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In the provinces, Putin's a pillar

Voters outside Moscow credit the Kremlin leader with bringing stability, but they reject his party.

February 03, 2012|Sergei L. Loiko

"Moscow is not Russia; it is another planet altogether, with different prices, salaries and interests," said Alexander Ivanov, a 37-year-old metal craftsman who as a soldier took part in the bloody suppression of the 1993 Communist-encouraged riots in Moscow. "Should the authorities ask for help in dispersing the opposition rallies, I will go there and do my best to help crush them."

A paradox of the workers' support for Putin is their lack of allegiance to his United Russia party. In December's parliamentary elections, which saw the once-dominant party suffer its most humiliating defeat in years, the result in Yaroslavl was the worst among all the big cities in the country.

The canny Putin managed to distance himself from the party well before the parliamentary poll, perhaps aware that workers traditionally hate bureaucracy on all levels, suspecting corruption.

The party is still languishing in such shock and confusion that its Yaroslavl branch didn't even nominate a candidate for the mayoral election to be held simultaneously with the presidential election, local politicians and experts said.

Even Putin's staunch backers understand that the ruling party is all but dead and gone, said Yevgeny Urlashov, a lawyer and mayoral candidate who reportedly commands 30% of local voter support.

"It is amazing how these people seem to miss any connection between the party and its leader," Urlashov said, adding that despite United Russia's worse-than-expected showing, support for Putin is still high enough, especially among the working class and rural dwellers, to most likely ensure his victory in March.

"Putin will obviously win this time, but to keep his job he will be obligated to radically change his policy, to change the constitution and laws to give people back the democratic freedoms and rights taken away from them over these years," Urlashov said.

"In the new situation when the sacred image of the Kremlin has been dealt such a humiliating blow, Putin can only stay in power if he unleashes truly democratic reforms."

About 50 miles northwest of Yaroslavl in the depression-hit defense and nuclear industry town of Rybinsk, a woman sat bent over an antiquated metal vise in a dark hall of a spare-parts production plant. Most workers had been sent home for the day because of a prolonged power outage.

But Svetlana Yershova, 46, didn't need electricity to manually clip out inch-long metal parts for $10 a day in the winter daylight dying fast behind the soiled window.

She said she believed that the result of the presidential poll had already been decided, that nothing would depend on her vote and that she might as well stay home.

"But if I change my mind and vote, I will cast my vote for Putin," she said, raising her head and smiling, lighting up the room with her gold front tooth. "You see, Putin doesn't have this alterni ... alturni.... What do you call that?"

"Alternative?"

"Exactly," she said. "Something he doesn't have."

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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