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'Time' names 'dangerous' Putin as Person of the Year

By Shaun Walker in Moscow

Vladimir Putin has joined the company of Mahatma Gandhi, Pope John Paul II and Bono after being named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2007.

Mr Putin, the magazine said, "has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership" in his eight years in power. He is the first Russian to be named Person of the Year since Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 and 1989.

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the accolade was "an acknowledgement of the role played by President Putin in helping to pull Russia out of the economic and social troubles of the 1990s and restoring national pride".

He also said it would lead to "better understanding of the fact that Russia is a democratic country that is back on its feet."

But Time was not entirely positive about Mr Putin. The Person of the Year, says the magazine, is not an endorsement or an honour, but a reflection of the individual who most shaped the world we live in, for better or worse, during a given year. After all, previous winners have included Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Time's managing editor, Richard Stengel, told NBC that Mr Putin was "dangerous" and "not a good guy". Mr Peskov said he did not agree with all the statements made by Time, and that many of them were based on stereotypes. In a wide-ranging interview with Time, Mr Putin said that his KGB background taught him to "think independently" and to "respect the people you're dealing with". He refused to reveal if he believed in God, saying answering that would be like performing "political striptease".

He called George Bush a "man of honour" but said some people abroad were trying to create a bad image of Russia to influence its internal policies.

"This is the reason why everybody is made to believe it's okay to pinch the Russians somewhat," said Mr Putin. "They are a little bit savage still, or they just climbed down from the trees and probably need to have their hair brushed and their beards trimmed."

Mr Putin accused opposition politicians, including the former chess champion Garry Kasparov, of working for foreign powers to destabilise Russia. Mr Kasparov told a Russian news agency that Time's decision showed they had a "naive view" of Russia.

The magazine said that the main reason for choosing Mr Putin, who beat competition from China's President, Hu Jintao, the former US vice-president Al Gore and the author J K Rowling, was his role in ending chaos in Russia.

"He stands, above all, for stability, stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for 100 years."

But Yevgenia Albats, the deputy editor of The New Times, a weekly magazine critical of Mr Putin's regime, said: "I think Time magazine should send some good reporters to Russia. It shows they are out of touch."

Albats said she was amazed to read that Time praised Mr Putin for the stability he has brought.

Since Mr Putin backed the relatively liberal Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, there have been reports of the siloviki clan of Kremlin hardliners preparing to fight back. "You can say Russia has never been as rich as it is now, but stability is the last word I would use for the past two years," said Albats. "Clans are fighting in the Kremlin. I would describe the situation as turmoil."

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