Muscovites unperturbed by Putin Kremlin return
Pensioners still danced the jig and laughing couples walked their strollers even as the Russian corridors of power buzzed with the excitement of Vladimir Putin's expected return to the Kremlin.
Sunday afternoon walkers in Moscow's much-loved Sokolniki park seemed unperturbed by the thought of the Russian strongman coming back for a third mandate in Russia's number one post.
"I am not surprised. But I hate the fact that there was no intrigue," said a retired diplomat named Valery while watching his wife dance with other pensioners on a veranda at the leafy park.
"It is not the fact that I do not like Putin," said the man after pausing for a moment of thought. "It is just that they are so afraid of change."
The almost-certainly successful candidacy for president will see Putin switch jobs with his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev and potentially leave him in charge of Russia until 2024.
The 58-year-old Putin's vigour and energy has made him into a genuinely popular figure in a country where the Soviet tradition of staid bureaucracy remains evident in large scale today.
The instant smiles that light up some people's faces at the mention of Putin's name suggest a connection beyond simple politics.
"I think he is a darling," said librarian Yulia Yegorovna as she took in the sights of a fountain while on a lunch break from work.
"I have worked here for 45 years and there is now a real sense of progress around here," she said. "The only surprise is it that we did not expect him to return so quickly."
Yet the former spy's time in power has also coincided with the near-complete fall of independent television and collapse of opposition politics -- restrictions that critics link to Putin and his coterie of security men.
It may be a sign of the times that none of those with criticism for their leader was willing to give their last name.
"Putin and his bunch are not politicians -- these are military men. And they are only trained to eliminate people," said a young businessman named Dmitry while pushing a baby stroller alongside his wife.
"There is nothing good about this," he said.
Most polls however suggest that Russians are much more likely to blame the ruling party or Putin's various advisers for the country's problems rather than the man himself.
Putin in fact has been lending his name to United Russia ahead of December polls in hopes of upturning data showing the Kremlin group losing its dominance due to voter discontent.
"I think that he just surrounded himself with the wrong people," said university student Oksana Andreyeva while taking her dog out for a walk with a friend.
"Some of those guys are just joining the party to help along their careers."
Medvedev for his part has proved to be a less divisive figure who still failed to enthuse those in the Sokolniki park.
"It is not that I did not like Medvedev. I did. But it was hard to describe him. He said the right things but did not seem to do much," said the veteran librarian Yulia Yegorovna.
The retired diplomat Valery meanwhile agreed. "Medvedev did all the talking," he said. "But did he really have any power?"
© 2011 AFP