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Russians Hope Putin Brings Change

January 16, 2000

PAVLOVSK POSAD, Russia (AP) _ In this dying textile town where the fabric of life has been torn by a decade of political and economic tumult, Vladimir Putin has emerged as a symbol of hope for many Russians.

``I want Putin because I have hope in him. He does what he says he’s going to do,″ said Katya Lyubimova, 20, who sells trousers in the local market. ``He’s not the kind of guy who makes promises and doesn’t deliver.″

Pavlovsk Posad, a provincial city of 72,000 just 40 miles east of Moscow, looks pretty much as it did in Soviet times. The economic reforms and prosperity that have transformed the capital never arrived here.

A statue of Lenin stands on Revolution Square; one of Felix Dzherzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, is down the street. The local church is still in ruins. Nostalgia for the Communists is strong.

A majority of voters in Pavlovsk Posad voted for the Communist candidate in elections last weekend for a new governor of the Moscow region. He lost, and some townspeople are bitter.

``I’m standing here and I’m fed up,″ said Alexandra Petrova, 70, who worked 36 years in one of the local textile factories. ``I’m working to keep from dying.″

Petrova sells handmade brooms to supplement her monthly $17 pension. ``I’ll probably vote for the Communists,″ she said, referring to the March 26 presidential election.

But 71-year-old Tamara Stepanova, who supports an ailing daughter and her three children by selling cigarettes and sunflower and pumpkin seeds near Petrova, is willing to give Putin a chance.

``If Putin increases our pensions so we don’t have to stand out here, and makes the police stop chasing us from the market, I’ll vote for him,″ Stepanova said.

Putin was named prime minister last summer and became acting president when Boris Yeltsin stepped down on Dec. 31. Seen as a can-do leader, he is the front-runner in the race for Russia’s highest office, and his past as a KGB spy doesn’t seem to bother people.

``I think there will be improvements. It’s clear he’s experienced,″ said Vladimir Ivanov, a former textile factory worker who travels around regional markets selling sheets, pillow cases and towels.

``It’s even maybe a good thing that he worked in the security services because there will be fewer bandits,″ said Ivanov, 47. ``I’ll vote for him.″

Putin’s tough conduct of the war in Chechnya also has won him support in Pavlovsk Posad, where fabric from some of the factories helps dress the Russian military.

``Putin has got to get this nation off its knees and put it on its feet,″ said Lyubimova, the jeans-seller, who quit school at 16 to make a living in the market. ``If he says he’s going to fight, he fights.″

City officials hope that Putin _ if elected _ will increase subsidies to the local budget, which has shrunk because most of the factories in town are not able to fully pay their taxes.

``We’re living through difficult times,″ admitted Vladimir Rosiyskov, deputy head of the city government. ``We hope the new leadership can help us.″ Putin, he said, ``has a lot of authority and we respect that.″

Known for its fabrics in czarist times, Pavlovsk Posad was a booming textile center in the Soviet era. Its factories turned cotton from Uzbekistan into cloth that was shipped throughout the Soviet bloc.

When the Soviet Union collapsed so did the supplies of cotton, now too expensive or not available. The town started to recover, when the Aug. 17, 1998 ruble devaluation unleashed an economic whirlwind.

``Those who didn’t drown are starting to increase production, even take on new workers,″ said Alexander Ananyev, chief engineer at the Kamvolshchik factory on the edge of town.

The factory gets synthetic polyester fabric from Belarus and wool from southern Russia to make fabric used in making uniforms for the police, army, customs service and airlines.

Factory bosses supported Putin’s rivals in the Dec. 19 parliamentary elections, and they haven’t decided which candidate they’ll back in the March presidential vote.

``Whoever is president has to bring order, end the war (in Chechnya),″ said Ananyev. ``That would be the best thing.″

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