DATE=1/17/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / PUTIN (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-258146 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian opinion polls released Monday show that a majority of Russians overwhelmingly support Acting President Vladimir Putin in the coming presidential elections March 26th. V-O-A Moscow correspondent Eve Conant reports many Russians seems undisturbed by his past history as an active-duty officer in the KGB. TEXT: With presidential elections just over two months away, Acting President Vladimir Putin seems to be ahead of his competition by a wide margin. In two just-released polls, a majority of Russians say they believe the 47-year old former KGB operative is the man who will improve Russia's economy and keep the nation strong. One opinion poll carried out in 40 regions of the Russian Federation shows more than three fourths of Russia's population has a positive attitude toward Mr. Putin's presidential aims. More than thirty percent of Russians believe Mr. Putin will promote democracy. However, according to the poll, more than ten percent believe a Putin presidency could lead to the creation of a totalitarian regime in Russia. Before becoming prime minister and then acting president, Vladimir Putin was head of Russia's Federal Security Services - the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. In the mid-1970's, Mr. Putin began a 15 year career with the KGB, which included service as an active agent serving in East Germany. There is little information about his KGB activities. But despite decades of KGB repression in Russia, people like 40-year old Alexander Nikolayevich do not judge Mr. Putin harshly for working within the agency. ///Act Nikolayevich in Russian in full and fade under/// He says, "When former security officers were in power there was more order. Our children could safely go outside." He says, "But I don't think (having Mr. Putin as president) means there will be return to policies like we had under Stalin." Many people interviewed in an informal survey by V-O-A agreed Mr. Putin's security service background would help bring order to Russia. A 32-year old woman named Angela - who was nervous about giving her last name - says Mr. Putin's KGB background means he has a good character. /// Act Angela in Russian and fade under /// "The KGB people were always decent," she says. "Of course there were some exceptions, but in my opinion, his KGB service is an advantage." In another opinion poll just released in a leading Russian business newspaper, over half of the financial elite interviewed said Russia's economy would improve under Mr. Putin. But many average Russians, like Igor Petrovitch, are able to say little about Mr. Putin's economic program other than that he believes things will somehow get better. ///Act Petrovitch in Russian in full and fade under/// "I will vote for Mr. Putin," he says. "He is young and flexible. He can do something for us, I think he will do something." Like the others, Mr. Petrovitch says he believes Vladimir Putin remembers order and discipline from his KGB days and will once again bring order to Russia. As acting president, Mr. Putin has promised slight increases in salaries for government workers and pensions for Russia's elderly. 40-year old housewife Tatyana Vladimirovna says her pensioner mother is already getting a little more money each month. ///Act Vladimirovna in Russian in full and fade under/// "I think within a few years, Mr. Putin will improve our economy," she says. But she adds that she hopes prices will go down before that. She says the acting president's KGB background does not change her positive impression of Mr. Putin. (Signed) NEB/EC/GE/KL 17-Jan-2000 12:55 PM EDT (17-Jan-2000 1755 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .