A VISIT WITH PUTIN IHT
Putin's Russia is definitely a new hybrid. There's no threat of a new
Cold War, no ideology of world domination in the new Russia. The
president enjoys a level of popularity and legitimacy Soviet leaders
Now, Russians are suddenly living better than they ever have. They have
a combination of personal freedoms and prosperity they've never had
before. They can travel abroad and surf the Internet to their heart's
delight; the arts are booming; stores are overflowing; they can make
money. Lots of it.
The Russian president is at the top of his game, and he knows it. He is powerful, popular and master of a country that he has led from bankruptcy and despair to enormous wealth and power in the space of less than eight years.
Two days earlier, he had regally replaced one obscure prime minister with another, setting Kremlin-watchers in Russia and abroad scrambling for clues as to what this might mean for the presidential election, now only six months off, and for his own future.
Though he and his government maintain the myth that a real race is underway - there are five viable candidates already, including the new prime minister, Viktor Zubkov, Putin tells visitors, throwing out yet another Byzantine morsel - nobody really doubts that the next president will be Putin's pick. Nor does Putin leave any doubt that he will remain on the scene.