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Special Event

Millennium 2000: New Russian President Vladimir Putin at Top of Russian Opinion Polls

Aired January 2, 2000 - 2:04 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he is young and vigorous, a black belt in judo. He's prone to street slang rather than political doublespeak. And according to Kremlin officials, he's running a winning war in Chechnya. All that has catapulted Vladimir Putin to the top of Russian opinion polls.

Here's CNN's Siobhan Darrow in Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIOBHAN DARROW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dip in Moscow's icy lake, strolling and singing in frigid temperatures -- Russia's New Year's rituals seemingly unaffected by a new millennium, and a new face in the Kremlin.

Forty-one-year-old Yevgeny has been driving a taxi in Moscow for four years. "We hope for change," he says, "because the way we live now is appalling."

Seventy-year-year-old Anna Filipova (ph) lights a candle to the saints, but puts her faith in the communists.

"Things were better when everything belonged to the state," she says. "Stalin may have been fierce, but at least there was order."

Moscow's Victory Park, commemorating the glory days of World War II and pushing back the Nazis, is a favored outing for Russians.

DARROW: But it is a different war that could determine the fate of Russia's new acting president. Vladimir Putin's tough handling of Chechen separatist has made him Russia's most popular politician, and the outcome of that war could determine whether he will still be in favor when presidential elections take place in three months time.

"He is right in the way he is conducting this war. It should have done a long time ago," says this woman.

"I'm glad Yeltsin resigned. The new president at least is young, and I have hope," she says, "for that fact alone."

Throughout Moscow, interspersed with the usual grumbling, are signs of gaiety that seem to reflect a wider optimism.

Siobhan Darrow, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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