DATE=3/24/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / ELECTIONS NUMBER=5-45999 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia is preparing for presidential elections on March 26th. Acting President Vladimir Putin, who took over the Kremlin when President Boris Yeltsin resigned on New Years Eve, is widely expected to win. Mr. Putin is known as a tough talking leader and the man behind second war in Chechnya. V-O-A's Eve Conant reports on an election most Russians say has already been decided. TEXT: On Sunday, Russia will vote for a new president. For many, however, the campaign has resembled the character of the likely favorite Vladimir Putin - calm, decisive and lacking the drama and upheavals that characterized the Yeltsin years. Most people in Moscow, such as student Sergei Alexandrov, say they already know who their next president will be. /// ACT ALEXANDROV IN RUSSIAN AND FADE UNDER /// "Vladimir Putin" he says. "I like him as a man and a politician. I am tired of all the other candidates." Or there is Doctor Tatyana Moisenkovskaya who will also vote for Mr. Putin, but for a different reason. ///ACT MOISENKOVSKAYA IN RUSSIAN AND FADE UNDER/// She says "I will vote for him because I am against the communists. He is the only candidate who has a high enough rating to beat them." Telephone engineer and young mother Zhana Gulyaeva does not support Vladimir Putin although she does expect him to win. Speaking from her home, she explains how she has joined the growing ranks of frustrated Russians who say they will vote for "none of the above" when they go to the polling booth. ///ACT GULYAEVA IN RUSSIAN AND FADE UNDER/// She says "I have not seen a single politician yet that could change my life for the better. Any proper leader would not get involved with these scandals and games we see on television." Her husband, Slava Gulyaev, who works as a stockbroker, says he will not bother voting for his first choice, the liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, because he has no chance to win. ///ACT GULYAEV IN RUSSIAN AND FADE UNDER/// "Even if he is my favorite candidate, why waste my vote on him?" He says, "We all know it is Mr. Putin who is going to be president. I will just vote for him and get it over with." On the other side of Moscow is 59-year old factory worker Antonina Safrygina. She was one of the victims of a series of apartment bombings last year that Moscow blamed on Chechen rebels. The blasts killed hundreds and helped sparked public support for the war in Chechnya. Mr. Putin, then Russia's prime minister, saw his support skyrocket after what many Russian's viewed as his decisive handling of the Chechen threat. Antonina Safrygina survived the blast, which blew her old apartment in half. She says she is not convinced it was Chechens who blew up her home. She wonders whether the Kremlin might have been behind the blasts but says it is best not to ask too many questions. Still, she says she is angry with Russia's leaders and will vote for Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov. /// OPT /// "I trust the Communists," she says. "The democrats deceived and hurt us, especially older people like me. They took away our pensions. You young people will always survive - but what can older people do?" /// NAT SOUND TV UNDER /// Antonina Safrygina spends much of her time watching television in her new, smaller apartment in a neighborhood where she has yet to meet anyone. She is furious that Acting President Putin suggested Russia join NATO and says the United States just wants to humiliate Russia. She thinks Mr. Putin is only popular because he is on television so often. She says, "he may become president but it is only because the television is pressuring us so much, repeating the same stories over and over again." // END OPT /// ///NAT SOUND MEGAPHONE - COMMUNIST DEMO UP & UNDER/// Although the Communists still gather here outside Red Square, they are preaching to a smaller audience each year. Polls indicate Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov might win around 20 percent of the vote. But most say his only threat to Mr. Putin is to force a second round of voting, that he does not have a chance to win. Those who come out on these cold winter mornings are mostly the elderly who remember the stable years of the Soviet regime and do not believe Mr. Putin is the person to bring it back for them. Many of those interviewed do not believe Mr. Putin's pledge to fight corruption or clean up the Kremlin bureaucracy. For them, Acting President Putin is simply a younger version of former President Yeltsin, ready to preside over corruption and economic decline just as Mr. Yeltsin did. (Signed) NEB/EC/GE/JO 24-Mar-2000 09:12 AM EDT (24-Mar-2000 1412 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .