DATE=3/26/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA/ELECTIONS (L) NUMBER=2-260214 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Millions of Russians are voting Sunday for a new president, with Acting President and former KGB operative Vladimir Putin the most likely winner. Moscow correspondent Eve Conant reports the question is whether Acting President Putin will win in a first round victory, or if he'll face Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in a run-off. TEXT: Security is tight across the country as millions of Russians in 11 time zones vote for a new president. The country's Acting President Vladimir Putin, with his promises to revive the economy and restore law and order, is expected to emerge the victor. His basic slogan is "a decent life" for Russians. Mr. Putin has promised to tackle crime and corruption, raise wages and pensions, and create a stronger, more centralized government. Voters like pensioner Galina Yefimovna were already appearing at polling stations early Sunday. ///ACT YEFIMOVNA IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// "I will vote for Vladimir Putin. He is our hope for Russia's renaissance." She says, "he pronounces the word `Russia' with pride-as a patriot I hope that with him, we will have a better future." Few Russians doubt Mr. Putin will become their next president, but it is unclear whether he will gain more than 50-percent of the vote necessary to win outright. If he fails to win the necessary majority, Mr. Putin would most likely face communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in a second round mid-April. ///OPT/// Russia's election is declared valid if more than 50-percent of eligible voters come to the polls. Some analysts have speculated there could be low voter turnout since most Russians say they assume Mr. Putin will win, with or without their vote. ///ACT MAN IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// One man says, "I won't vote for Mr. Putin, but he will win anyway. My vote doesn't matter." ///END OPT/// The 47-year old Mr. Putin, a former KGB spy, was plucked from obscurity when President Boris Yeltsin handpicked him to become Prime Minister and then Acting President. Mr. Putin won widespread popularity with his handling of Moscow's military offensive in Chechnya and is viewed as a tough, no nonsense leader by his supporters. /// OPT/// But as he cast his vote Sunday, reporters asked Mr. Putin why he had failed to end the war in Chechnya before the elections. Russia's Interfax news agency reports hundreds of Chechen rebels have seized the Russian-controlled eastern village of Nozhai Yurt. The news agency quotes Mr. Putin as saying "we will used all forces and means necessary against those who resist."///END OPT/// Mr. Putin on Sunday looked confident as he exited the polling booth. ///ACT PUTIN IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// He says, "I will go the countryside now and rest. Tomorrow is a hard day and I must go to work. Of course I am feeling confident, otherwise I would not have done this." /// OPT/// ///ACT BORIS AFANASYEV IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// Pensioner Boris Afanasyev says "Vladimir Putin is a dark horse, we don't know him at all and he has yet to reveal his nature. And that is exactly the reason why I'll vote for him. I know all the other candidates and they don't keep their promises." Mr. Putin has been careful to distance himself from the Yeltsin regime, which many Russians remember as one of corruption and painful and poorly-conducted economic reforms. Expected to place second and third are Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov and liberal reformer Grigory Yavlinsky. Mr. Zyuganov told reporters Sunday he had sent thousands of observers to polling stations to monitor for election abuses. ///OPT/// One voter who would only give her first name, Tatyana says she will vote for the communists and that she is afraid of Mr. Putin. ///ACT TATYANA IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// "I don't like his cold eyes," she says. "And I don't like that he used to work for the secret services, those people are cold and merciless."///END OPT/// Former President Boris Yeltsin also came to the polls Sunday. As he cast his vote to elect a new president Mr. Yeltsin said he believed reforms would continue. ///ACT YELTSIN IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// He says, "everyone expects some changes, but I am sure the main course of reforms will remain." He declined to say whom he had voted for. But Russians know that Mr. Putin is President Yeltsin's personal choice to succeed him to lead Russia for the next four years. (Signed) NEB/EC/PLM 26-Mar-2000 04:44 AM EDT (26-Mar-2000 0944 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .