Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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Putin backed by 73 percent of Russians-agency

MOSCOW, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin goes into 2002 with a massive 73 percent approval rating, almost two years to the day since he moved into the Kremlin, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday.

The agency said pollsters VTsIOM had reported that only 19 percent of those questioned disapproved of Putin's activities.

Putin, a former KGB agent, also headed the list of most trusted Russian politicians with 49 percent, well ahead of the rest of the field.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu was a distant second on 14 percent, ahead of Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov on 13 percent and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 11 percent.

Putin's image as an energetic politician who adores judo and has a quick and ready wit, contrasts with his ailing predecessor Boris Yeltsin whose last years in office were marked by illnesses and snap government reshuffles.

When Yeltsin abruptly resigned on December 31, 1999, Putin, then prime minister, became acting president and easily won early elections in March 2000.

Putin's popularity has remained sky high ever since, though it dipped briefly during the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster of August 2000.

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