On this overcast morning in Moscow there is one prevailing feeling about the place: a sense of normality. It is over a week since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced his candidacy for next year’s presidential election, but to walk around the city, you would never guess it. There are no mass protests, no banner headlines proclaiming the end of democracy, nothing indeed to let an outsider know that anything of significance has occurred.
In fact, the main element of surprise about Putin’s announcement was the timing. Until this weekend, it was generally anticipated that his candidacy would be confirmed after December’s parliamentary elections. If it is an attempt to bring the timetable forward, it suggests that the Putin’s party, United Russia, is perhaps more concerned about its prospects than has been appreciated outside the party.
Putin is currently more popular than his rival, according to a recent poll from the independent Levada Center. Gazeta.ru, a Russian online newspaper, reported that Putin with 49 per cent approval is 9 points ahead of the incumbent Dmitry Medvedev with 40 per cent. Yet both men have seen their ratings fall sharply this year, a development that Alexei Grazhdankin, Levada’s deputy director, puts down to a mistrust of official pronouncements that the economic crisis is over.