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Putin puts personal stamp on power


In this story:

Thousands of Russians die in Chechnya war

Cracking down on oligarchs -- gently

An economic rebound?

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LONDON (CNN) -- Former KGB spy Vladimir Putin has established an assertive leadership since being plucked from obscurity a year ago.

Just four months after being appointed as prime minister by then-President Boris Yeltsin on August 9, 1999, he took his benefactor's place after Yeltsin dramatically resigned.

At 47, Putin, a man who had been a political cipher throughout his career, found himself at the helm of an ex-superpower spanning 11 time zones and 89 regions.

A Year in Putin's Russia

His meteoric rise within the Kremlin culminated in his landslide election as the nation's second freely-elected president on March 26, 2000, amid widespread public support for his military campaign against Chechnya and vows to restore law, order and dignity to a Russia as it attempted to recover from years of post-Soviet decay.

Few observers dispute the magnitude of the changes he has brought to Russia. He has pushed through legislation effectively giving him the right to fire local governors and has sought to centralize the country's lumbering bureaucracy.

The popular Sevodnya daily newspaper summed up the reaction to Putin's first year in office, observing: "The entire essence of power has changed."

Thousands of Russians die in Chechnya war

The war in Chechnya helped power Putin's approval ratings rise to 84 percent at the peak of his popularity last January, according to Russian polling organisation VCIOM.

But the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,500 servicemen, could become a liability for him.

The Russian military says the campaign is effectively over and only a few pockets of resistance remain, but the rebel factions use mountain enclaves as staging grounds for sporadic assaults against Russian soldiers and threaten to sap morale and sour public opinion on the war.

Peace talks remain elusive and some analysts say the war has led to a siege mentality among ordinary Russians that has given Putin a freer hand in forging ahead with an aggressive agenda.

"His position today is very strong," said Nikolai Petrov, a Russian political expert with the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow.

He said Putin is likely to use concern among Russians over Tuesday's bombing in Moscow as a pretext for imposing stricter security measures and legislation.

He added: "The consequences we can expect will be a strengthening of the special service forces and of the special law regime. This process also marks a strengthening of the spirit of militarism."

Cracking down on oligarchs -- gently

Putin has also moved to rein in the power of the country's business elite, known as the 'oligarchs'.

Putin's police initiated a crackdown when they arrested and jailed media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky in June for alleged fraud after raiding the offices of his Media-Most empire, the parent company of Russia's largest independent television station, NTV, which has often been harshly critical of the war in Chechnya.

Charges were later dropped against Gusinsky.

Media and oil magnate Boris Berezovsky later resigned his seat in parliament in protest at what he saw as Russia's "totally destructive" attack on business and a lurch towards authoritarianism.

But Putin has sought to reassure the oligarchs he is not out to reverse the privatisations that allowed them to snap up state assets at bargain prices in the early 1990s.

An economic rebound?

Putin's year in power has been marked by a sharp turnaround in the Russian economy.

The Russian ruble is now relatively stable, inflation tame and gross domestic product is expected to grow by more than 5 percent this year -- the sharpest rate in a decade and a dramatic reversal from a 4.6 percent contraction in 1998 -- although some Russian economists question whether the improvement will last.

Although Tuesday's bomb blast could give Putin a momentary opportunity to flex his muscles, further violence could sap his strength. A poll taken by VCIOM after the bombing indicates 66 percent of Russians believe the war in Chechnya is failing to achieve its goals - compared with 26 percent who call it a success.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Two held after Moscow blast
August 9, 2000
Kremlin eyes independent media
August 2, 2000
All over for Russia's oligarchs?
August 2, 2000
Putin says Russia must strengthen central government to thrive
July 8, 2000
Putin receives 52.5 percent of the vote, is declared winner of Russian presidential election
March 26, 2000

Government of the Russian Federation
Russia Today
VCIOM (Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research) (Chechen web site)

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