DATE=2/4/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA POL (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-258820 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, once considered a leading contender for the presidency, has decided not to run in next month's presidential election. V-O-A Moscow Correspondent Peter Heinlein reports the decision further increases Acting President Vladimir Putin's chances of an easy victory. TEXT: Six months ago, Yevgeny Primakov was riding a wave of popularity, considered one of the prime forces in presidential elections that were then scheduled for June this year. But six months can be an eternity in Russian politics. Today, after a coalition with which he aligned himself was crushed in parliamentary elections, Mr. Primakov's political fortunes have suffered a sharp reversal. Instead, a name almost unknown to most Russians six months ago, Vladimir Putin, is so far ahead in opinion polls he is considered to have a lock on the presidency. So it came as little surprise when Mr. Primakov announced he will not fight the Putin juggernaut in the vote that has been moved forward, and is now only seven weeks away. But in bowing out of the race, the 70-year old former diplomat and spy agency chief suggested he is deeply disturbed at developments that have placed Mr. Putin in the president's office even before the election. /// PRIMAKOV ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says, "I have felt how far our society has moved from a true democracy." With a touch of sadness in his voice, he added that he does not believe the situation could be radically changed in just a few months. Mr. Primakov said he had made up his mind not to contest the election after seeing the way Acting President Putin struck a controversial alliance last month with the Communists in the Duma, or lower house of parliament. The alliance effectively froze the democratic opposition in the Duma out of power. With Mr. Primakov out of the election, the only question remaining is whether Vladimir Putin can win the presidency without a runoff. Andrei Piontkowsky of Moscow's Center for Strategic Studies, says even Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, the other main presidential contender, appears to have accepted the inevitability of a Putin victory. /// PIONTKOWSKY ACT /// All Russian political class is now claiming loyalty to Putin. Even Zyuganov, in spite of the fact that he's participating in the campaign, practically made a deal with him after sharing the leading post in the Duma. /// END ACT /// Mr. Piontkowsky says the only other candidate still in the race who opposes Mr. Putin on key issues such as the economy and the war in Chechnya is liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky. But recent polls suggest Mr. Yavlinsky will have a difficult time mounting a serious challenge to the acting president. The most recent survey indicates Mr. Putin would get nearly 50 percent of the votes, as compared to only about four percent for Mr. Yavlinsky. (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/ENE/JP 04-Feb-2000 10:52 AM EDT (04-Feb-2000 1552 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .