(Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lights a candle as he attends an Orthodox Christmas service in the XIX century church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God in Turginovo village, about 160 km. (100 miles) northwest of Moscow January 7, 2011/Alexander Zemlianichenko )

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was sent to Russia by God to help his country during one of its most turbulent times, the Kremlin’s chief political strategist said on Friday in rare public remarks. “I honestly believe that Putin is a person who was sent to Russia by fate and by the Lord at a difficult time for Russia,” Vladislav Surkov, a staunch Putin supporter and one of Russia’s most powerful men, was quoted by Interfax news agency as telling state-run Chechen TV.

“(Putin was) preordained by fate to preserve our peoples,” said Surkov, who is also the Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff.

Putin, 58, was president between 2000-2008 before becoming prime minister and is widely viewed as Russia’s key decision-maker. The former KGB spy, picked by an ailing President Boris Yeltsin as his prime minister and heir apparent, restored national pride by sending troops back into Chechnya to quell a burgeoning insurgency and presided over a long economic boom following the chaos of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

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