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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MOSCOW MAILBAG: Radio Listeners Tune in For Answers on Putin




If my foreign listeners last week were adjusting to the flurry of activity that had completely changed Russia's political scene over the holidays, then this week they had settled on one question: Just who is acting President Vladimir Putin? Will he take us forward into the future or backward into the past? Furthermore, given Putin's anointed status as Boris Yeltsin's successor and the rapidly approaching elections that Putin is poised to win, do we have a choice in the matter? Who is this guy?


As I told Peter Lautzenhauser, a listener who wrote in from Wooster, Ohio, our acting president goes in for the martial arts, specifically judo. We saw him on television in his martial arts gear fighting a bout with a young fellow who threw him. Putin flipped himself up in a somersault, then threw his opponent and held him in a tight headlock. Aside from his black-belt bona fides, we know Putin is 47 and has two daughters 13 and 14 years old. Little is known about his wife.


They say Putin is tough, ambitious and cynical. His popularity has soared because of the Chechen war. Our acting president hails from St. Petersburg and has worked in our intelligence agencies. He was a KGB colonel and was the head of its successor, the Federal Security Service, or FSB. We are told he is a workaholic. Here in Moscow he has few friends.


On New Year's, Putin surprised many when he appeared on TV early in the morning live from Chechnya, where he went with his wife to decorate our servicemen. The presidential elections are to be held on March 26, and if nothing happens that would significantly disrupt his momentum, I feel he will be elected. One thing, however, that left us all gaping was that the party Putin helped start - and which rose to second place in the parliamentary elections on the coattails of his popularity - joined up with the Communists during the parliament's opening session this week. The party is called "Unity," but who could guess that it would mean unity with the Communists? What it will all lead to we will learn soon enough.


But getting back to Putin's judo experience, it's worth noting that he is certainly not the only Russian leader in recent history to have a pugilistic streak. Consider Alexander Lebed, whose boxing career Arthur O'Malle wrote in from County Tipperary, Ireland to ask about.


Currently governor of the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia, Lebed boxed in the military. He was injured during a fight and had to have an operation. The operation, though, left him sounding like a foghorn. This is no exaggeration. I never heard anyone with a voice like that. He has a boxer's nose too.


Joe Adamov hosts the English-language "Moscow Mailbag" radio program on Voice of Russia.