Vladimir Putin

January 10, 2000

Who is Vladimir Putin? That's not only a question many American citizens are asking. It's also a question that the American intelligence community is asking as well.

When Boris Yeltsin stepped down on New Year's Eve and put Vladimir Putin in charge, news commentators were scrambling to describe this new leader. He spent much of his professional life in the KGB, including several years in East Germany. He also made his mark in the new Russia as a the head of foreign trade affairs in St. Petersburg. So Putin is seen as both a hard-liner and a reformer, which is an interesting contradiction.

When terrorists destroyed four apartment blocks in Moscow in September, Putin sounded like a former KGB agent when he called for swift and harsh action against the terrorists and Chechnya. He has a black belt in karate, and sounded like a "Russian Jesse Ventura" who was ready to take out the Chechen agents single-handedly.

On the other hand, he has been the consummate reformer working under the mayor of St. Petersburg, who used to be his law professor. A few months ago, Boris Yeltsin assigned Putin to mend fences between the Kremlin and the powerful regional governors. He has been most successful at that task.

Two challenges await him, both interconnected. He must win the presidential election on March 26, and he must effectively deal with Chechnya. Failing the second could easily lead to failing the first. If Chechnya is not subdued by March, his election could easily be in jeopardy.

Long term, he has an even more formidable task: to stimulate the dying Russian economy. Will he choose capitalism or communism? At the moment, he looks like a reformer, but let's not forget his KGB past and ties to the old Russia.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.