Some Russians Take Elections Seriously, Some Don't

Russian election results provide fodder for political jokes.

ByABC News
March 6, 2008, 7:01 AM

MOSCOW, March 4, 2008 — -- Russians are very big on jokes, or anekdoti as they are called here.

At most gatherings, especially ones where alcohol is involved, people go around the table telling the latest anekdoti. Naturally, the election here has created fodder for a slew of anekdoti, one of which goes like this:

Putin and Medvedev go to a restaurant to have dinner together. Putin says to the waitress, "I'll have a steak, please." The waitress asks, "And for the vegetable?" Putin looks over at Medvedev and says, "The vegetable will have a steak, too."

It's not exactly a thigh slapper, but it plays on one of the most intriguing elements of this election, namely the perception that Dmitri Medvedev is little more than Vladimir Putin's puppet and that Putin will continue to pull the strings.

"I think Putin was considered by Russians to be a leader. Medvedev will be considered by Russians to be a manager," political journalist Alexei Pushkov told ABC News.

As the crowds formed in Red Square, Sunday night, to celebrate Medvedev's victory, it was telling to hear them chanting over and over, "Putin, Putin, Putin."

Now, it may well be that it's a bit of a tongue twister to say Medvedev three times quickly, but it reveals two important things. One, Putin enjoys enormous popularity with the Russian people. And two, Sunday's landslide victory is seen primarily as Putin's victory and a resounding endorsement of his leadership.

During Putin's eight years as president, life has improved for most Russians. The economy has boomed on the back of high oil prices, stability has been restored after the chaos of the 1990s and Russia has re-emerged as a major world power.

"When [Boris] Yeltsin stepped down, the feeling was that the country was falling apart. There was a very bad feeling in Russia… So I think what Putin did first, he saved the country," Pushkov told ABC News.

There has also been a darker side to Putin's presidency: Domestic media have been stifled and Russia's small opposition suppressed. Relations with America have deteriorated over issues such as a nuclear Iran, America's planned missile defense plan and U.S. support of Kosovo.