At a time when the world is looking for a statesman of stature, Vladimir Putin is the pick of the lot. The Russian president's popularity is on the crest, largely due to his steadfast policies of using Russia as a bulwark against the belligerent policies of the US and other Western nations, and for promoting his country to a superpower status. Coming close on the honour accorded to him by Time magazine, Gulf News readers also voted for the former KGB operative as the international personality of the year.

So what makes Putin a hero to so many people around the world? One of the reasons is the increasing feeling of ill will towards the lame-duck president of the US, George W. Bush. The French President Nicholas Sarkozy is not too far behind Bush on the scale of unpopularity for toeing the line of his American counterpart. At the same time, no one can deny that Russia has come a long way in the eight years of Putin's rule and who has now anointed Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him.

After hitting a nadir at the end of the Cold War, Putin - who will step down after the January 2008 elections, but has indicated that he would be the prime minister to Medvedev - pulled his country out of economic, political, military and social morass.

By flexing his economic muscles, strengthened by oil revenues, Putin has kept the US off his backyard and especially in Iran, a country bordering the Caspian Sea. His objective stance on Iran's nuclear programme made the hawks of military action against Tehran back down. Earlier, Putin has used his clout to reach an agreement with the US and North Korea on dismantling the communist country's nuclear programme.

Putin has also enhanced his popularity in the Middle East by paying goodwill visits to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It all has paid him rich dividends, despite his shortcoming in Chechnya, Kosovo, Abkh-azia and South Ossetia.