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Time Names Russia’s Putin ‘Person of the Year’ in New Sign of Influence

Time magazine named Russian President Vladimir Putin its "Person of the Year" Wednesday -- the latest sign of Putin's rise as a key player on the world stage. A Time editor and a policy expert examine Putin's leadership and how he may further influence Russian politics.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, Vladimir Putin, a look at the man who is Time magazine's choice for person of the year. Ray Suarez has our story.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin tapped Dmitry Medvedev, a longtime protege, as his favored candidate to succeed him as president come the elections in March.

    In turn, Medvedev said, if elected, he would appoint Putin to the post of prime minister, confirming the many forecasts that Putin would not go far once he left the presidency.

    And the two gave a preview earlier this week of the dual-headliner act that will likely run Russia for the next four years.

    These are heady times in Putin's Russia. The Russian economy is booming. High worldwide prices for oil and gas has money pouring in. A sense of national pride has returned, after the tough transition from communism to a free-market meltdown in the 1990s that left many Russians poorer, sicker, and more skeptical of democracy.

    Many Russians tell pollsters and reporters they give Putin credit for the turnaround. The former KGB agent and the prime minister assumed power New Year's Eve 1999 from the ailing Boris Yeltsin.

    In eight short years, the 55- year-old Putin has consolidated power in the Kremlin; has silenced many of his critics and opposition; and he's effectively renationalized several large Russian companies, making trusted lieutenants, like Medvedev, captains of industry.

    Perhaps most of all, Vladimir Putin has made Russia once again an influential player on the international stage.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I was able to get a sense of his soul.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    After that famous friendly evaluation by President Bush in 2001, relations between the U.S. and Russia have slowly cooled. Putin vocally opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and he's fought American-led efforts to rein in Iran.

    Putin has also flexed strategic muscle on issues like missile defense. And today, Time magazine named Putin its person of the year, an internationally acknowledged affirmation of his continuing impact upon the world.