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Putin Gets Back to Running Russia

Kremlin: Victor's first task is to form Cabinet--whose makeup, analysts say, will predict leader's approach to power.

March 28, 2000|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Between taking congratulatory phone calls from world leaders and accepting a fat bouquet of red roses from his ministers, Russia's President-elect Vladimir V. Putin went back to business as usual Monday, ordering the government to finalize a strategy for the country's future and make sure all back wages are paid.

After his victory in Sunday's presidential election, one of Putin's first tasks is to choose his governing team, although the new Cabinet will not be named until after his inauguration, to be held between May 5 and 8.

Because Putin's preelection program was short on detail and at times contradictory, his personnel changes will be scrutinized for signs of his approach to power: whether he plans to rein in Russia's powerful oligarchs, for example, and how serious he is about clamping down on corruption.

In footage aired Monday on the RTR television network, former President Boris N. Yeltsin downed a glass of champagne when he saw Putin's victory announced on TV. Before a meeting Monday morning, the Cabinet presented Putin with flowers and a decorative egg topped with a golden crown to symbolize his power.

The navy fired two aging ballistic missiles. The tests had been scheduled previously, but a navy spokesman described them as a display of fireworks in honor of Putin's victory.

Putin himself remained curt and low-key, calling on the government to get to work on its strategy, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

"This is needed so that we can present to society a philosophy and a program for the country's development at the same time as the formation of a new government," Putin said.

He underscored the importance of the economy, saying Russia's economic indicators and tax revenue are in better shape than he expected.

But with the economic improvement mainly the result of higher oil prices and the effects of the devalued ruble, Putin has to address the underlying weaknesses in the economy, including widespread tax evasion, capital flight and inadequate bankruptcy laws.

He spent part of the day speaking on the telephone with foreign leaders, including President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov told reporters that there will be adjustments to Russia's foreign policy to take into account global changes and Russia's security doctrine. Under the doctrine, initiated 18 months ago and confirmed in January, Russia has elevated the role of nuclear weapons in its national security.

But Ivanov did not spell out what shifts are planned, and analysts predicted minimal changes.

Sergei A. Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, said Russia, still dependent on the West for loans and aid, wants good relations with the West.

"Putin does not want a hostile environment; he does not need it. He needs some time to find his feet as president. And for that, he must minimize the number of sore points, including a growing confrontation with the West," Markov said.

Leonid A. Radzikhovsky, political analyst with the Sevodnya daily newspaper, said Putin's willingness to take on Russia's powerful oligarchs will be evident in his new Cabinet. Several key ministers in the present government are closely linked to the oligarchs, including Finance Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov. Kasyanov is regarded as a possible prime minister under Putin. Others include Railways Minister Nikolai Y. Aksyonenko and Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor I. Kalyuzhny.

"A sure sign that the oligarchs are still alive and kicking would be if Putin leaves all these officials in place," Radzikhovsky said.

Radzikhovsky said Putin must resist the temptation to accumulate too much power.

"In a situation when governors, most political forces and all state officials are waiting in line to bow down to Putin, lick his boots and pledge their loyalty, he will find it tremendously difficult to stop and tell himself, 'This is enough,' " he said.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that although the transfer of power was democratic, there were concerns over the election, in particular the fact that both state and private media coverage was partial and unfair.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Voting Breakdown

Tallies from Sunday's presidential election, with 96% of ballots counted:

*

Vladimir Putin 53%

Gennady Zyuganov 29%

Grigory Yavlinsky 6%

Vladimir Zhirinovsky 3%

Aman Tuleyev 3%

Others/none* 6%

*

*includes 2% who voted against all contenders

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