Despite strong criticism of the Chechen campaign from many quarters in the West, it still appears to be helping Prime Minister Vladimir Putin domestically. Zerkalo, the weekly news analysis program on RTR state television, yesterday presented the results of a poll recently taken by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, one of Russia’s major polling agencies. Asked whom they will vote for in next summer’s presidential election, 36 percent of the respondents named Putin–an increase of 8 percent over last week. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov came in second place, with 14 percent. Asked which politician they “trust” the most, 35 percent named Putin, 14 percent named Zyuganov and 11 percent named former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who is currently a leader of the Fatherland-All Russia coalition. Asked who would in actuality become Russia’s next head of state, 33 percent of the respondents thought it would be Putin, up 8 percent from last week. Only 7 percent bet on Zyuganov (RTR, November 22).
Thus, while it should be noted that RTR is consistently–almost slavishly–pro-Putin, there is no reason to doubt that the VTsIOM poll more or less accurately reflects the dynamic of his rising popularity.
Putin received strong support yesterday from several leading Russian politicians. Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, one of the leaders of the Union of Right-wing Forces, said he “categorically” supported Putin’s position that the “antiterrorist operation” should not be halted. Kirienko also accused the West of applying a double standard in criticizing that operation (NTV, November 21). Another leader of the Union of Right-wing Forces, United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, said yesterday that the results of the OSCE meeting in Istanbul were a “massive victory” for Russia and praised Putin for having taken a “unique and heavy” burden of responsibility on himself in carrying out the military operation in Chechnya. Chubais called Putin the “most serious, most authoritative and without question the best candidate for the post of president next summer.” Chubais also refused to retract his recent criticism of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky (RTR, November 21). Chubais had called Yavlinsky a “traitor” for proposing a cease-fire in Chechnya.
Meanwhile, one of Russia’s major literary figures has also endorsed the military campaign in Chechnya. During an interview broadcast on Itogi, NTV television’s weekly news analysis program, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize winning author and former dissident, said that the current military campaign in Chechnya was needed because Russia has “been retreating for fifteen years” and has “capitulated everywhere.” “Our country cannot abandon the right to defend itself and defense means completing the operation in some way,” Solzhenitsyn told Itogi host Yevgeny Kiselev. Solzhenitsyn said he supported the idea of negotiating with village elders in Chechnya, but said it would be pointless to negotiate with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom he accused of being unable to control the situation in the republic.
As for the main potential candidates to succeed President Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s president, Solzhenitsyn singled out Primakov for praise, calling him an “intelligent” politician who takes into consideration Russia’s historical experience and the people’s interests (NTV, November 21).
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