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Putin Beats Drums Of Nationalism And Feminism

Russia's acting president, Vladamir Putin, is beating the drums of nationalism saying he wants to rebuild Russia's military and economic power, and he wants a woman to be the Speaker in the Duma. John Howard reports.

"Our country Russia was a great, powerful, strong state, and it is clear that this is not possible if we do not have strong armed forces, powerful armed forces," Putin, who became President on New Years eve, said yesterday.

"Unless this is achieved Russia will not again become the great and powerful state it once was," he said.

Putin was speaking as the Russian military campaign in Chechnya is facing stiff resistance from rebel fighters. Russian troops have been advancing and taking ground only to lose the ground when rebel forces counter-attack.

Much of Putin's popularity stems from his determination to win the Chechnya war. In recent days, however, Russian troops have been thwarted by rebel counter-offensives with a senior Russian general, Victor Kazanstev, admitting serious mistakes with casualty figures among federal soldiers rising dramatically.

Meanwhile some of Russia's largest businessmen, including monopoly gas and electricity industry chief executives, have come out publicly supporting Putin's presidential campaign. It is now clear that money for the campaign will come from that quarter.

But if Russian forces are snared in Chechnya for a long time, which seems likely - unless Putin does something more drastic - his popularity could go into free-fall as memories stir of the 1994-96 Chechen war when Russian forces took several towns only to withdraw again in the face of a counter-attack as is happening now.

The latest Russian tactical change in the war announced yesterday - tactics approved by Putin personally - appears to involve arresting the male Chechen population in areas which are not yet secure. According to reports all males over the age of 10 and under the age of 60 will be forced to register and many may be taken into custody.

Announcing the new security tactic Russian commanders said they had made the "mistake" of not "mopping up" properly after earlier successful operations.

Putin is well aware that his success in the March presidential elections depends on a successful Chechen campaign.

As that time approaches the stakes will get higher and anything could happen including throwing small localised tactical nuclear weapons. Being former KGB Putin is well aware of the "arts" of war and there is also speculation that he may bring the election date forward.

Meanwhile in his first two weeks as acting President Putin has also announced a big shake-up of the security forces including the KGB into one super-spy agency which also includes the police.

Elsewhere on the democratic front Putin and his political vehicle the Unity Bloc have said there are not enough women in Russian politics and have said they will support a woman as speaker of the Russian lower house of Parliament - the Duma.

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