Putin Flash And Style
Seduces Much Of Russia

MOSCOW, Jan 2 (AFP) - He has a black belt in judo. He calls criminals "rats" to be "exterminated." He says Russia is a "great" nation and tells its tired people that he has the will and the means to make sure it remains so.
With carefully-chosen words and a few well-orchestrated deeds, Vladimir Putin is winning hearts and minds in Russia and has concocted a style designed to convince the population that they have a new and competent protector.
"When the leadership is indecisive, the people will not forgive it ... when civil peace is endangered, the government must act forcefully and effectively," Putin said last year as he launched an offensive in Chechnya.
The contrast between the 47-year-old Putin and his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, 68, could not be more stark: the former, physically able and sharp, the latter feeble and often visibly distracted.
In a relatively short period of time, Putin has played on this distinction to demonstrate, convincingly to increasing numbers of Russians, that he is capable of assuming the highest duties of state.
Alternating between street slang and high political rhetoric, Putin has in recent weeks become the champion of a "new state ideology based on patriotism ... by reviving a feeling of national pride among a humiliated citizenry," one political analyst said.
The key to Putin, said this and other experts, is that he "stays on message," and that message is: Russia is still a great power and should be treated like one.
"Russia will not be dictated to, and will use all diplomatic and military-political means at its disposal" to prevent this, Putin said recently, as he recalled that the country was still protected by a "nuclear shield."
As part of his crusade, Putin has also gone out of his way to stroke the military at each opportune occasion.
In a gesture that recalled the slick calculation of many Western political campaigns, Putin spent this historic New Year's Eve uncorking a bottle of champagne in a military helicopter over Chechnya, where he rallied the troops and passed out commendations.
When accounts of heavy losses among Russian troops in Chechnya began circulating last month, Putin was the first to deny and denounce them.
"This is total stupidity which has no basis in fact," Putin said. Journalists accounts of seeing the bodies of dozens of Russian troops killed in Grozny were nothing but "pure propaganda and lies," he stormed.
In addition to his midnight New Year's chopper ride, Putin was shown last October 20 making another visit to the conflict zone, that time in the back seat of a Sukhoi-25 fighter plane flying over Chechnya.
Analysts say that his words and deeds serve to project a confidence in himself and, by implication, in Russia that has not been seen in this country in many years.
As his judo instructor told a television station, Putin "is a sportsman with an unshakeable will, who always achieves his goal and who does not hesitate in making his decisions."


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