The lower house of parliament easily confirmed Vladimir Putin as the country's fifth prime minister in 17 months today after he promised a tough approach to social disorder and vowed he would not launch any radical policy initiatives before parliamentary and presidential elections in coming months.
Putin, 46, an unflappable KGB veteran, reassured the Communist-dominated State Duma that he has no drastic plans for either economic reform or a personnel shake-up. He pledged to concentrate on keeping "calm and order" before the elections and on fighting an insurrection by Islamic separatists in the southern region of Dagestan.
The vote for Putin in the 450-member Duma was 232 to 84, with 17 abstentions. In a relatively brief speech, the new premier made few specific promises other than to boost lagging pensions and military spending and to follow the course of his predecessor, Sergei Stepashin, another state security veteran. "I think we need to put an end to the revolutions," Putin told the lawmakers.
Stepashin was fired by President Boris Yeltsin last week after only 82 days on the job, for reasons that are still murky. Some commentators said Stepashin may have demonstrated weakness in dealing with Yeltsin's political rivals; others said the Yeltsin inner circle demanded someone more decisive to squelch corruption probes aimed at the Kremlin.
"We have no reason to believe that Putin is going to work better than Stepashin, and likewise we have no reason to say that Putin is going to work worse," said Oleg Morozov, leader of a Duma bloc called Russia's Regions.
Putin echoed his predecessors in vowing to crack down on economic crime, but none of them was able to brake the rampant corruption and lawlessness here. He said he would seek to impose a "special legal regime" in Dagestan, but both he and Yeltsin have ruled out declaring a state of national emergency.
Asked about his presidential ambitions, Putin punted, saying his future in politics depends on what happens while he is premier. Yeltsin heartily endorsed Putin as his preferred candidate in next summer's presidential election--the latest politician he has thus blessed.
Meanwhile, Russia's political establishment was holding its breath for an expected announcement Tuesday on the electoral plans of former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, whom Yeltsin replaced with Stepashin earlier this year. Primakov, who enjoys high poll ratings, is expected to ally himself formally with the Fatherland bloc, led by Moscow's powerful mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. Analysts say Primakov would significantly boost the bloc's chances in parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 19;t hat, in turn, would put him in a strong position to vie for the presidency next summer.
The prospect that Primakov might combine forces with Luzhkov has apparently shaken the Kremlin inner circle, which fears his support would make Fatherland a powerful vote-getter. Luzhkov is allied with a group of leading governors as well, and the bloc also has attracted a number of Communist Party defectors.
For his part, Yeltsin told reporters today that he feels great after years of illness. In a chipper mood and looking robust, he said that since his 1996 bypass surgery, "my heart is working like clockwork. . . . My blood pressure is 120 over 80. . . . My pulse is 64. Sixty-four, and it is stable. That means my heart is working well."
CAPTION: Vladimir Putin listens to lawmakers' speeches while awaiting the vote on his confirmation. He echoed earlier premiers in vowing to crack down on economic crime.