by President Yeltsin as his successor.

Russia at the Polls
What's at stake
Who's who
Russia's regions
Mr Putin's critics accuse him of lacking charisma and experience.

He is said to be most popular among young people, Muscovites and educated people.

His supporters say that the 15 years he spent in the KGB make him well-equipped to combat corruption and crime - two of modern Russia's main afflictions.

Yevgeny Primakov: Former Prime Minister

Yevgeny Primakov said he had decided to run for the presidency "after thinking for a long time" and receiving thousands of letters. He made the announcement on the eve of parliamentary elections.

Older but fitter than his former boss, Mr Primakov's popularity was increasingly feared by the president when Mr Primakov served as prime minister.

He won huge popularity in the eight months he spent in the post after the rouble devaluation of August 1988.

Mr Primakov virtually ran the country after Mr Yeltsin gave up day-to-day responsibilities in October 1998. But the president increasingly distanced himself from his prime minister after initially singing his praises.

Last August - three months after he was sacked as prime minister - Mr Primakov was invited to join the new Fatherland-All Russia political coalition ahead of the parliamentary elections.

The centrist coalition was formed in 1999 by the mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, and a group of powerful regional governors.

Despite his popular support, Mr Primakov had previously claimed to have no interest in the top job, famously telling one interviewer: "Any lunacy must have its limits - I reached mine in agreeing to become prime minister."

Gennady Zyuganov: Communist leader

The leader of the largest group in the Duma is a fierce critic of the president and his policies.

He was one of the leading figures in Russia's political row over the Kosovo conflict, during which he accused the Kremlin of giving in to Nato diktat.

But while he has accused monetarists of destroying Russia, some of his own party members say he lacks a killer instinct.

Speculation also persists that some of his colleagues would back the speaker of the Duma, Gennady Seleznov.

Mr Zyuganov took a third of the votes in the second round of the 1996 presidential election, against Mr Yeltsin's 40%.

He is almost certain to make it through to a second round run-off, though whether he can improve on his 1996 performance remains questionable.

Yury Luzhkov: Moscow mayor

Yury Luzhkov has made no secret of his ambitions and he remains one of the favourites to step into Boris Yeltsin's shoes.

Mr Luzhkov is the driving force behind the coalition of his own Fatherland party and the All Russia group of regional barons which has been joined by Yevgeny Primakov.

Mr Luzhkov became mayor of the capital in 1992 after two decades in industry.

He was re-elected in December 1995 with 90% of the vote, and again in December 1999 with 70%, and many ordinary people say he is a man of action rather than words.

Many voters consider him an effective manager who is not bound to an ideological camp. They credit him with creating growth in the city but questions have been raised over how he financed it.

The coalition may help him translate the strength he draws from the centre into support among independently minded regional voters.

Western leaders have courted him but some of the big business "oligarchs" oppose him, because he accuses them of accumulating fortunes through corruption.

Mr Luzhkov had demanded Yeltsin's resignation and called for an early election.

Sergey Stepashin: Former Prime Minister

The former prime minister joined forces with the leading liberal political party in Russia, Yabloko, before December's parliamentary election.

Mr Stepashin was dismissed by President Yeltsin in August 1999 after only three months as prime minister.

The former interior minister said he never expected to be made prime minister, and vowed continuing loyalty to Boris Yeltsin.

He has also served as head of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, and was one of the principal architects of Russia's disastrous war in Chechnya.

Grigory Yavlinsky: Leader of Yabloko

The reformist Grigory Yavlinksy criticised Boris Yeltsin for failing to push economic reforms far enough.

He commands the largest share of the liberal vote and describes himself as a liberal "social democrat".

He has undisguised presidential ambitions and support among liberal Russian figures from academic and cultural life.

He has accused the government of ignoring corruption among its own ranks.

Alexander Lebed: Retired general

Gen Lebed has portrayed himself as the potential saviour of Russia but then ruled himself out of the 2000 presidential elections when he stood for the governorship of the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk.

Seasoned observers dismissed the statement as a smokescreen.

When he polled 14% in the first round of the 1996 presidential election, Boris Yeltsin immediately appointed him Secretary of the Security Council, in the hope of profiting from his share of the vote in the second round.

General Lebed used the appointment to launch a crack down on organised crime and corruption.

In August 1996 he signed the truce which ended fighting in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and deferred the question of its sovereignty for five years.

While many Russians blame the president for the Chechen war, they praise the retired paratrooper for ending it.

But two months later Mr Yeltsin dramatically sacked the general, accusing him of harbouring presidential ambitions and of splitting the Kremlin team.

Since taking office as governor of Krasnoyarsk, the Afghanistan war veteran has sought to capitalise on the increasing leverage of Russia's regional leaders by establishing the People's Republican Party.

But while he has distanced himself from government disasters and is considered uncorrupted, his support has slipped.

Viktor Chernomyrdin: Former Prime Minister

Sacked for alleged economic incompetence in March 1998 after a record five years in office, Mr Chernomyrdin was recalled by Boris Yeltsin in August last year - only to be rejected by the Duma.

Down but not out, he declared he would stand in the 2000 presidential poll.

His shuttle diplomacy over Kosovo succeeded in shifting international focus from a purely Nato-based solution to the crisis but did little to placate nationalist and Communist critics at home, who accused him of a sell-out.

Born in a peasant family in a Cossack village in the southern Urals, he was gradually converted to market reforms while in office as premier, in what one colleague cynically called "the most expensive education in history".

Boris Nemtsov: Former deputy premier

The young and ambitious Boris Nemtsov was named first deputy prime minister in 1997 in a reshuffle which saw Boris Yeltsin put key reformers in the cabinet.

But Mr Yeltsin later sacked him along with the entire cabinet.

In December he became one of the founding members of a liberal coalition aiming to take on the nationalists and communists.

Mr Nemtsov, 38, has launched his own website and headed a parliamentary commission which was charged with the highly sensitive matter of deciding whether bones found near Yekaterinburg were those of the last tsar and his family.

His relative youth may rule him out until a future election campaign.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Yeltsin resignation stuns Russia
31 Dec 99 |  Monitoring
Yeltsin's resignation speech
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Yeltsin: Flawed founder of Russian democracy
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
World leaders pay tribute to Yeltsin
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Boris Yeltsin: Master of surprise

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