Poll: Stark Russian divide over Putin

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Mr. Putin‘s rating on his job performance hit a high of 81 percent as he wrapped up his second term in 2008, according to the Levada Center, which measures his current approval rating at 60 percent, about the same as the 58 percent registered in the AP-GfK poll. This differs from favorability rating, which seeks to measure overall impressions of a person.

Mr. Putin handed over the presidency to his junior partner, Dmitry Medvedev, but as prime minister he remained the dominant player in Russian politics. Mr. Putin‘s decision in September to reclaim the presidency, followed by his party’s victory in a December parliamentary election through what observers said was widespread fraud, set off protests across Russia.

After Mr. Putin won the March presidential election with 64 percent of the vote, the protests died away in much of the country except for Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The AP-GfK poll indicates that Mr. 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 Mr. Putin, but his support is tepid at best.

“I consider him a liar and a fake,” Mr. 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 Mr. Putin became president in 2000, according to the poll.

Like many Russians, Mr. Abakarov said he voted for Mr. Putin because there was no viable alternative in a country in which only Kremlin-approved candidates are allowed to run for president. Mr. 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 has the trust of only 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Mikheyev said he generally approves of Mr. Putin.

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