DATE=1/2/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=U-S-RUSSIA (L) NUMBER=2-257711 BYLINE=DAVID GOLLUST DATELINE=WHITE HOUSE CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Top Clinton Administration officials say the United States wants a good relationship with Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin. But they say Chechnya is a problem that could endanger both that relationship and Mr. Putin's political future. V-O- A's David Gollust reports from the White House. TEXT: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger concede the Administration was caught by surprise Friday by former President Boris Yeltsin's resignation in favor of Mr. Putin. But on network talks shows, they say the transfer of power took place democratically and the United States is ready to work with the new Russian leader. Ms. Albright -- who appeared on "N-B-C's Meet the Press" -- downplayed Mr. Putin's background with the former Soviet K-G-B and stressed instead his comments since Friday in favor of democratic freedoms and the rule of law: /// ALBRIGHT ACTUALITY /// I think that he is a competent man. And we believe that Russia is running according to a rational system. There are lots of people in the government that we work with. And our experience with acting President Putin so far has been good. But again, actions are very important and I do not want to create an enemy here. /// END ACT /// The Secretary of State urged Mr. Putin - whose political standing is largely based on his tough line on Chechnya - to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict as the "only way" out of a situation that could become a "quagmire" for Moscow. In his appearance on the A-B-C television network, National Security Adviser Berger went further - suggesting that Chechnya setbacks might cost Mr. Putin victory in a presidential election he - at this point - stands to win in March: /// BERGER ACT /// Chechnya now is a dilemma for Putin. Putin rose in popularity as a result of Chechnya. He now faces an election in three months. If he can not bring this to an end - a peaceful end - quickly, if the costs become too high for the Russians, and the resistance is increasing, this could become an albatross around his neck in March. /// END ACT /// Secretary of State Albright said the United States understands that Moscow has a problem with Chechen terrorists. But she says Russia has taken wanton action against Chechen civilians. Appearing ahead of her on the same program Russian deputy chief of administration Dmitri Yakushkin insisted it is the Chechen rebels who are victimizing civilians: /// YAKUSKIN ACT /// This is a war against criminals who are actually criminals to everybody, including to the people of Chechnya. Because, first of all it is the people of Chechnya who are suffering, though by nationality the criminals are also Chechens. But they are the first who are suffering from them. The Dagestanis suffer from them, the Russians suffer from them, and of course everything must be done in order to stop almost the existence of an independent army, uncontrollable, on the territory of Russia. /// END ACT /// Mr. Yakushkin defended big military spending increases advocated by Mr. Putin as a way of restoring the Russian armed forces to "normal" and "proper" capabilities for dealing with the Chechnya problem, among others. But he said Mr. Putin has no intention to return to a Cold War situation and will prove that in short order. (SIGNED) NEB/DAG/RAE 02-Jan-2000 14:05 PM EDT (02-Jan-2000 1905 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .