Poll: Stark Russian divide over Vladimir Putin

By Lynn Berry

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 2 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The AP-GfK poll indicates that Putin retains broad support, although only 18 percent expressed a strongly favorable view of him. At the other end of the spectrum, 14 percent expressed a somewhat or strongly unfavorable view. The majority falls in between, passively supportive but some increasingly cynical.

Magomed Abakarov, who works for the government in the North Caucasus city of Makhachkala, voted for Putin, but his support is tepid at best.

"I consider him a liar and a fake," Abakarov said. "Someday we'll know who the real Mr. Putin is, but under the current circumstances he is the best candidate for president. He can talk tough with the leader of any country."

The majority of Russians see their country as a stronger international power than it was before Putin became president in 2000, according to the poll.

Like many Russians, Abakarov said he voted for Putin because there was no viable alternative in a country where only Kremlin-approved candidates are allowed to run for president. Putin has centralized control over the political system, preventing the emergence of independent political leaders and reducing parliament to a rubber stamp.

The presidency is now the only institution that at least half of Russians feel can be trusted to do what is right, according to the AP-GfK poll. The military, still manned by conscripts, comes next with the trust of 41 percent.

The parliament only has the trust of about a quarter of the people and the same goes for the courts, which have been compromised by corrupt judges. Just 18 percent say they trust the police, who are notorious for shaking down motorists.

Corruption is among Russians' biggest concerns, with 91 percent of those surveyed in Moscow calling it a serious problem and almost as many, 85 percent, of those outside the capital saying the same. Even though Putin has failed to deliver on repeated pledges to crack down on corrupt officials, most Russians don't hold him responsible.

Grigory Mikheyev, a 28-year-old systems administrator in the far eastern town of Dalnegorsk, complained of a system of double standards.

"The laws seem fine, but they only apply to the selected few," he said. "The simple people get punished, while the bureaucrats get rich."

Still, Mikheyev said he generally approves of Putin.

In keeping with the disparity between the capital and the rest of the country, Muscovites are far more likely to see election fraud as a serious problem: 56 percent compared with 37 percent elsewhere.

Guskov, the 21-year-old Moscow student, expressed frustration over what he sees as one-man rule.

"He is still a czar and Russia is the kind of country where a lot depends on a single person," Guskov said. "But we as a people are trying to do something, so we go to protests and demonstrate our discontent."

A major factor behind the divergence between Moscow and the rest of Russia is that about half of those surveyed live in small towns and rural areas, where most people still get their news from the Kremlin-controlled national television networks.

Half of the respondents outside the capital said they do not use the Internet, compared with only 10 percent in Moscow. Without access to the Internet, they have not seen the flood of videos purporting to show blatant vote rigging or read about alleged corruption in political and business circles close to Putin.

Without the Internet, many Russians are unlikely to know much about Alexei Navalny, a charismatic corruption fighter and blogger who is a leader of the anti-Putin protest movement. In Moscow, only 15 percent said they had no opinion of Navalny, compared with 46 percent in the rest of the country.

This may change, however, as the number of Internet users rises steadily. The Public Opinion Foundation said 38 percent of Russians now use the Internet daily, up from 22 percent just two years ago.

Residents of Moscow also differ from the rest of their countrymen with their far more pessimistic view of Russia's oil-based economy, perhaps because they are more aware of the challenges ahead.

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