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Friday, October 29, 1999 Published at 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Putin's war

By BBC regional analyst Tom de Waal

[ image: Mr Putin: Iron-willed like Andropov?]
Mr Putin: Iron-willed like Andropov?
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appears to have caught a popular mood. The polls show that his decision to use force against the Chechens has won the support of most of his fellow-citizens.

Mr Putin was virtually unknown to a wider public when he became Boris Yeltsin's sixth prime minister in August.

He had spent most of his career in the KGB and its post-Soviet successor, the FSB. Since then, with Mr Yeltsin again disappearing from public view, he has become Russia's most visible politician and opinion polls now suggest that he is the country's second most popular figure - after his predecessor-before-last Yevgeny Primakov.

He has skilfully presented the military campaign against the Chechens as an "anti-terrorist operation" and has appealed for Western support for his actions.

Even his outburst that "we will get them in the toilet" for which he apologised, probably attracted more voters than it repelled.

The prime minister is already being portrayed as the heir to Yury Andropov, the iron-willed former KGB leader and Communist Party General Secretary, who is still much admired in Russia.

Perils ahead

Yet many perils lie ahead before Mr Putin can be elected Russia's next president next summer.

Battle for the Caucasus
Anonymous sources have been quoted as saying that his opinion poll ratings have been artificially inflated. They may start to fall again. So far the campaign in Chechnya has gone relatively smoothly, but if many conscripts again lose their lives and resources are diverted to a long war, then public enthusiasm could soon fade.

Even if Mr Putin achieves a military success in Chechnya, voters will remember other issues in Russia, when the war disappears from their television screens: the economy, wage arrears and allegations of corruption against the Kremlin administration.

Kremlin's candidate

In 1996 Mr Yeltsin went on a spending spree and paid off most of the state's debts to unpaid workers. The government will find it much harder to find the resources to do that this time, since the International Monetary Fund is more cautious about giving loans.

And finally there is the problem of Mr Putin's relationship with the Kremlin. He became prime minister because of his complete loyalty to Mr Yeltsin and his circle.

Yet to be an effective candidate for president he needs to do two mutually contradictory things. He has to remain the official candidate of the Kremlin, with all the money and support from the media that brings.

But he also needs to become his own man and start to distance himself from the legacy of the deeply unpopular Mr Yeltsin.

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